Rented Memories

Written By: Josie Alexander

I was so young that I don’t even remember the first year my family began renting a house in Bridgehampton. But now, a dozen years later, the thought of my beloved house on a pretty, quiet lane sends waves of emotions at me. This might be our last summer out here, and I feel change coming. I have lived in this house every summer for three quarters of my life; so many years that it’s become a part of my family’s routine. My brother and I go to school in the city, but when summer arrives we pack up our stuff, huge smiles on our whole family’s faces and excitement building in our stomachs, and drive to Bridgehampton to get to our happy place. We drive across and out of Manhattan, waiting for the tall, blocky buildings to fade away into spacious green fields and charming houses on flower covered lanes. We can’t help but grin widely and cheer when we approach the big red deer sculpture along the highway, knowing it means we are almost at the house. We drive past our favorite you-pick-it farm, where raspberries, blueberries, snap peas, tomatoes, and the brightest, juiciest blackberries beckon. Then we arrive at the place that started out as the house we rent in the summer, but now is like our other home. It is so much our home that we have piles of our belongings, stacked in boxes, waiting expectantly for us every year in the basement.

I don’t drive yet, but if I did, I could even drive with my eyes closed from our house to the camp I have been going to for twelve years. Entering the camp, I see the familiar buildings and rooms, and suddenly memories of my friends, counselors and myself from years ago appear in front of me, and I see myself playing basketball games like knockout and HORSE; giving my friends underdogs on the swings in the playground; playing sharks and minnows in the pool; and competing in capture the flag, complaining when all of the counselors who were good at the game were placed on the opposing team.

I remember, as five-year-olds, my friend and me pouring ice-cold water on the head of one of our favorite counselors, and him picking us both up and spinning us upside down in retaliation. As cold water dripped down his head, he pulled his lips tight and furrowed his brow, and we watched, giggling gleefully at the anger we knew he was faking.

As a seven-year-old, I joined the dance-offs in my group, all of us swirling, swaying our hands, and hopping to the beat of the music, desperately trying to get our counselors to say we had the best dance moves so we would be rewarded with being the first ones to get ice pops.

As a ten-year-old, I would go to the art room all day, except for the occasional trip to the pool to cool off, or to play an intense game of dodgeball against our counselors. In the art room I would make sculptures, drawings, and paintings, and do fun projects with my three closest friends. Last year I was surprised but thrilled to find one of the sculptures we had made years ago, and memories of making it flew back. The somewhat zany sculpture is an abstract interpretation of a face, with two round eyes, a nose, a multicolor mouth, and one hand all hanging together with thin pieces of wire. I remember that one of the art counselors made the eyes, which are clearly the best part of the sculpture. When I look at the nose, I remember my friend flattening out a piece of clay and slamming it against her face, mushing it around until she made a perfect copy of her own nose to add to our sculpture. Why we decided to put a hand below the mouth, and why just one hand I will never know, but I wish I could ask my younger self.

As a twelve-year-old I went to the beach twice a week with my group, eagerly rushing to the ocean, impatiently waiting to dive in on hot days to cool down, only to be stopped just at the water’s edge by some of my friends who were scared of the ocean. I’d urge them to go into the water, knowing I’d have more fun if they were with me. Sometimes they’d come into the ocean, and sometimes the four of us would stay at the water’s edge, just jumping over the roaring, frothy waves as they crashed, and letting the water bury our feet in the sand. Sometimes we’d lie down on the sand where the waves were rolling up the beach to see who would lay there the longest, and who would be the first to get scared by a big wave and stand up to run away.

Turning fourteen changed my camp experience. I was no longer a camper, but a counselor-in-training, a CIT. I worked in the art room, and it was almost like being a camper, just hanging out with the art counselors with a little work added on the side. An art counselor and I used to sneak up behind one of the other counselors and scatter colorful, shiny glitter on her head and then run away quickly, knowing that she would laugh despite her distaste for glitter because it was so hard to clean up. It was a new experience for me to work and have kids asking me for help instead of being the one needing help.

As a sixteen-year-old, I now work with the youngest group of kids who are just three years old. Bucketloads more responsibility come with this position, as I have to be paying attention to where the kids are at all times. But my days are filled with a joy that each of the kids brings me, because at their age their perspective on life is so different from mine. One day, a boy named Joey cried because he had to leave me and go home. Twice during the day he had told me he wanted to go home, so when he didn’t want to leave at the end of the day, although it was hard to walk away from him while he was crying, I felt honored and thrilled that he ended up having a fun day with me.

As I have grown, so much has changed, except maybe the house. When I was little, I naively assumed that I’d be in the house forever, the thought not even crossing my mind that we would ever leave it. But now as I write this it hits me that our time at this house might be expiring. This could be my last summer at the house I have spent every summer at as far back as I can remember. I feel like Joey, crying because I have to leave.

Other changes are coming too. My brother is heading to college in a few days, leaving his childhood behind and taking a piece of our shared childhood with him. Last weekend was the last full weekend I had with him before he goes to college. Soon it will be the last time this summer I can call him over to play ping pong, and the last time this summer he will barge into my room, excited to see my reaction to a new magic trick he has been perfecting. Tomorrow is his last day working at camp this year, so he has been taking photos with his campers so that he can remember them.

I too am trying to remember and hold onto these days. A little girl in my group told me several times that she doesn’t want to grow up and get bigger, and at first I was amused, as young kids often want to get older, dreaming of the day when they are grownups and can do whatever they want. But then I thought that afternoon about what she said, and I thought about it going home from camp, and I realized that she spoke a greater truth than she knew. I’m getting older, and my life is changing. Change is good, and without it life could become predictable and maybe even passionless. But sometimes in order for change to occur some things must be left behind. Although it makes me long for the summer to never end, I know that my beloved house is one of the things I might soon have to leave behind.