Skip to content

The Otakon Taster | 2016 | Amber the Vet Tech Student


Memory is a child walking along the seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.  

-Pierce Harris

Lake George: Thief

Dan was supposed to pick up Amber and me to go to Lake George. That changed when we discovered that he would be leaving early Friday morning that he might be able to work a bit more. When we are almost up to the lake, we find out that Dan's estimated time of arrival is now midnight. Amber assumes that this is hyperbole. Dan offers a faint apology to my father, but points out that he has to work if there is a job offered to him. He has a new house and six children to support, so he needs to operate by his momentum.

"I wouldn't want to do what Dan does," I assure Amber, "though I suppose he would find my life similarly hellish. Probably best we keep to our individual lanes."

Since, unlike Dan, I am at Lake George within an hour of when I am meant to be, my father pronounces me his favorite son. I tell my younger brother, laying on a bed three feet away, that it must suck to be him. My mother chastises him for playing favorites. Bryan, poor sport, insists he hadn't heard my father's remark. My father revises it that I am his favorite married son, so as to not hurt Bryan's tender feelings.

Driving up on my own makes Lake George and the experience of it less distant from daily life. Amber originally offered to drive, but I couldn't condone this when she has driven so much to get us to and from both Maine and Baltimore in the last few weeks. When she woke late with a cold and clung to me in semi-consciousness, I knew it was a far greater good to allow her to nap for a couple of hours on our drive.

We go out to dinner with my parents and Bryan. I feel remarkably on-point in my comments and overall happier than I have felt in my travels this summer, possibly because I can relax control for a little while. Other people will largely dictate the recreational and dining options for a few days. I can simply follow their leads.

Over dinner, my father corrects that Bryan is now his favorite because they drink together. Also, I have not provided him with grandchildren and how can I possibly be favored without sprogs?

"I had a good run," I say.

Amber and I wander the town to digest. I note the differences: a hotel where there had been a burned down restaurant, a do-it-yourself frozen yogurt storefront. For the most part, the town is as it always was at its core: a tourist trap specializing in Lake George t-shirts and hermit crabs. I've spent so long fixated on some ideal or remembered experience of Lake George that I've missed the one in front of me. So long as I accept it for what it is, I can love it.

Dan and his family arrive around one-thirty in the morning and immediately go to sleep.

Amber has faded by the next day. She eats some breakfast and then goes for a nap as I write. She is not the sort to tell me that she needs to do self-care, so I remain hyper-focused as to what she might need. I am so used to her being a bright light in my life that even a slight dimming because she is sick, tired, or preoccupied makes my world overcast. She is not responsible for my happiness, though she so often provokes it, but I cannot help but be concerned when isn't at her best.

Once we get hungry, we go to the chain restaurant where we will be having a late lunch on Bryan. Our vacations are piecemeal, though are largely funded by my parents and, to a lesser extent, Dan (who is more financially successful and thus more willing to throw his weight around by paying for meals and events). We had just come from the outlets because it is a rainy day and thus not conducive to vacation activities that are actually fun.

Bryan says something under his breath and then lets out a quiet expletive. I think this has to do with a work email he received, but my mother understands immediately that this means he has lost his wallet. He goes into a more justified panic. We call places where he may have left it, going so far as to leave a message with the police should it be turned in, but no one immediately claims to have discovered the wallet.

We stay through the meal, which Dan covers out of magnanimity, then search the outlets to the extent we can. My mother grumbles that it is gone, that someone has surely taken the money out - the money Bryan had set aside for the vacation meal - and tossed the wallet into the trash. "That is what people do," she says with finality, but she pokes at the grass nevertheless in case it might be there.

Around nine, the police deliver the wallet back to Bryan. A nice couple turned it in after finding it at the outlets. I was unaware people were kind and honest still.

Bryan promises to buy us all breakfast the following morning, though we are delayed because Dan and Becky have chosen to wake early to drive to do cross-fit, an activity that scars their shins but tones their muscles. The idea of putting off pancakes for cultish athleticism is foreign to me, particularly when they are the pancakes of a dozen other members of one's family, but their children seem used to it.

