A very popular meeting spot is our ‘Sauna‘ here on campus. What a bad idea, right? Who decided it would be cool to make a wooden shack capable of warming students to the point of nudity in the middle of the campus’s woods. Not exactly what I’d call PG-13, kids.
Many couples love to go on down to the Sauna on boring weekends when there’s nothing to do. Either that, or we just don’t have the money to anything else. Hey, the Sauna is free after all…
But other than that, the Sauna is a perfect place for a dozen people to disappear for a while. It’s out of the way so the faculty won’t wander out there, and all the freshman truly believe it’s haunted by the ghost of an old Headmaster. We don’t mind that it smells like sweat and cheap tobacco, because it’s our little hole in the wall where we can disappear for a few hours.
Usually, kids bring back whatever they can get their hands on from their parent’s liquor cabinets on weekends. Some bring back New England’s finest cannabis. Others pour the contents of prescription bottles onto the wooden bench in the Sauna and have a buffet of sorts. As pathetic as we know we are, we get our grubby little hands on whatever we can. Then we gather when the night falls.
I used to go to the Sauna a lot in my junior year. Almost all of the juniors did. But I stopped after one cold, windy Fall night when things got a little too…steamy, to say the least.
There was around 14 of us, the ‘creme’ of my class as I like to say. My friend Talia was there, along with the Holy Trinity: Catherine Elizabeth, Hannah Humphries, and Mariah McPherson, the blue-blood Eloise Sinclair, and some of the boys, Catherine’s Anderson Taylor, Haymish Blake, and Ryan Koehler. I had brought along my close friend Anne Carey for the fun of it, and she brought some other sophomores, including Savannah Harlow, Audrey Murphy, Evan Roberts and Lauren Whitaker.
Ryan had smuggled four cheap bottles of vodka to campus after Fall Parents Weekend, and we had decided that our recent victory over our arch-nemesis, the nearby Lumberjacks, was the perfect time to relax. I watched as they all chugged the low-grade alcohol, and it was clear who couldn’t hold their liquor. Mariah began to laugh so hard she farted, while Hannah rolled on the dirt-covered floor and peed herself. Catherine wasn’t looking too happy in the corner while Anderson tried to coax her to take a sip. Haymish had his hand way too far up Eloise’s skirt and Savannah began to puke.
I laughed at the spectacle, shifting uncomfortably in my seat. It was getting unbearingly hot with the coals steaming up the room. I could barely make out Talia and Anne next to me, quietly sharing a bottle of their own. I was sitting next to Lauren, who refused to drink and had a nervous smirk on her face. I had a sip of the goods before I would engage her in a conversation about her personal mecca: fashion. I didn’t like leaving anyone out, anyway.
It was all fine and dandy, everyone laughing to one another about something obscure in the hazy fog. We even heard a couple of stories from Hannah, who really thought that mouthwash with an 18 percent count was an actual ticket to a buzz. But me and Lauren weren’t really listening because the vodka wasn’t working the magic on us. We kept hearing things in the night, like the crunch of a twig under a man’s weight, the whispering of the old librarian outside, and our Headmaster’s booming voice. I had to keep reassuring her, but I couldn’t deny: I was paranoid myself.
And then we heard a boom on the door. Everyone stopped talking, immediately. I stood up and looked at them all: “Move, now!”
Hannah grabbed Mariah before running through the back door, with Catherine and Anderson on their tails. Anne pulled on Savannah’s sweater as they jumped out the far window. I looked at the tear-stricken Lauren and pulled her over my shoulder as I clambered out the near window myself. But then I remembered: Talia.
It all happened in a split second, really. In her stupor, Talia couldn’t decide which way to go and was glued to her seat. Haymish, Ryan, and Evan thought it best to dispose of the evidence best they could: by throwing the bottles into the raging fire.
I was about five strides into the forest with Lauren behind me when I heard the simultaneous crash of the front door and the combustion of the cheap liquor. I heard a strong male voice telling the remaining friends to line up against the wall. And through the trees, I could see Talia’s reflection in the window.
While Hannah and Mariah cracked up in the nearby bushes, I couldn’t ever forget how I just left my friend there. In that cool October night, I realized how much our friendship meant. When they sent Evan home on the next flight out, I also realized how close I was to losing her. And while the scorched walls of our Sauna are a trophy of our crazy night, which gets crazier and crazier with Hannah’s re-tellings, I can’t bear to think how that night could have ended up.
We’re all over it now: we do laugh at how ‘James Bond’ we were that night, and how Haymish spit in Mr. Thatcher’s face on the way to the Headmasters house while Hannah laughed so hard she peed herself in the bushes. But I can’t stand to look at the charred walls, because it reflects how stupid we really are.