Jake and I took a little stay-cation with Penny recently in Mt. Charleston. It’s just 40 minutes from Vegas, but looks and feels like we boarded a plane, jumped on a snowmobile and hopped on a ski lift to get there. During a hot Vegas summer, that just means there are mountains there and no one’s cracking eggs over the sidewalks to prove you really can fry them.
We had some time to kill when we first drove in and decided to drive up the mountain to check out the pretty houses. It was a steep drive. On the way back down the hill, Jake said something about his brakes. That’s when a memory from the past gently tapped me on the shoulder and then yanked me into 1993.
Shelby’s family had a cabin in Northern Utah. She divided her summers between there and good ol’ West Valley City. Every now and then I’d accompany her. The first time we made the three-and-a-half-hour drive alone, without one of her parents behind the wheel, we almost didn’t make it to the cabin. We almost didn’t make it to age 17.
She took the scenic route that had us twisting and turning down a beautiful hill I still wasn’t old enough to appreciate. Huge trees shaded the road and I can’t remember if the lake was in view at that point or if my memory just does me the favor of putting it there. I do remember we were driving close to the edge of this mountain and Shelby’s foot was heavy on the brakes all the way down. There we were, probably listening to Lisa Loeb and crunching on Funyuns, when Shelby yelled that she couldn’t stop the car. Just as I was thinking she chose a horrible time to exaggerate, she reached for the emergency brake. We broke into a lovely, loud chorus that had her singing “I can’t stop!” in between all my “Oh my God’s” until we staggered off the road and the nose of her car Eskimo kissed a nearby tree. If it weren’t for that tree …
No one was hurt. Not even her car. It was an Eskimo kiss, not a full-on makeout session. But we were both choking on our own hearts by the end of it. I don’t remember if a stranger pulled over to tell us we should let the brakes cool down and then put it in neutral the rest of the way or if we figured it out ourselves. What I won’t forget, though, is that — amid all the “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit!” talk — we both said if we had to die it would’ve been “cool” to die together.
All that poured over me like a shower of Shelby nostalgia as Jake, Penny and I were coasting down that road in Mt. Charleston. I got quiet, long enough to absorb the memory completely, and then blurted out “Put it in neutral! You’ll burn out your brakes!”
Then I got quiet again. And then I got really sad. Not because she’s gone — I’ve almost come to terms with that — but because my brain had shown that memory the nearest exit and all but ushered it on out of the noggin. I almost forgot that awesome moment with her. In the last three years since she passed away, I’ve realized the only thing I can do is remember her. The only thing I have is the memory of her. So, my worst fear is forgetting her. I’m afraid of forgetting facial expressions, inside jokes, things I loved about her, things I didn’t love about her, her moles, her feet, special dates, stupid fights, first conversations, last conversations, NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES. I don’t want to forget any of it. And everytime I think of how afraid I am of forgetting, Sarah McLachlan comes to pay me a visit. Yes, the singer.
Allow me to explain.
When we were 10 years old, we watched the movie “Beaches” together. Aside from deciding I was CC and she was Hillary Whitney, we also decided “The Wind Beneath My Wings” was our song. I know. Just like Kraft, it’s the cheesiest. Hey, we were 10. At the time, it made perfect sense.
Fast forward almost a decade later and Shelby and I are adults in my Honda Civic. We haven’t spoken in months because of stupid girl stuff. I’m driving and she’s in the passenger’s seat when Sarah McLachlan comes on the radio. Shelby loved her. I always thought of her as bubblebath music and, um, let’s just say I preferred showers.
Shelby: Dude! This is the song I was just telling you about. This is my song to you.
Me: (Turning up the volume) OK, OK, lemme listen to it.
Me: (Confused) How could I NOT remember you?
That last line might read like it was sweet and dripping in honey, but it was said with a very strong “DUH” tone. Come on. This was the same girl who asked me to be her best friend during a fourth grade slumber party and made a case for why she deserved the title over our fellow slumberers. The same girl who begged me to take my 7thgrade school picture in a black Zorro hat, just like she did. The same girl who wouldn’t let go of our hug when she lost the Miss Dynamite pageant. The same girl who decided an entire joint between the two of us was the best way to get high for the first time. The same girl who told me the stuff you only tell a best friend the night before her wedding.
And, THAT SAME GIRL was now asking me, through her bubblebath seranading pal Ms. McLachlan, if I would remember her?
Having that memory of us losing our brakes in Northern Utah creep up on me out of nowhere wasn’t an example of my brain almost forgetting. It was an example of my brain promising to remember. Just like ”The Wind Beneath My Wings” made perfect sense at age 10, “I Will Remember You” makes perfect sense now. But uh, sorry, Shelby. I’m sticking to my first answer: How could I NOT remember you?