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FEARLESS MEMOIR: 'World's Fair' (Chapter 19)

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"World's Fair" is the raw and witty true story of a dysfunctional Southern family's harrowing motor-home roadtrip from South Carolina to the Montreal World's Fair in 1967 (aka "The Summer of Love"). Told from the point of view of the author -- who was 15 at the time -- this intimate coming-of-age story shines a bright light on the issues of alcoholism, adolescent sexual confusion, family violence and the universal need to love those who hurt us, despite their frailties.

Warning: Contains strong language and mild sexual content; may not be suitable for all audiences.

CHAPTER 19: Confusion Reigns

When I woke up I had no idea how long I'd slept. I was still in only my torn pants, so I took them off. There was only one thing to do in a situation where I found myself alone, naked, and with a firm formation. So I double-checked to make sure the camper door was still locked and took matters in hand.

A few minutes later, I looked outside and saw that the sky was overcast. I thought that it was already evening, but I wasn't sure. I was a little disoriented. Twilight is like that. It can be confusing, and I was a mess. Here I was, naked and vulnerable in a camper in the middle of a parking lot. Anything could have happened. It was then I realized that I hadn't even locked the truck door. Shit, what if someone had gotten in the truck and looked through the passageway? I knew that I had to be more careful in the future.

While putting on clean clothes, I discovered that my back pants pocket had ripped off while I'd forced myself through the passageway. Worse still, I didn't have my wallet. Where was it, with all my money? Not that it was a lot of money, but it was all I had. And oh my god, my driver's license!

I couldn't decide if my life was over or not. I was nothing without my driver's license. It was my passport to freedom. I could replace my wallet and Daddy would give me more money, but I was lost without my license. I'd have to wait until I got back home to get a new one. Would I have to take those driving tests again? Shit. What was I going to do? I looked around the camper and in the cab of the truck, but no wallet. I pulled my ripped shirt out from the passageway and my wallet wasn't there. And wouldn't you know it: I had ripped the passageway cover. It was torn all across the bottom. That rip in the fabric would allow air and dirt into the cab of the truck. At least there was a flap in the camper, so it wasn't as bad on that side. But I was sure going to catch hell.

But where was my wallet? Maybe someone had stolen it. Maybe I had become a victim of a crime. But who would I report it to? Were there even any police in Canada who would look for pickpockets? This kind of thing probably happened all the time at Expo '67. A kid's wallet would not be high on their list of items to retrieve. They would probably know there wasn't much money in it. I really could have used my momma at this critical moment in my life.

In the middle of this crisis, I heard the twins fighting as they approached the camper. Looking out the window, I saw that Gee was with them, but she wasn't saying a word. From the expression on her face, I could tell she was pissed off. If she'd been any angrier, steam would've been coming off the top of her head. I instantly forgot about my lost wallet, money and driver's license.

As Gee came into the camper, she turned in a rather dramatic manner to face the twins, who were still on the ground. Towering over them, she said between clenched teeth, "If ya'll don't shut up right now, I'm going to start screaming. And ya'll don't want me to do that, now, do ya'll?"

Gee never told anyone to shut up, so this was serious. She might say, "Be quiet." But she never, ever, under any circumstances, said "Shut up."

As she turned to enter the camper and saw me there, I said, "What's going on?"

At the same time, she asked, "And where have you been?" Then, without missing a beat, she added, "We've been searching for you and Daddy for hours, and the twins are about to drive me crazy."

"I came back to the camper, just like we agreed we'd do if someone was lost," I told her. "That's where I've been. And the camper was locked, so I had to crawl through the passageway, and I ripped my shirt and pants and lost my wallet. Where have you been?"

But Gee was talking over me. "The twins lost Daddy," she was saying. "Well, at least Mark lost him. You disappeared and then Matthew disappeared. Luckily, Matthew found Mark, but Daddy wasn't with him. So while I was searching for you and Matthew, the twins were searching for Daddy. Then I found the twins and we all went in search of you and Daddy. We hoped that ya'll had found each other. But neither of ya'll even knew the other was missing. Oh, God help us."

Meanwhile, Matthew was saying to Gee, "Don't tell me to shut up. You're being a bitch, and we don't need that right now. What do you mean I disappeared? No one disappeared, except James. I turn around and, wouldn't you know it, Gee was gone too. So there I was all the fuck alone. James disappears and Gee abandons me. I hate this family. Everyone is so mean to one another."

At that, Mark added his part. "I didn't leave Daddy," he insisted. "It's not my goddamn fault he wanted to go back to the brewery and I didn't, so he told me to go fuck myself, and said that I wasn't a man, and then he just started leaving. I tried to get him to stay but he wouldn't. He started giving me more shit. What was I supposed to do? Take his goddamn shit? He wouldn't respect me if I did. So I let him go. He was being a bastard. All he wanted was to drink, anyway. I couldn't stop him."

