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Backpacker Magazine – October 2010

My F*&^ing Family

Camping is known to bring loved ones closer together, but what happens when your relations include a treacherous sister, murderous brother, and their savage offspring? Steve Friedman leads his clan into the Rockies to resolve five decades' worth of sibling rivalry and simmering resentment.

by: Steve Friedman

Illustration by Zohar Lazar
Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Dawn breaks clear and chilly and damp. When I stumble to the campfire, the others are already finishing their granola. We wish Ice happy 11th birthday and then Quisling, who is feeling better, tells her son’s birth story, which involves a yurt, a midwife, horrified grandparents, and a lot of burning sage.

I sit on a rock, drinking coffee, next to my brother and sister, watching their offspring break camp.

“God,” my sister says, looking at Hulk as he expertly disassembles a tent, then shows Ice how it should be packed. “I remember when Eddie was a baby, just a mushy, smiling little lump.”

“Yep,” Dr. Comfort says. Is he remembering the infancy of his strapping son? Is he musing on the glory of growing up, the tragedy of growing old? Is he, I allow myself to wonder, wishing he would have granted his sensitive younger brother one measly little trip to Velvet Freeze when we were young? With Dr. Comfort, it’s hard to know. But his face looks more slack up here, more relaxed.

Iris sprints over the hills in her flip-flops, chasing a butterfly. I wonder if she’ll try to swallow it. Isaac’s and Eddie’s heads touch as they roll the tent.

“I wonder what the boys are plotting,” my sister says, and suddenly I remember being Ice’s age, rolling up sleeping bags and shooting marbles and riding bikes to Kranson’s drug store with Dr. Comfort, when he was still called “Donnie,” both of us dispatched there by our mother to buy her packages of Kent cigarettes. She was pregnant with Baby Quisling at the time, and at the drugstore, my big brother and I would drink grape soda and read Hawkman and Green Lantern comic books. I remember hearing grown-ups call us “the boys” and my eyes suddenly start leaking.

“Are you OK?” Dr. Comfort asks.

The sun is shining but my view is watery, soft-focus. Due to some backcountry miracle, I feel optimistic and emotionally shattered at the same time.

My sister peers at my contorted face.

“Maybe he’s just overcome with terrible guilt,” Quisling says, “because I’ll be paying shrink bills for the next 20 years while my children are having nightmares about eyeball-eating Apaches.”

“Comanches,” I correct her, through my tears, “and they didn’t eat the eyeballs. They just stripped the fles…”

“Jesus Christ, Steve!” my sister shouts. “You can be such…”

“What?” I ask.

“I mean, really, don’t you reali…”


She sighs. Her shoulders sag. But she knows. Seekers seek.

“I mean, Jesus Christ, Java Junkie.”

“Thank you, Quisling,” I say, and then it’s time to hike out.

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