This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.
1999, North Woodstock, NH. I’m 23 and I’ve hiked 920 miles of the Appalachian Trail mostly on my own. Another hiker and I had helped an injured man down off the mountain earlier in the day and after we arrived safely at the road into town, he offered to my us a round at the bar. I’m trying to make it to the post office to pick up my resupply but it is ten to five and I have ten blocks to walk on sore feet. My favorite two hikers stroll in just as I set off, but I quickly abandon the plan. I’m starving and food is more critical than the mail drop. Instead, we drop our packs at the hostel, take five minute showers and reconvene on the the wrap-around porch as the sun is setting. It is total bliss to be clean, to know you have a comfortable bed for later and that in a short while you will be eating a good meal. Someone says there’s a place with $8.95 lobster dinners just down the hill, we practically scamper our way there. Walking without a backpack feel like levitating. My feet are out of the heavy, mud-clodded boots and my toes can feel fresh air. We get a table in a back room. They must see hikers a lot because the waitress just smiles knowingly as we tie our bibs over our long john tops. We laugh and tell stories. And laugh and eat. We laugh.
It’s July. So hot. After dinner we walk back up the hill and through a park where we can hear the cool sounds of water. In time, we gravitate to the river, as if we missed the outdoors already. The forest is our home for the summer and even though we are in town and paying for a room, no one wants to be inside. As the light dims, someone turns on some music. I am so full of everything. I see a firefly. I am a firefly.
Someone starts to dance. Maybe it was me? I had some Prince. I had so much hope inside me. I am a restless sort. As the sun set, I looked around at the faces. We weren’t strangers or dirty hikers or boys and girls anymore. We were kids. We were like puppies. We were far away from our hometowns and so at home right here. We sang and danced all the way to the hostel. We weren’t ready to go in though, so we crossed the street to the microbrewery and went inside.
As we collapsed into a booth, we saw the man we helped earlier, he came by carrying as many beers as he could carry. We brushed off the fear we had earlier in the day when he was out of water and his ankle was hurting. In the bright light and noise, the rock and rain was another world. Entering the side door, I saw another one of our tribe, Scott; a shy guy I had hiked with a few weeks back. Scott saw us and smiled as he came in. Scott didn’t really smile, it was more of suggestion of a smile. But, we nodded back.
Scott, who had just finished boarding school and was headed for Wharton. Scott, who told me intimate stories about trekking Kilimanjaro with his dad when he was 12 and crying the whole way. Scott, who had trimmed the margins off all his maps and filed his toothbrush handle down to save weight in his backpack. Scott, who we could all tell, always followed the rules. Scott, who has just showered and put all his laundry in the dryer and so was wearing the unmistakable town outfit we all wore, Gortex rain coat and rain pants. (Everything else was in the wash).
Scott went up to the karaoke guy to ask him to play a song.
There we were. In this little world we had created. We would never have met in the real world. Different walks of life, different assumptions. We wouldn’t share a table or a beer, or a night by the river under any other rules. But this night was special. I will never forget Scott’s version of Little Red Corvette. That boy killed it in his upper crust white boy way, grooving and shimmying his way into our hearts in his blue Gortex suit. How could we resist dancing? How could we resist joining him on stage in our rags and beards and overflowing hearts to sing at the very top of our lungs? Driving in my car today in Las Vegas, looking at the traffic, still tense from the workday, I listened to the newscasters talking about Prince’s death. A loss I felt. A loss overlaid with a distinct memory of a night in July. As the traffic began to move, I couldn’t help but start humming. ”
“It was Saturday night…”
As a friend said today, “music can be a time machine”. And so we go on, but not alone. We have these memories.