Somehow through everyone talking over one another, it became clear that Daddy had gone back to the Canadian Brewers Pavilion, Mark had not stayed with him, Matthew and Gee had gotten separated, and I had lost my wallet after coming back to the camper like we were all supposed to do. But when and how they all found each other, and why they hadn't gone back to get Daddy, was still a mystery to me. I certainly didn't want either of the twins beating on me, so I kept quiet.

Searching my inner TV repertoire for ideas on what we should do now that Daddy was missing, I found that there were no past episodes of My Three Sons, or Bachelor Father, or Father Knows Best, or even Bonanza that I could remember where the children had gotten separated from their daddy. Of course, none of the TV dads was a drunk, so those shows were useless as guides on what to do in this kind of situation.

After everyone had calmed down and returned to their respective corners, it was decided that we would wait in the parking lot for Daddy. Since no one had eaten, Gee fixed us some sandwiches. The twins and I also checked around the parking lot for Daddy in case he hadn't remembered where we'd parked. With him being drunk, we were sure he'd have a hard time finding us.

In between searching, we had a few laughs. Mark reminded everyone about how we'd learned to drive a stick shift from old, fat Toad Pierce. Then I reminded everyone about the time the playhouse had burned down because the twins had been in there smoking, which they had denied, claiming -- like the firemen had -- that it was due to spontaneous combustion. Gee then reminded us about how she had won Miss Sophomore in high school, and Matthew reminded her that she had cried when the King died in The King and I each time she'd come to see us in it. Oh, and I brought up the trip to Florida, and how Gee had gotten pulled for going 100 miles per hour on the Florida Turnpike. It was a rare treat to laugh with one another while poking fun at each another.

After several hours and no Daddy, we decided to try to get some sleep. We thought about driving back to the campsite, but worried that if we did, Daddy wouldn't be able to find us and we might never see him again. After all, he even had trouble aiming and hitting the water in the toilet when he was drunk.

Sometime after we'd fallen asleep, there was knocking at the camper door. We all thought it was Daddy, but it was a man in what looked like a golf cart. He identified himself as a security guard for Expo '67. After Gee opened the door, the guard said, "I'm sorry to disturb you, but you should know that you aren't allowed to keep your camper in the parking lots at Expo overnight. There are campsites that Expo has strategically placed that are for campers like yours. If you'd like, I can give you directions to one that is close by."

While he was telling Gee this, Matthew looked out the window and whispered, "We're the only people here. There's not another vehicle in the entire lot."

"Well, thank you, sir, for letting us know," Gee told the man. "But we're waiting for our daddy to come back. We all got separated today and we're still waiting for him."

"Miss, I'm sorry to have to tell you, but you can no longer wait here," he responded.

"But, sir, we're afraid that if we leave, our daddy won't know where we are or how to find us. We can't just abandon him, now, can we?" Gee pleaded.

The security guard listened and nodded. He asked our names and told us he would check into where our father might be, and said that should anyone else ask us to leave, we were to tell them that we were not to leave until he returned.

Sometime later, we were again awakened by knocking at the door. It was the same security guard. "Pardon me, miss," he said to Gee when she opened the door. "You should return to your campsite now. If you need directions or someone to follow you over there, we will be glad to assist."

"But, sir," said Gee, "it's like I told you. We're afraid to leave without our daddy. We're..."

The security guard interrupted her. "Miss, your father won't be returning tonight. He'll meet up with you over at the campsite in the morning. Just go back there and wait for him. He'll be there tomorrow morning."

It was obvious that Gee was in charge, so when she stepped outside alone to get into the truck to drive us back to the campsite, the security guard spoke with her in private. She thanked him and came back in the camper to ask me to come up to the truck and ride with her.

We rode in silence. Gee was obviously confused about what she should do, but she remained rock solid. On the way back to the campsite, she pulled over to call Momma from a pay phone.

When Gee got back in the truck, she asked me to light two cigarettes. Taking a deep drag, she calmly blew out the smoke. I blew a few smoke rings. "Daddy's been arrested for public drunkenness," Gee said finally. "The security man told me Daddy was sleeping it off, and that he'll be returned to us at the campsite in the morning."

As my eyes welled up with tears, Gee took my left hand and squeezed it. "We'll be all right," she said. "I called Momma, so she knows. She told me to take everyone back to the campsite and wait for Daddy. That's all we can do right now."

If Gee hadn't told me, there was no way I would have known that anything bad had happened. She was already 19, but she was acting much older and assuming responsibility for all of us. She did the right thing by calling Momma. Only Momma could have told her what to do at a time like this. So Gee did what Momma said. And we made it through the night.

I couldn't help wondering if we'd make it through another night like this.

COMING UP IN CHAPTER 20: Sideways glances... a croissant with jam... Daddy goes missing again.

Want to read "World's Fair" from the beginning? Click here and start with "Prologue, Part 1."

For more on becoming fearless, click here.

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