Meals with my family are logistically tricky, since they involve thirteen of us, one a baby, sitting in close proximity. Most restaurants make their contempt for our difficulty plain but, as these same restaurants refuse to take reservations and thus warnings of the storm to come, my sympathy for them is limited.

I see Bryan texting his girlfriend Colleen, musing that this final day is the first one where it feels like he is on vacation. Prior to this, Dan's family wasn't present or things just didn't gel. I think it is in part because we usually take a boat tour the first day. Pushing the inaugural event to the last day out of meteorological necessity leads to a confused association.

Over dinner, an elderly woman takes an interest in our bouncing niece Adalynn and proceeds to dance with her to the music of the restaurant's cover band. Adalynn moves in uncertain yet vigorous swaying no matter what lessons the woman tries to instill in her. She asks if we are Addie's parents and we wordlessly point at Becky. Addie's a cutie, but she is not our responsibility come potty-training time.

Dancing with my niece at this lobster restaurant to a cover band is certain to be one of my favorite parts of vacation, a fact I know even as it is happening. Like all good things, it wasn't planned so much as organically obeyed.

After dinner, Amber and I sit on the edge of the pier, our feet dipping in the water, waiting for the fireworks to begin. The water is a few degrees below comfort, but I adjust soon. I feel unwelcome anxiety welling in my chest and try to tell myself that I am in this moment, my new mantra. What do I mean by this? Imagine the movie fades in at this exact instant. What's going on? How do I feel? What narration do I imagine? It makes everything special because it is no longer about what happened before or may happen after.

It seems obvious, which is a trap. The lessons from others seem pat because you haven't fought to earn them yourself. You hear the words and false understanding prevents you from getting it fully, like how you know "to be or not to be" because it is parroted through our culture but most have no idea what it means.

As the first of the explosions light the sky, I am no longer seeing the fireworks as they are, but as a superimposition of every time I've sat on concrete and plastic and sand and wood and gazed up at the sky the day before I left for home. I lose this experience in how comingled it is with the past and with vague accounting of when next I will see fireworks. I cannot get out of my skull long enough to experience the now.

Amber and I stand on the lakeshore after the grand finale, our toes squishing in the muck. She squeezes me to her as we look to the mountains on the other side. It's really only a small span, beautiful but unassuming, but I cannot let it go because leaving Lake George means the summer is ending.

I return to the room, sick with nostalgia, wanting to grab every iota of Lake George and stuff it in my pockets. I had been doing so well to this point, but one must expect some slipping into bad habits. However I tell myself that Lake George shuts down next week, that all the shops shutter and the park lays fallow, I cannot get my head to be quiet. I cannot accept that I am here for a necessarily brief window. I leave Lake George and, in a sense, it leaves as well.

At my behest, Amber straddles my back and punches/massages the emotions out of me. She is in perfect form now that the cold has left her. At least I get to bring her home with me to recollect the trip. I'm not sure any of my partners have better understood what I needed.

Dan and crew leave before midnight so they don't have to pack up at five tomorrow morning. The leaving, though a necessity of the vacation process, is hardly the fun or memorable one, so Dan missing it shouldn't affect the experience. I am more concerned as to if I can purloin the vacant room for a bit more privacy and a more restful sleep.

As we are leaving, I realized I still have the key card to our room in my wallet. I remove it and, taking one last look at the lake for this year, give it in at the front desk.

I am barely back in the car before my father is calling to ask where the card is. I assure him I've done the right thing.

We are a few miles away when I realize my wallet is not in my pocket. It is too blatantly stupid that I have lost it, so I search around my seat, to no avail. We get out in front of a Walgreens and scour the car. I call the hotel, but the woman at the front desk assures me she cannot locate it. We return to Lake George to look on our own, going so far as to contact the local police and leaving my number with the peace officers.

Amber says, "That's what you get. You wanted to cling to Lake George and now you are back by losing something important to you."

It's a heavy handed lesson the universe is delivering. I assure her, and any universe that might be listening, that I get that now and would like my wallet back.

Soon in Xenology: Faces.

last watched: School Live
reading: The Way of the Peaceful Warrior
listening: Julie London

The Otakon Taster | 2016 | Amber the Vet Tech Student

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

eXTReMe Tracker