"Time Served"

Uncle Joe’s cabin. Too bad it wasn’t Uncle Tom’s for the obvious reason. The cabin is a place of wonder and mystery. From the outside it doesn’t look like much, but once you penetrate the inner realms you discover how cozy it really is. My first memories of the cabin come from my high school days. Shawn was hiding out in North Carolina for most of the year, but would make his stay at the cabin when he was in town. I remember being so pumped to spend the weekend at the cabin. I could always look forward to fruit rings, combos, other assorted snacks, and of course, Guinness. We’d play music into all hours of the night or until Uncle Joe had to play the bad guy and tell us to quiet down. He always feared that the neighbors would call the cops. If only he knew that they’d one day call the Fire Department on us, but that’s an entirely different story.

I believe I was in my senior year of high school when Shawn moved back home to the cabin. It was during this one year home stand that we hiked Mt. Washington, skied Quichee Gorge, and canoed the Merrimack River. I’d spend as much time up at the cabin as I could. I absolutely could not get enough of it. Often, I’d tell Shawn how lucky he was to live there full time. He’d agree with me, but always with concern on his face. He knew how much the cabin meant to me, but I now know that he was not as happy there as he seemed. I now realize that all of our adventures weren’t only for fun, but they were a chance for Shawn to get away from the sheer hell of living in the cabin.

It was now the summer of 2002 and I was heading into my Junior year at the University of New Hampshire. One morning I received news that my roommate from the previous two years was transferring to the University of South Florida. This left me with a major dilemma, no housing. It was too late to get a dorm and would be way too expensive to get an apartment in the area. One morning it hit me. Northwood is only 15 minutes from Durham. I emailed my Auntie Linda to see if it would be possible for me to spend the year living in the cabin. She told me that they’d love to have me, but that the winter months could be rough there (the cabin has little to no insulation and water lines have been known to freeze). Hey, if my cousin could handle it then there was no way I was backing down from this challenge. Plus, I had no other options besides commuting to Durham from Londonderry. Plans were made for me to move in at the beginning of September. I was truly excited.

September rolled around and my buddy Miles and I brought all of my stuff up to Northwood. When we arrived, my Uncle Joe was doing some last minute cleaning in the cabin. I was expecting to have to clean myself, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had done that for me. Miles took off and so it began. I opened the cabin fridge to find one lonely Guinness among various condiments and fake wine that’s served at Thanksgiving to those underage. There was one more item located on top of the fridge…New Hampshire Vodka. This vodka had been on top of that fridge for as long as I can remember and no one dared to touch it. There was about a half bottle of it left. I chose to drink the Guinness which began my stay at the cabin.

The September and October months weren’t too bad. I’d spend my days at school, come back to the cabin, eat lunch, and pop in a few movies from under the TV. Besides movies, I’d record music with my 4-track and attempt to call people on my cell phone. And every once in a while when I was really bored I’d do some homework. Since I had no cabin phone, no computer, and no TV reception, movies were one of the few commodities that I had. I calculated that if I watched two movies each day, that I’d run out of things to watch in mid October. And this exactly what happened.

When the movie selection ran out and I had already watched Deer Hunter twice, I knew I was in trouble. One day I was checking my mail at school and saw a piece of paper on a cork board which read, "Yard work? Call and ask for Drew." I wasn’t sure if he needed yard work done or if he was offering his services, so I called. The next day I had a job. The yard work job killed two birds with one stone. It kept me out of the cabin and also gave me enough money to buy groceries and pay for electricity and heat. When I wasn’t working for Drew, I’d often help my Uncle Joe with any yard work that he was doing. I even found time to play with Brendan. I think Auntie Linda tried to keep him away from the cabin because she thought I wanted privacy. In actuality, I liked when he’d come over because it gave me some sort of human contact. We’d shoot slingshots down by the pond or drive Kittie wild with my laser-pointer.

Kittie was my only companion at the cabin. She liked hanging out there, so I told my Auntie Linda that I’d feed and watch over her. Boy did that cat love bread. I’d come home some days and that cat would have torn open my wheat bread and gone to town. And it wasn’t like she only bit one piece of bread and that I could still eat the rest. She always managed to get her mouth on every single piece, but I still loved that cat. Even when she’d claw at my face at 6 o’clock each morning to wake me up, I still enjoyed having her around. She was definitely more plump by the time I left though.

It was early November when things began to go downhill. The temperature was dropping fast and I knew that yard work for Drew would soon be out of the question. I spent many hours alone in that cabin. I’d play music until my fingers could move no longer or until I’d break a string on my guitar. I was really getting tired of Northwood, but I had no choice.

Since my water supply came through a hose hooked up to Uncle Joe’s well, I had to keep the kitchen and bathroom faucets running at all times. If I didn’t, the hose would freeze and bye bye water. I can’t tell you how many mornings I had to shave with ice cold water because the hot water faucet wouldn’t turn on. Have you ever shaved with ice? It’s definitely no way to start your day I‘ll tell you that much. To save money I’d turn the heat off when I went to school. In the afternoons I’d come back to a freezing cabin, literally. It was so cold that Kittie’s water dish would often be frozen solid. It was around this time that I’d use my breath thermometer to calculate how cold it was. Let me explain. If I could see my breath 4 feet in front of me, it was fucking freezing. If it went only 2 feet, it was god damn cold. If it went 1 foot, it was nippy. If it went less than a foot, it was just about as warm as the cabin was going to get.

