One of the things I really wish I could understand is why some memories stick with us while others just wash away. It’s almost like some moments in our lives become stories we tell ourselves (and others) over and over, and those stories go beyond just being part of our story-telling cache; they become a part of us, embedded into our very being. I think we live out the things about ourselves we like in those stories, or maybe even the things we don’t like, too. But I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure I understand what it takes for someone or some thing to impact us in such a way that we carry that moment beyond the moment itself.
A few years ago – probably about nine now, actually – I had driven up to camp during my spring break from Wabash to see my friend Troy. At the time, I was getting ready to work that coming summer as one of the directors for a camp of at-risk youth, and Troy – the program director at the time – was going to walk me through what all I needed to do. I want to say I was probably about 21 or 22, meaning Troy was at most 26 or 27. It’s funny how, looking back, I now think we were both so young, but at the time, I thought of Troy as some wise sage imparting his great advice on me. Not that he wasn’t. It just seems strange to me in hindsight.
Troy’s house was behind the camp on what was called “Mockingbird Hill,” a small neighborhood of what most folks would probably consider lake houses for their summer weekend getaway. Troy’s place was, quite literally, a “cabin in the woods,” smaller than the rest, with a trail leading from Troy’s house to the camp. We eventually extended this trail all the way to the Wilderness camp, making it a solid 30-minute walk with a group of campers. Along the way, you were guaranteed to come across muscadine grapes, wild berries, and maybe even a deer or two.
My first trip to Troy’s cabin happened before Troy was married (or dating, for that matter), so the cabin hadn’t yet been renovated and had a kind of bachelor pad feel to it. Not that it was dirty, but it did sort of feel like an all-wooden dorm room. In fact, one of my favorite things about the house was the fact that the bathroom walls (sandwiched between Troy’s bedroom and a guest bunk-bedroom) didn’t actually reach the ceiling. So, if you were in the bathroom taking a dump, everybody heard every single noise you were making. Truly an intimate experience….
I have a lot of memories of Troy, most of which were deep conversations walking through the woods. Some are memories of Troy asking me, “What the hell were you thinking?” when I’d made a stupid decision. Others are memories of us driving the camp trunk together to recycle all the cardboard the camp had collected. Or when we went to see Ira Glass together, and then on the way home, Troy got sick and vomited on the interstate (and I do mean the interstate, since there was no median to pull over in what was practically downtown Nashville). But my favorite memory, by far (and I don’t know why exactly), was that first trip to his cabin.
Most of that weekend I don’t remember clearly, to be honest, or rather, it’s all meshed up with other memories of Troy. I do remember getting to camp and the whole place being empty and quiet, and I played basketball by myself for two hours before Troy showed up. I remember us scrounging the cafeteria for food and me being excited when I found leftover macaroni. I don’t remember what we talked about that night, but I’m sure we probably stayed up talking about the Simpsons or God or who knows what. And I remember we’d agreed to wake up around 9:00 a.m. the next morning.
But then around 5:00 a.m. the next morning, something started tapping the side of Troy’s house first in quick successions and then with a moment of silence before going at it again. After thirty minutes or so of these shenanigans, Troy jumps out of bed, runs to the door, swings it open and screams, “GET THE *()#@! OFF MY HOUSE!” as loud as he could. He then walks back into his room and all is quiet for a few hours. The bird, a woodpecker that had been absent all winter and was suddenly making a grand return as a true sign that spring was upon us, managed to leave us alone the rest of the morning.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you wake up from a good night’s sleep, and it was truly a fantastic night’s sleep? Like, you wake up and you aren’t remotely groggy or tired. You feel like someone pressed the “charge” button during the night and all your bars are fully charged, and you’re just happy and comfortable and ready to go? Around 9:00, when Troy’s alarm went off, it triggered his CD player and this song began playing:
So, my eyes started to open, and I’m having that moment where you realize you’re fully rested, and this goddess, this siren, is lulling me awake. That happens, right? You can “lull” someone to wake? Rousing them from their nesting spot?
“Hey Phil, you up?” Troy asked.
“Uh yeah, who is this goddess beckoning me to fall in love with her by way of her voice?”
“Ah yes,” Troy responded, “This is the wonderful Aimee Mann.”
We got up, well-rested, had a laugh about the woodpecker, to Troy’s annoyance, and then started our day.
I don’t know why that’s memorable or why it just seemed to stick with me. Maybe it was the song. Or the woodpecker tapping on Troy’s house. Maybe it was the very rare night’s sleep. Or the quiet wilderness setting of a cabin in the woods. Maybe it was all of those things or none of them. But I like it. I like how simple it was, how simple all things were back then.
They didn’t stay that way.