to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go
― Mary Oliver
Kevin’s family had a summer house they called their cabin in upstate Minnesota, and it was bigger than any of the houses I’d ever lived in. There were several different rooms for gathering and sleeping and a spacious kitchen for creating delicious meals because, of course, we had the time. There’s nothing else to do there but make conversation, play games and enjoy the surroundings with the people you’re surrounded by. The weekend we went there will forever be referred to as “the cabin times.”
One hot sticky summer, a group of us took the six hour trip up from Chicago, having somehow gotten time off from our jobs at retail stores and salons during a time most of us were still in school. We were all fairly broke but culled our money together for gas and food and cheap booze, the only things we needed for the days ahead. We were giddy, happy to be shopping at the local grocery for meats to barbecue and snacks to eat while were waiting for it to cook, and pancake mix for the morning. Despite how enormous the house was, we spent most of the time gathering in the screened-in porch that looked out onto the sunsetting over the lake and framed by tall trees, secluding it from the rest of the world.
Our days consisted of drinking beer or vodka with lemonade and putting on our swimsuits to sunbathe on the water trampoline or go out on the pontoon twice a day: Once while it was bright enough to take in the serene beauty of nature, and again at night to stare up at the stars the city lights never allowed us to see.
One of the days we parked the boat briefly to step off and explore an abandoned house Kevin claimed to be haunted. We crept slowly up the sand worried it wasn’t abandoned at all, and that we’d be discovered by the owners who likely had guns and hot tempers. Instead a bat flew out of an ajar window and scared Eric, who who was closest, who then screamed and led us all whooping and hollering in half-horror half-delight back to the boat. He lost a sandal in the mucky sand before we pushed off back to the safety of the water.
When we were on the water, we’d coast around and then take a break in the middle to get out and swim or just simply be blissful and buzzed out in the middle of nowhere. Once a golden retriever appeared, his head barely visible as he tirelessly paddled toward us. He was heavy, weighed down from his wet fur, as we hoisted him up onto the boat. He collapsed onto the floor, relieved to have caught us. Our own small dogs on the boat were curious but suspicious, and we kept them on the other side where they could eye the stranger from afar. We pet him and were incredulous that someone would let their dog try to swim across a lake. When we got back to the house we called the number on the tag and the owner said, “Yeah, he does that. I’ll be around to pick him up later. I have another one that’s out there, too.”
We used a video camera to tape confessionals like on The Real World, some of us taking it seriously and sharing secrets, others revealing nothing but entertaining us nonetheless. We ate, we drank, we laughed, we danced, and when it was all over, it was the only weekend we’d ever share together. Out of the ten friends that I shared confessions and beds and meals with, I only talk with two of them anymore, outside of a Facebook interaction once and again. Only two attended my wedding, only two I have to talk with about “the cabin times.” A falling out with the person who had the video camera means our confessions are long gone. The people we were in love with at the time, we’re not in love with anymore. But I can’t drink a raspberry vodka with lemonade or laugh about a terrible poem or hear “Mr. Wendall” without going back to those times spent at the cabin.
We always talked about going back again, but there’s no getting it back. We’d be chasing a lost weekend and the people we once were, and that would prove as cumbersome and unsuccessful as doggy paddling across an entire lake. We’d just end up drowning and tired, waiting to be called back home.