At our recent family reunion we spent a couple of nights camping at a KOA since the house was full. My inlaws live in Sandusky, Ohio, home of Cedar Point Amusement Park, so the campground was full of families ready to ride some roller coasters. The campsites are about the size of a postage stamp so that sense of excitement is contagious. I hadn’t been camping in years, and was pleased to experience the joy of walking around in pajama pants and flipflops amid strangers.
On the last evening of our family reunion we enjoyed a luxurious evening swim and then a campfire on the beach. All we needed was a roasted marshmallow to cap off a perfect evening. As we drove back to the KOA I remembered we had a bag of marshmallows at the campsite, so we decided to build a bit of fire.
Meanwhile, our campsite neighbors were having a party of a different sort. Loud country music poured from the cab of a diesel pickup truck. I’d met the owner earlier in the day, a talkative type of guy, probably early thirties, goodlooking. We’d each had a towel over our shoulder and toothbrush in hand, and he stopped to chat about roller coasters. Then he told me he was there with his daughter, who looked to be about 7, and her mother, but they were separated, they got together for this Cedar Point weekend, for the girl, they were looking forward to it all summer. They were going to go Sunday, and we discussed wait lines and strategies for hitting the most coasters.
There he was now. His Saturday night was a bit more raucous than our family reunion on the beach had been. He was holding a margarita glass the size of a mixing bowl. The woman sat on a camp chair, drinking straight from a wine bottle, something rosy-colored. The little girl ran back and forth to the water tap on the corner, rinsing and refilling a second enormous margarita glass. A fire burned in the firepit.
The fella was a jovial drunk. He asked if I wanted to dance. I politely declined. He persisted, and I declined again. He asked me about my day. He asked me what music I’d like to listen to. I found myself eye-ing his fire and calculating how long would it take to toast a marshmallow.
My daughters and I made quick work of it, and I saw them take in the whole scene.
The fella kept asking me to dance and I kept refusing. I was relaxed because my husband was beside me, and the tone stayed friendly.
Soon enough we turned in for the night. Eventually he turned the music off, and all I heard was an occasional tent zipper. I fell asleep.
In the middle of the night I woke to screaming. “Get Off 0f Me! Get your blankety-blank! hands off of me!”
Then I heard zippers, the flapping of tent canvas, someone banging into something hard, the picnic table maybe. I thought about that little girl. I unzipped the tent and looked out, saw the man alone. He man swore at me, said he’d wring my neck if I came out.
I zipped myself back inside. My husband was asleep. Our daughters were in a separate tent beside us.
There was more yelling, but it ended pretty quickly. Things got quiet again. I fell back asleep.
Awoke next to the sound of car tires. Heard the sound of a police cruiser (how did I know? but I did) They arrested him, cuffs and all, and took him away. First he had to pay a fine.
In the morning the woman quickly packed up her tent. She drove off in the diesel truck with the girl beside her. Three empty bottles on the picnic table were mute testimony to the night: two party-sized bottles of margarita mix and one bottle of Boones Farm.
I kept thinking about the day at Cedar Point that they wouldn’t have. What would it be like to grow up in that sort of family? Why on earth did they bring so much liquor for one evening for two people? I feel sad for that little girl. The father didn’t seem evil, just foolish.