Nights in the Hollow

Posted on: April 7, 2016

Remember the night the fire nearly escaped us? Of course you do. Britt Myerson almost turned the whole park into an ashtray, bottles of lighter fluid crumpled in both hands. “Xiuhtechuhtli! I praise you!” Pyro bastard. Did you hear he’s in real estate now? Makes a killing. Maybe the rest of us backed the wrong horse. God-wise, I mean.

I take my kids down there every now and then, to the hollow, to see how many trout or bass we can catch before someone succumbs to screen withdrawal. You will be happy, I think, to know that our summer left permanent marks on the place. Remember when that volleyball player – someone’s cousin – casually mentioned that she wanted to hear OutKast and Jason Zapp lept up, announced he had the CD in his car, and proceeded to drive his Grand Am down the tiny dirt trail until he got it wedged between two trees?

They have a “NO AUTOMOBILES” sign at the trailhead now. The Zapp Rule. One day I heard a woman say “Like anyone would ever try to take a car through here!” I let the remark pass, uncorrected.

Nowadays, ten guys would whip out their phones and, I’m sorry Ms. Jackson, the party would receive an eternal jukebox; effort-free music for as long as anyone desired. Where’s the chivalry in that? I understand that it’s dumb to get your car stuck in a tree, but when’s the last time you were so passionate about something that you’d drive through the fucking woods for it?

Impulses need time to linger, to shapeshift into longing.

After he struck out with the volleyballer, DJ Zapp took refuge in that goofy old song he loved, the one that was in the car rental commercials recently - ommaway, ommaway - and he stomped around the fire pretending to play a flute, masking the sting of public rejection. You perched on a stump, performing spasmodic karate moves that I later realized were precise replications of the real music video. Why and when had you possibly seen that video?! Everyone was dying laughing, like they always did. You had all the reference points, had always seen the movie, heard of the band, knew all the words. How I ached for your approval.

People were fighting and fucking, pissing and puking in the brush, smoking bowls in the shadows. The whole year went like that, one bonfire to another, alliances forged and forgotten, all of us together, always, like a reality show without the cameras. “Where’s the party at tonight?” Everyone asked that, and everyone got the same answer. Sports heroes and sensitive hippies from the Montessori, come on down. A party for every stoplight in a one stoplight town.

Right before the cops came, I was on my back in the tall grass past the far side of the lake, throat syrupy thick from one too many Big Gulps filled 50/50 with Mountain Dew and the cheapest vodka on the market. Wolfsbane? Wolf’s Breath? I drank so much of it that its name disappeared down the memory hole, though the snarling silver wolf on the label stayed with me.

I don’t remember how I got there--maybe Xiuhtechuhtli was looking out for me after all--but Gabi Giroux and I were side-by-side, staring up at infinite sky, probably thinking we were the first teenagers to discover the joys of alcohol and astronomy.

“Isn’t it majestic?” she said, sarcasm and sincerity blending like peanut butter and chocolate, like Wolf’s Breath and the Dew.

When the police Maglites started cutting across the trees, she said “Cops are here” as matter-of-factly as if they were just another carload of invited guests.

She inched closer and put her head on my shoulder and continued talking, now in a whisper, about PJ Harvey’s Brooklyn rooftops and Joan Didion’s Hollywood parties, about her secret sketchpad teeming with savage caricatures, about the conventional sterility of our parents’ lives, about how much we hated our hometown (which all of our friends, family, teachers and casual acquaintances knew) and how scared we were to leave (which we’d admitted to no one, including ourselves). A thistle pierced the small of my back and my Big Gulp-battered bladder cried for relief, but there was no chance I’d betray our location, or give Gabi any cause whatsoever to think I was restless. I wanted the sun to die and the cops to live forever, humdrum Highlanders searching the hollow for underage drinkers as Gabi and I grew old together in the prairie grass.

Instead, satisfied with their taming of the teenagers, and no doubt restless to return to their speed traps, the cops abandoned us. I’m not sure whether they even handed out any tickets. Someone said they snatched a loaded cooler as “evidence.” I wouldn’t be surprised. Gabi and I kept talking for a while, but I was already on alert, already feeling the ache of absence. Soon enough, the four dreaded words: we should get back.

Some survivors had already straggled back to the campsite, defiantly feeding fresh logs to the flames. Others, like Gabi, decided to quit while they were ahead, and took their trashed but ticket-free selves back to town. You don’t want to make small town cops drive out of their way twice in one night.

That’s when you had the bright idea: let’s walk home. Let’s cut through the fields, trek to town, buy sausage biscuits at the Quik-N-EZ, and salute the sunrise. Everyone else balked, but I was ready. This was my night. I could have done anything.

Things got heavy during our walk. No more karate-dancing. You talked about the “horrible banality of family trauma.” You even cried a little. You got angry. Were people just needing to unburden themselves that night, I wondered, or was there something particular about me?

I steered myself toward the latter interpretation. I never knew where I fit in, and now here was the answer. I’d be the co-conspirator hiding in weeds and tromping through pastures, the omnipresent shoulder, the last guy standing.

I was giddy and greasy-chinned as we settled onto a bench in the park, two wolves with four biscuits, snickering as a morning jogger side-eyed us. Remember that?

I don’t remember any of this. You sure it was me?

Of course it was you! Who else could it have been?

I don’t know.

I mean, I could have sworn. It’s always been you in my head.

Written by: Adam McKibbin
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll

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