(Blurry like nostalgia now and then; what was your favorite character?)
In response to The New York Times article “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing.”
170. “What Are Your Best Sleepover Memories?”
Here’s another quaint one to jump into. This one is dedicated to the Gartner boys, Fritz and Kristoff, life-long family friends. Our friendship grew organically, given they were two brothers, and Axel and I, the Brave boys, were two as well. They slept over at our house, of course, but what I remember are the sleepovers at their house.
The nights I hardly recall. I think it’s because we would arrive after doing our homework on Fridays, probably, or after eating dinner, and when we got to their house we’d go straight to bed. Then again there were many nights when their mother had rented or bought a movie for us to watch. Some that come to mind are A Knight’s Tale, Osmosis Jones, The Time Machine, Mulan, Hercules, the Jungle Book, basically all the Disney movies ever (one sing-along after the other), the original Godzillas, the first two Jurassic Parks–the Gartner boys were obsessed with animals, I’m remembering, and into sports; their birthdays were either at the Houston Zoo, or at laser tag. Both were awesome. What I also remember about the nights are the four of us sleeping together between a bunk bed, a trundle, and a sleeping bag, which we rotated between weekends. We would talk and talk nonsense into the night, until sleepiness overcame us. Then the conversation became one of us would say something funny, make the other three laugh, and then someone else would say something funny, and we would laugh at that. One of us would eventually say the most outrageous thing, and we would all lie in our bed thinking about how funny that was, and fall asleep before we could out-funny the last silly comment. That I do remember.
Our first game of the day was to see who could wake up first. Axel or Fritz were the first boys to get up, usually, maybe once I beat them to the playroom; and definitely Kristoff was always fourth. He loved to sleep in–a habit he has retained into adulthood, on the weekends be sure.
A large part of our play centered around the playroom: a room built between the kitchen and the garage, with a wall full of toys on shelves, a TV the size of a kitchen plate, a Nintendo 64 you had to blow into to make work, and a box full of game cartridges with “Gartner” written on the top with a shaky sharpie. If the first kid to the TV hadn’t tuned into Pokemon, or Animal Planet, then he’d be adventuring through a single-player 64 game. The Gartners were the first friends I knew to own a Nintendo 64. Ocarina of Time, Super Mario, Yoshi’s story: these are classics; I could beat them today with my eyes closed. Once the four of us were in the playroom, then the more fun games were popped in. Together we would play Donkey Kong 64, Mario Kart, Tennis, Party, F-Zero, Starfox, Chameleon Twist, Pokemon Stadium, Snap, and Super Smash Brothers–we were four brothers, so literally the game had been made for us. Fritz and I used to argue for first controller. But then he, older by a month, would kept it. It sucked for awhile, but I came to love blue more as a color anyway <*stick my tongue out>. Axel tried a bit to take first, but lost quickly. He sometimes tried taking the second controller, but hell no. Kristoff was cool with fourth. Partly because he woke up last. Partly because he was too chill. He owned the bottom right corner on the screen. A confidence from being faster and more athletic than us in real life, I suppose.
Eventually, later in the morning, either of the Gartner parents would interrupt our eye-frying session, and ask us to come eat breakfast. Sometimes Eggo waffles, sometimes homemade pancakes, we always had maple syrup and peanut butter (Fritz’s favorite snack), game cards on the table, plastic utensils…what a mess we made. It was at this house I learned to appreciate scrambled egg. Fritz and Kristoff’s father made the best. Note, there was also a tank of Sea-Monkeys in the kitchen. Animal lovers. They knew everything, I swear, even the Latin names for animals.
After breakfast the Gartner parents would make us go outside. We’d play on the wooden jungle gym set they had. There might have been a pool, but I definitely remember the trampoline. If we weren’t pretending to be the characters we had played earlier in the day, then we’d invent other games. For example, one of us would hold a garden hose and spray the other three as we jumped and landed on our belly or on our back or made ourselves into a ball the others had to break open. Gallons and gallons and gallons of water must have seeped back into the earth under us. If there hadn’t been a chlorinated pool at the Gartners, there was definitely a garden-tap one under the trampoline by noon. Fritz and Axel would roll around in the mud underneath Kristoff and I as we would spray them from above.
Most times mama or papa would come pick Axel and I up from the G-boys place around lunch time. Rarely did we sleep two nights over in a row (and when we did, that was gold; though on the days we woke up on Sunday, it was their church day, so we’d tag along–Axel and I visitors to a neighborhood sermon). If papa was picking us up, it was because he wanted us to go with him to a museum or we had plans to go to Galveston the next morning with the family. So off we’d go. But, if mama had come to pick us up, then the young boys knew we could ask both mothers to sit down for tea (pretty please), and thus sneak in about an extra hour of video games.
The most memorable memory I remember at these sleepovers is learning what “to fall asleep” meant. It was the night before a triathlon the four of us would participate in. We had eaten a hardy pasta dinner. We were in bed early too. I lay in bed, patient, yet wasn’t already waking up the next morning. My eyes only showed me the back of my eyelids. Who knows how much time went by; enough to make my stomach knot up. I called out to the boys, but no reply. I made a silly comment about the Yoshi plush toys in bed. No reply. I panicked. Stepping between the trundle bed and the sleeping bag, I creaked the floor and got out of there. The lights of the halls made my eyes ache, I remember, as I walked to where I heard the television on in the living room. The parents asked me what was the matter, and I told them I couldn’t fall asleep. Luckily, their father took be back into the kids’ bedroom and he gently tucked me into bed. He told me to lie stomach-up, and to have my hands down on my side. He didn’t sing; he didn’t read me a book. He told me to imagine the cabin both of our families went to every thanksgiving–told me to picture the river, and hear the bees, and smell the rocks. He asked me if I felt relaxed there. I replied yes. He told me to spend some time there, and that everything would be ok. I did, and fell asleep immediately.
So pure, those weekends at the Gartner boys’ house. So pure. It makes me smile from time to time.
Please feel free to answer the NYT question in the comments section, or send a response via email. I look forward to reading it.