Things Forgotten in the North, W.P.

Two hundred miles north of the Canadian border, bisecting two five building towns, there is a cabin where, in warm summer moments, my father was raised. Although the coloring of the floor has faded and some of the siding has been replaced, the cabin still holds rich  feelings of people that no longer visit, wisdom of winters long ago, and the residual complacency of the otherwise turbulent world in which my father lived. My father moved around a lot when he was a child; he never really was from anywhere in specific. I can see the resolve that this instilled in him when my mother slips into her mental illness. He is a strong man, but I can see the dullness in his eyes from time to time. The lake and surrounding woods teem with life, but is silent out of respect for these memories; the wilderness can feel my family’s history in this place. The quiet at times can be deafening; I must have gotten used to the awful pounding of indiscriminate, biting, anger.

 

The air in my father’s small car is a different kind of still than I’m used to. In stark contrast to the non-speaking peace of our normal drives, this air is stale and thick with anxiety. In my father’s youth this place where we are driving acted as a home; wherever he was in the world he would fly to the lake and spend the summer with his grandparents. It is now less of a home and more of a sanctuary. This place has become almost a place of tranquility where everything, any feeling and thought, is acceptable. When I enter this place I feel as if I have entered a monastery; everything feels in its place and a peace. It is quiet most of all. We hold our breath, knowing every inch of the road and woods ahead, yet still unsure of what waits for us at the end of the highway, and after that the gravel road. I gaze out the window at the same signs that I have seen before, and gauge our position based on how worn the billboards are. Out here, weathered is welcomed and the new signs feel wrong. I feel my family here before me and that I have earned a place of belonging among those scattered artifacts that litter the cabin.  I feel like I belong here; It feels safe.

 

The sunlight leaking through the cracked window burns off some of the tension in the air. We reach the winding, seemingly dodging, gravel road to which we have been driving to for almost two days now. My father tenses absorbing the anxiety in the air into the muscles in his arms and neck. He’s scared that this place is no longer a sanctuary, and he’s trying to protect me from the far reaches of my mother’s illness. He navigates the curves and dips of the road effortlessly, and is only eased by the familiarity of it all. The further down the road we travel the more I see his grip on the steering wheel loosen and his jaw unclench. The worry that he had forgotten this place, or worse that this place had forgotten him fades and he tenderly breaks the silence held between us. He tells me of running this road as fast as he could when he was my age. His voice is soft with a feeling of nostalgia, as he describes a younger man, almost as if he has not seen him in a long time. I have heard this story, and every story he tells, many times; I add a detail I think that he has forgotten and he nods and turns to me with a smile. He half jokes that he’s becoming senile and we both laugh as he turns back to the road.

 

We arrive to the lodge of the fishing camp that lies across the channel from the cabin, and are greeted with a stiff warm breeze blowing in from the bay that sprawls out before us. The landscape feels unchanged from my youth, as well as my father’s. As we walk he tells me again of the old lodge, that burned down when he was a teenager. Here he would work to earn the nickels he used to by comic books. Through the eyes of a child, he tells of a world where everything is exciting and touched by the magic of innocence. He is unsettled by the newness of everything else: these buildings are not the ones from his childhood. We set to work crossing to the cabin and unloading our belongings from the car.

 

Later that night across the strait in our cabin, I observe my father moving through the cabin like a ghost, drifting from place to place, remembering his grandmother’s cooking and watching the moon landing on the old 8” x 10” TV. Only after a moment of this do I realize that I am the ghost instead, haunting a simpler past. It is unsettling to feel so disconnected from him in this moment; his posture tells me I am intruding on an intimate moment. I pull him forward in time and he joins me on the porch in the cool evening air. We share a simple meal of sandwiches and oreos. My father sips Forty Creek on ice and laughs at all of my terrible jokes. We live in the future, talking of the plans we have for the coming days and weeks. Talking faster than the thoughts can form in our minds, we suddenly are encapsulated in the present moment. Drawn to the simplicity and silence of the world around us, we look out through the thin screen and take in the lake. We are struck by how unchanging it all is. The lake has barely changed and it would be foolish to expect it to hastily change dramatically. In 2 weeks we will return to my mother and the constant hum of anger and illness that comes with her. Why is it that this life is only this perfect for select moments?

 

To me, this memory looks like the reflection of the sun on the water as is sets in the horizon and like my fathers hands. I can hear the distinct jump of a fish on the lake and the creak of the boat rubbing against the dock behind me. It smells of the whiskey he sips and the wind blowing through the pines. I taste fresh fried walleye, and I feel the warmth of my father’s eyes looking at me from across the table. Only in retrospect do I realize how artificial these feelings feel. Only by drawing myself into a manufactured moment and I even attempt to contort these dishonest memories into something that is true.

 

I see him here in the summer as a young man, and if only for this one moment in time, I am able to make sense of my swirling thoughts. Like I haunt my father’s past in this place, he is haunted by my mother’s mental illness. I see his worn down smile between the gaps in his thick armor; I see the faded hope that perhaps he is in a convoluted dream. With no words he stands up and begins on the dishes. Busy hands alleviate the minds problems. This habit is something that we share. I sit with a knot of uneasiness in my stomach and empty hands.

 

This night in particular I see the cruelness of it all. My father and I travel north to escape the harsh reality of Colorado. For two weeks we coax ourselves in the sense of a normal family, just he and I. Only then can we return. This cabin is a remarkable sign of stability. In the summers of my father’s youth it was the only home he truly had, now it is the only home we really want. I run from my past and hide from the future it seems I am destined to experience. In the north I feel the warm kiss of the present.

 

Writer’s Memo:

In this piece I wanted to try to emulate the piece that you shared with us in class. I was really struck by the rawness and authenticity of it and tried to capture similar feelings in my own memories. I also tried to use a similar layout. In revision I want to try to further expand on the story as well as the feeling of the piece, however I feel that this piece is pretty much complete.

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