A Moment of Peace in Mountain Pine, July 2001: A Preview of My New Book

This is a bit of me testing some waters. In the winter I intend to release my second book, In Transit: Travels Through An Autistic Adulthood. The book consists of stories of trips I’ve taken between the ages of 15-37. Right now I’m in the editing phase and finding the last little stories I want to plug in. I’m also doing a giant Planet of the Apes review series and next week I deal with the 2001 movie, which opened the weekend I depict here. So I’m going to use this as an experiment. Y’all are getting a taste of the book through an unused chapter and I’m setting the mood.

Memory is a lie.

I know this because the first time I wrote about this vacation, I framed it as a time when I was grumpy. My mom saw it and was confused. To her, I was extremely pleasant on the trip. Which is true? I’m pretty sure she is. I know this because I battled very severe depression between the fall of 2000 and spring of 2002. Depression paints a dark coat of paint.

But it’s a coat that fades. Eventually the memory we get remains. And often the times the ones we have are happier than the first draft. Maybe they’re lies. Maybe they’re not. Do I care in the end? This is a beautiful story and that’s all that counts.

For our summer vacation in 2001, my family went to a small cabin in Mountain Pine, AR, just outside of Hot Springs. It was a neat place, super wooden. I think I’ve found the place but it doesn’t quite line up. I’m looking back two decades and remodeling happens. Yeah, think a nice wooden apartment and this was the lodge.

Why Hot Springs? It was a small retreat. Nothing amazing but just far enough away. It was a chance to get my family away for the weekend and not go see my grandparents. Aside from us going to my mom’s parents house to get the two cots we needed that is. It wasn’t the epic trip to Gulf Shores the next year is my point. But small is good.

How do I feel about Hot Springs? Let me pause to discuss that. I love Hot Springs deeply but for the longest time, my trips have more been about my memory of the town than what’s there now. The flea markets aren’t what they were nor are the bookstores. The town can’t lose its natural beauty but Hot Springs exists as a perpetual state of decay. If my fixation on memory and aging has a physical form, it’s the county seat of Garland County. But that’s not the case in 2001. Sure it was a bit off my memories of it in say 1992 but it was still nice. Most importantly, my grandparents still lived there and my grandmother still lived.

My mom, my brother, sister, and I arrived before my dad. We unpacked. We had a lot of time. So what did we do? We went to Mid America Science Museum. I talk about memory and it’s fascinating to filter this through my memory. We went a lot as kids. I’ve gone a couple of times with my wife and daughter. In those instances, it was a shining beacon of an institution. 2001? Still good but suffering from competition from the Museum of Discovery. It had a roller coaster simulator, which was a very neat experience.

After we tolled around the science museum, truly a place for all ages, we retreated to our lodge. It was on the water, Lake Ouachita I think. Peaceful and quiet it was. I should note the weather was absolute dreck. There was a heavy overhang of clouds and it rained most of the trip. But the lodge was so calm and inviting.

Who was I in 2001? To a great degree I was out of my larval form. My hair was growing long and I sported more than a film of a beard. I’ve admitted I suffered from depression in this era. I was frustrated a lot. I that had less to do with being autistic and more to do with being 17. I wasn’t struggling with who I was. I was struggling with the fact that who I was didn’t seem to count for much.

One thing I was wrestling with was the script I was writing fell apart epically. Earlier that year, I’d written a half formed script about a guy in love with his best friend. It fell apart and would sit unfinished basically forever until in 2015 I figured out a way in. The reason it collapsed was vintage men’s rights activist tropes were all I had to write about. My main character was a nice guy who thought he deserved a woman. It died because I, in my deep depression, still couldn’t find a way to justify an ending other than my main character getting kicked in the head.

But I had a new project I was writing. See, I had spent the summer working hard on a project worth writing about. I was writing a novella about grief. And I actually spent months researching it. I read every book about grief there is. To this day, I still believe in the value of the Kubler-Ross process. I lived and breathed grief.

I wrote the story by hand largely so I could write wherever I was. That’s what I did that evening as my family watched tv and dined. I wrote, off in my own world. In my ears was 105.9, KLAZ. The station never came in great but I loved it. It played songs I didn’t hear elsewhere. I know relatively obscure in American German pop music for that reason. Bizarrely the night DJ, a guy named Bobby Bones, would go on to national fame. Go figure.

So here I am, writing a book about surviving a loss, by hand in a wooden lodge by a lake while listening to Nelly Furtado and Ronan Keating. That’s as peaceful an image as I can imagine. I wasn’t drinking then but the image demands a can of Woodchuck at my side. That’s all it needs.

Of course there’s reality. Reality was my dad popped a tire as he arrived. The next day we had to go to Walmart to get it replaced. I have a distinct memory of standing in the book section looking at the books. The Star Trek book event that year was Gateways, better than most of their events but dull anyway. I preferred the DS9 revival that summer and the great Section 31 quartet. I remember that detail, browsing those.

Then it was off to Magic Springs. I can be a cynic and say it’s a small park that’s not what it should be. Forget that! The place is great and if it’s small, it’s all choice. Bizarrely I don’t remember riding all that many rides. I mostly remember walking. And that’s great because I absolutely had a blast. It wasn’t agonizingly hot. I was in a good mood. Did we go to the water park? Definitely.

But my memory is consumed by one facet. I only had one goal: to ride a roller coaster. The Arkansas Twister is a rather well regarded wooden roller coaster. I wanted to get on it. And I did. Maybe a minute of fun but an experience I haven’t forgotten. To this day it remains the only roller coaster I’ve ridden.

Then of course it started raining. Nobody was happy having to leave. I think there was one good argument. But why wouldn’t there be? It was a shame the core of the trip was cut short. And for the record, the rain didn’t stop until later that afternoon.

We went back and we sat in the lodge. My parents took a nap. I think my siblings watched tv. I know I listened to the radio. I got lost in the music that weekend, maybe the only art from 2000/2001 I thought was all that good at that point. I know I soaked in the energy of the room. That wood creates a soothing feeling you can’t escape.

This was not a standard experience for me, to be content to be still. In the pages to come, you’ll see a man unable to stop moving. When I had the power to do so, I stayed active to the second I blacked out. When I didn’t, and sadly the next story in the book is this exact problem, I was a nightmare. But this and one other time, I allowed myself to be quiet.

I still remember a shocking amount of details about the night that followed, which is weird because all that happened was my dad and I ran to the gas station and my brother and sister swam in the lake. But I remember the orange of the sky. I remember the SNL rerun. I remember writing. I remember the ideas I kicked around.

The next day things ended as of course they do. You pack up and leave. We went to downtown Hot Springs for lunch. We stopped in an antique store and the Aquarium, the biggest tourist trap ever. On our way out of town, my dad ran me by Books-A-Million where I grabbed the monthly Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel, part 1 of a serial. We returned the cots. Then the trip was over.

Like I said, I have few idylls in my memory. Being autistic and manic, I’m not granted those. But I cherish this one moment. And yes, maybe I was moody at times. But I’m older, much older, and I’m smart enough to know how it should have gone, and I’m grateful.

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