There are many hills in south-central Pennsylvania. When I was little my favorites were the small, rolling ones we’d drive over on our way to the beach in Rehoboth, when you’re heading through the fields dotted with cows in the southeast corner of the state. Sometime in high school, though, I found a better hill—it backed up to the Penn State Hershey hospital campus and was also conveniently a short walk from Andrea’s house. Freshman year, there was a weeklong period in the winter that we didn’t have classes—Hershey had an ice storm, and they just kept giving us days off from school because the buses couldn’t drive on the ice, so we had a midweek sleepover and then went sledding on the hill. I remember it being a steep hill, though I’m sure it’s much more daunting in my memory than in real life. It was a great sledding hill because it dipped down at the bottom and sort of gently caught you in a shallow ditch, so you didn’t just keep flying on a thin piece of plastic out into the parking lot 30 feet away.
In better weather we had many important conversations at the hill, approximately none of which I can recall. It was where you went for secret-divulging, or for conversations you didn’t want anyone else to overhear—in all the time we spent at the hill, I only ever remember us being its sole inhabitants. It was really just a hill, and in retrospect probably a fairly unremarkable one, but it felt like my own tiny, carved-out corner of a town with too many people in it. It was a place to go when we didn’t want to go home but had nowhere else to be because we were very much 16 years old and we were not cool enough to get invited to house parties. The hill was a ponderous sort of location. You could walk up to the middle and sit down in the grass, which was not very comfortable, and have a nice view of the hospital and beyond it. Sometimes I’d just drive over there and park in the parking lot and walk directly up the hill and hang out for a while. I did this senior year, when I was for sure depressed but didn’t have anyone to be like “hey, you’re depressed, that’s why you’re sitting on a hill and crying even though you got into almost every college you applied to, take a Lexapro,” and I’m sure it was when I was sitting on the hill that I decided I needed to get out of Central Pennsylvania and See Things, which in some ways has proven to be an overrated experience.
Landmark events happened at the hill: When I was a sophomore, the hill was where Andrew asked me to be his girlfriend (this relationship, which began because we both played alto sax in jazz band, would last approximately two months, but we stayed friends long afterwards). Ben and Andrea and I ended up there one night in the spring of the same year, listening to a song from the Taylor Swift self-titled album, which Ben was playing from the iPod connected to the aux cord in his car with the sound turned all the way up so we could hear it from the hill. After a trip to the now-defunct Saturday’s Market, where one could show up on Saturdays and buy a shoo-fly pie, baseball cards, and a Bible all from different vendors, we drove to the hill with our friends Brooke and Dan. It was 2008 and we were listening to Flight of the Conchords in the car and Dan bought a winter hat with a weed leaf embroidered onto it. Everything we did was hilarious to us because as far as we knew, we were the first people on earth to do anything ironically. We walked through the woods behind the hill for hours because we had nothing else to do, which is how we learned that if you spent enough time there you could find anything, including an impressive number of empty liquor bottles and a decomposing car.
In recent weeks I’ve noticed more people I follow on Instagram dredging up memories of their pasts. Nothing new is happening now, so the edict is, I suppose, post old pictures. This was probably why last night I shared a picture of a table littered with frozen Penichillin glasses on the back patio of Diamond Reef, taken on May 25, 2018—a gorgeous summer Friday of which I evidently spent eight hours drinking on a concrete slab in Bed-Stuy. Seeing even older pictures from friends and acquaintances has made me realize how many of my childhood memories belong less to me and more to a collective 2006 consciousness. Somewhere in my own mass of digital rubble there are pictures from a point-and-shoot digital camera. In them my two best friends and I, ages 13 and 14, are posing with a 64-ounce Turkey Hill slushie that has three extra-long straws sticking out of it at all angles. We’re wearing bikinis and contorting our bodies and sitting on the edge of Kristen’s pool. We’re posing for clumsy mirror selfies and dyeing our hair with henna from Lush. We look horribly uncomfortable in dresses from DEB just before freshman year homecoming. We’re taking pictures in the dark on a trampoline, our bodies and faces overexposed with a blinding flash. I’ve seen so much of myself reflected back to me in pictures from strangers that look just like this, but at least one location-specific memory is definitively my own.
What I’m cooking this week
And perhaps a galette this weekend? And maybe I will walk over to Tyler’s on Sunday if Kate is there already and drop some off in a socially responsible manner on their stoop. And then I will FaceTime Emma so she can see us, which is a better plan than if she drives two hours back to the city just to wave at us through a car window.
What I’m listening to this week
Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated Side B, which sounds the way you want any album of breakup songs to sound at the very beginning of summer.
A playlist of yacht rock songs my little JQBX.fm group played on Saturday night.
Ariel Pink’s 2010 album Before Today, which it took me a whole decade to admit is good, actually.