My college roommate was a very practical, unflappable, biology major with social anxiety. A dyed-in-the-wool Republican, she had met Ronald Reagan and the George Bushes. In contrast, I was a knee-jerk, bleeding-heart liberal that spoke first and thought later. At least about social issues.
Our friendship was founded on the fact that we had both curly hair. Ann and I bonded over our joined hatred of humidity and need for moisturizing hair products.
The night we traveled to her family’s lake house during the last few weeks of our senior spring, it was very late. We were the first to arrive, but the rest of her family would be joining us the next morning for a long weekend of waterskiing and barbecues. I was installed in the attic bedroom – a large, carpeted space with lots of twin beds. It had the feel of a homey dormitory. There were windows at each end and a staircase in the middle. All of the rafters along the ceiling were exposed. Crawling under the quilt and switching off the small light on the nightstand, I lay in total blackness. Although I had been here a few times over the years, and had even slept in this very same bed, the house and its nighttime noises were utterly foreign. Loons were sobbing out on the lake. There were random splashes, which I presumed to be fish jumping. Tree branches brushed against the side of the house or the roof shingles, creating an eerie, hollow swooshing sound. The boat engines of nighttime fishermen would fire up and then disappear. It was so dark and noisy in that attic, I felt almost disoriented. It took me a moment to realize that the nearby rustling sounds were from a source that was indoors. Even after listing for several minutes, I could not identify the location. Now it sounded close … but seconds later it was more distant. I sat up and turned on the light. There was nothing.
I am a good sleeper and particularly skilled at falling asleep. Ann actually minored in neuropsychology and performed a study on the progression of unconsciousness. Every Sunday afternoon, we would meet at the lab and she would attach electrodes to my head to monitor the early stages of my sleep cycles.
It was such a tease. She always came in to wake me up right when I was getting comfortable. Her professor said I got to REM stage faster than anyone he had ever seen. I was proud of that… how very efficient of me.
But back at the lake, there was intermittent stirring from the far end of the attic. I waited a long while and, eventually, heard nothing further. I was almost asleep when the sound started up again, this time nearby. I sat up suddenly to see if I could hear better by startling whatever it was and gauging its reaction. I felt a breeze on my face.
In seconds, I was downstairs, “Uhhhh, Ann, I think there’s something in the attic.”
She sleepily asked, “Really? Like a mouse?”
“Um. No. More like a bird.”
“Oh, probably a bat, let’s go investigate,” she suggested.
She left the hall light on so there would be a little indirect light, and we lay quietly on the beds. It took the damn thing long enough to come out this time. So long that I was starting to wonder what I would do if Ann fell asleep, leaving me on watch alone. Then I started to worry that I had fabricated my fear. Maybe I hadn’t actually heard anything. It really could have been the rustling of leaves and a cool draft from the window. Each passing minute increased my doubt.
Then a small black specter flitted from one side of the room to the other.
“Yep,” she confirmed. “That’s a bat.”
“Oh, okay,” I said. Neither of us moved.
Ummm … was this not a big deal? Ann was so still that I wondered, for a brief moment, if she had fallen back to sleep.
Then she rolled off the bed, staying low, motioning for me to follow. I released the breath I was holding and dropped to the floor, slinking down the stairway. Securing the door behind us, she explained, “You can’t sleep with those things. My brother’ll flush it out tomorrow.”
I slept in her parents’ room that night, briefly wondering whether they had clean sheets in the linen closet so I could change the bedding in the morning. Then it was onto REM.
After breakfast, Jeremy arrived and disappeared upstairs with his hunting dog, a barrel-chested black lab named Cinder. Ann’s brother has always hunted and fished and built things. With a wiry build, ropey muscles and clear eyes, he’s the kind of guy you’d want to be trapped on a desert island with. Or the leader you would choose during a zombie apocalypse. For his part, Cinder was more enthusiastic than predatory. From the kitchen, where we sipped coffee, Ann and I could hear clanging and thunking as Jeremy moved furniture and Cinder bounded from one end of the attic to the other. After an hour or so, they had still found no trace of a bat but, because the vent at the far end of the room had been rotated to a slightly open position, Jeremy suspected the creature had found its own way out.
“All clear,” he declared. And I didn’t question his assessment. I slept in that attic for the rest of my stay without a worry. Such a determinative proclamation from a relative expert was all I needed.
At the time.