The summer prior to leaving for the next milestone adventure in our lives known as college was different than every other summer we had shared together. Street signs and overpasses would no longer separate us, but multiple “Now entering…” signs and thousands of miles would. We were reluctantly trying to move past adolescence.
We had three months to fill with debauchery and memories, but we each had to live our own lives. With just weeks remaining before we would be in separate states, in different time zones, we had no memories other than the casual company of each other and the drunken nights we shared and had philosophical discussions on how life was changing drastically at a speed we didn’t want to acknowledge.
Then the JAG spot was founded. A secret spot on Lake Maumelle away from all civilization. All it takes to reach the JAG spot, named in an acronym for our names, Jackson, Alex, and Garrett, is to drive outside of the city limits of Little Rock and then hike two miles through the woods and along a dried-up river bed.
Only seven people know about this spot in its seclusion. Out of all things there are on Earth that the three of us share, this is my most treasured.
Images of the sun setting over the forestry around us, painting the sky a spectrum of oranges and pinks and reds, are in the hard drive of my brain, photographed by my eyes. The more I reflect on the images I remember and the pictures I can visibly see, the more I start to understand why this place is so meaningful to me.
Our first trek to this unexplored cove was the day before I left for Birmingham. I was the first one to leave for college, the first one to leave our familiar settings and surroundings that filled us with comfort but also complacency. We carried lawn chairs and a cooler all the way to our unknown destination, Alex playing the part of tour guide. His speaker was playing music the entire time we were stepping over fallen branches and walking through spider webs. This would be our last hoorah, so to speak, for months. We had to make it count; we had to make it special.
There was nothing extraordinary about the experience. It was extravagant in its simplicity and innocence. We carried all we could in our hands and on our backs and looked to get away from familiarity with each other. It was blissful seclusion. We reached the spot at noon, the blistering sun directly above us. We played our favorite songs, we drank our vodka straight from the bottle and chased it with root beer, we waded in the water to shield ourselves from the sun, and we reminisced on all the years we’d spent together.
All the road trips, concerts, drunken mistakes, irrational decisions, and everything else that made up our friendship were all brought back to the forefront of our minds and became our topics of discussion. Today was reminiscing on our lives to prepare for the inevitable changes that were coming.
We laughed more than anything, we didn’t cry, but at times there was a morose atmosphere surrounding us by the water and sand due to our reflections. It was nostalgic and brought peace, but with that peace came the realization that the past is behind us.
As the sun began to set, we knew we had to hike back so we could see the trail before dark. We gathered our things and paused for a moment and watched the sun set before it fell below the tree line. Our walk back was mostly silent; there was no music and very little conversation. We were all pensive.
Before this short, makeshift journey I was dreading the idea of college. I was more nervous than I had ever been in my life. This whole experience calmed me and allowed me to understand that change is okay. Life is good.
As much as I love to look back at the past, I need to learn to look forward and focus on the present more. In this single, simple experience I began to do just that. It has been a slow, sometimes agonizing process trying to cope with the fact that I will never be able to relive or re-create the fondest memories I have of my past, but I know that the memories will never die.
Many times I have failed to acknowledge happiness in the present and only in the past. For me, it is almost impossible to recognize when I’m happy until the moment has passed and I recall it, but it is extremely easy to recognize sadness. Sadness is present in the absence of happiness, and happiness is present in the absence of sadness.
The first experience at the JAG spot with my two best friends on this earth prepared me for the parts of life I would have to face without them. I was truly happy there.