At my lowest point, I had a surprise visit from Shawn. I knew he’d be coming for Thanksgiving, but he actually came a few days early, thank god. That Thanksgiving we constructed the largest bonfire to date. It was at least 20 feet tall before we lit the thing up. It was nice having some company for a change, but I knew it was only temporary. December was upon me.

The first snow buried my car. It was then that I realized that the cabin had no driveway. It took me an hour to dig a path on the grass from the cabin to the road, around 100 feet. Shoveling snow which has fallen on grass is hell. From then on I parked 10 feet from the road. Things weren’t getting better.

It was mid December. I woke up, ate breakfast, and then noticed something odd. That familiar dripping sound from the kitchen and bathroom was gone…silence. I rushed to the kitchen sink and tinkered with the nozzle, but I had no water. I began to panic. I remember hearing horror stories of Shawn’s stay at the cabin. He told me a pipe once burst from under the cabin in the middle of the night and that he had to go down there and fix it. I figured this wasn’t the case since I heard no running water from anywhere. I threw on my warm-up pants and headed outside to see if I could spot the problem. I dug through a foot and a half of snow to pull up the hose. Slightly bending it, I could tell that it had definitely frozen all the way through. I started at the cabin and began cracking the hose in an attempt to allow water to once again flow freely. After cracking what seemed to be a half mile of hose, I was now 10 feet from the well. With a few more cracks I began to hear water inside the hose. Excitedly I bent the hose a bit harder. And then it happened. The hose burst open and I was completely doused from head to toe with rust-colored ice water.

CREEPY SIDENOTE: Just as I was writing "hose burst open" my sister screamed. I ran downstairs to find her throwing towels under the sink. A pipe had burst and rust-colored water was dripping out. Why do these weird things always happen while I’m writing?

I had no jacket on, only a white t-shirt, but it had to be close to zero degrees outside. All I could think about was how to get this water to stop pouring out. In those few seconds I remembered Uncle Joe once telling me how to shut the water off from the well, but I don’t think I was paying attention. I ran to the well and tried to find some sort of valve to turn. A million things rushed through my mind. I had no way to contact either Uncle Joe or Auntie Linda. If this water poured out all day I would feel like such an ass. Luckily I figured out how to stop the water by turning a nozzle on the well. I had hit rock bottom. I stopped the leak, but I was still without water at the cabin. I took the half mile of frozen hose into the kitchen of the cabin. In a desperate attempt to thaw it out, I left the propane heater on all day. After throwing a few towels near the two ends of the hose, I made the decision to skip school and head into Concord. Wal-Mart was sure to have hoses. Guess again. Apparently the biggest friggin department store in the world does not carry hoses in the winter. I almost had a meltdown in the store. I ended up finding some 15 foot hoses in the camping aisle though. Later that night I installed the new section of hose to my thawed out section and my problem was solved. From then on I made sure that the faucets ran a bit harder than a drip.

I was now counting down the days until I departed from the infamous cabin. My mental condition was not healthy as I was now holding full length conversations with the cat. The repetitive mornings, afternoons, and evenings were wearing on me. Then I found out that after meeting the requirements and taking classes for 2 semesters, the Whittemore Business School at UNH had decided not to accept me. This basically means that I wasted a year taking classes that would get me nowhere. I broke down and cried that day on the phone with Kaite. I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried, but I was destroyed. The people at the business school suggested that I choose a new major and start all over. Frig that. Soon after I transferred out of that hell hole and enrolled in the UNH Manchester business program.

On my last night at the cabin I made a time capsule. I put some memorable items in a plastic bag along with what was supposed to be a small note. This note turned into a 4 or 5 page story much like the one you are reading now. If this capsule is ever found I’d ask that you put it back. I’d like to reminisce about my cabin stay in about 10 or so years.

Cabin years are often like dog years. You may think that 4 months isn’t a long time to stay in the cabin, but it equates to about 4 years. Even though I had some rough times there, I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. I learned a lot about myself in those 4 months. I learned how to live on my own. I learned how to pay my own bills. I learned how to buy my own groceries. I learned how to cook, clean, and most importantly, fend for myself. Oh, and by the way…remember that NH Vodka? My Uncle Tom managed to drink enough vodka and cokes that Thanksgiving to finish off that horrendous bottle of booze. That feat alone might top my entire 4 months at the cabin.

Here's one of the creepier songs I wrote during my stay...

"Cabin Fever"

I sit here after dark I'm wondering
Will I see my breath tonight
How many times can I play this song?
And will I ever get it right?

I'm sinking deeper into boredom
I'm falling faster every night
I'm tired of wandering through this empty nowhere
And I'm tired of being right...on my own

This cold guitar won't keep a tune
These jagged strings are fading black
One day I'll drive out of this empty place
With no thought of turning back

I sit here harmonizing with myself
Cause these phones refuse to sing
There's no one here to see these tears erupt
Only me and my 6-string