I first remember screaming…
when my sister’s hair caught fire as she leaned over a jack-o-lantern to see the candle inside. I was three and she was two and we were sitting at the kitchen table of the small apartment my parents rented in Springfield, MA. We were alone in the room and my father raced in and smothered the flames against his bare chest. I was given credit for saving her life, something I remind her about every Halloween, just before she reminds me that I scream like a girl.
I have few other early childhood memories. Just after Halloween that year I fell ill with persistent high fevers and convulsions. I was administered last rites on two occasions. One of my few actual memories is being dunked, naked, feverish, and afraid, into ice water at the hospital. When the fevers finally broke the doctors prescribed phenobarbital to control the convulsions. I took a tablespoon of the red syrup three times a day for the next four years. As a result, I have bad teeth, great calmness, and a collection of disconnected images that serve as early childhood memories. I experience them like photographs. Some are real and some are not. I have no reliable way to distinguish between them.
In the late 70's I left my native New England for college in Wisconsin, then journeyed west, where I walked from Mexico to Canada along a patchwork of trails that had recently been designated as the Pacific Crest Trail. I drifted through the rest of my twenties and beyond, living for long periods in both New England and Los Angeles, but spending significant amounts of time in the spaces in between. By 1990 I had slept at least one night in 48 of the 50 U.S. states. In the early 1990's I wandered overseas, hiking through Greece, Italy, Turkey and Bulgaria. I then returned to the U.S. and drove a truck for four years. My actions were as disconnected as my memories.
After surviving Y2K, I decided to get serious. Between April 2000 and September 2002 I moved back to Los Angeles, got a good corporate job, got married, bought a house, and had my first child. I now have two children and a bigger house. My new found career has gone well, and I currently lead a global department and facilitate leadership and, somewhat ironically, decision making workshops.
In 2014 I began writing. In earnest. I have completed manuscripts for a novel, a memoir of that Pacific Crest Trail adventure, a few short stories and a chapbook of poems. I am writing like my sister’s hair is on fire. I am writing before I forget.
Gary Campanella has spent the last twenty years working in the financial services industry. He has a Bachelor’s degree in English from Ripon College, and completed his graduate work in Composition at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He lives in La Crescenta, CA with his wife and two children.