I was in the car with my dad when they announced it, driving to my grandparents’ cabin on the lake for the long weekend. We were listening to the radio, not the FM but the AM, which I only associated with bad things. It was so hot that I stuck to the seat. I wished that my dad didn’t pick leather seats. Dad liked to ride with his left hand out of the window, right hand on the steering wheel, his fingers touching the roof of the car. When the announcement came on he turned the radio up and closed the windows, sealing the dead air inside all around us. They usually gave us a week or more to prepare, but this time the announcement came two days before Purge night. It was like they were trying to catch us all off guard.
We were more than halfway to the cabin, and all our stuff was packed. We decided to stay with the trip and switched back to the FM, where a Bruce Springsteen song was playing: “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.” Dad got quiet and said that it didn’t matter where we were for it, since neither of our houses had a security system. Dad said that it was lucky mom and my brother were off visiting my other grandparents in California because they lived in a very safe neighborhood, but that just made me more nervous. It was the first purge night we would spent apart as a family. Here it was just us—we were the best security we could buy, that’s what I remember him saying. “Everybody’s got a hungry heart. Everybody’s got a hungry heart…”
Up at the cabin things were the same, but different. The sound of boats picking up speed on the lake echoed a little louder. The woods out back were a little darker. Usually we waited until after dinner to gather firewood, but now we did it all in daylight. One by one all the friends and relatives who were supposed to come visit for the holiday called to cancel, and we said it was okay. Mostly they didn’t give a reason or mention the Purge, it wasn’t polite, I knew that much. Mom and dad talked on the phone a lot; they put me on with my brother but we didn’t have that much to say except, “see you later.” I slept in my yellow Jurassic Park t-shirt and wore it again the next day, no one was paying attention.
The nearest cabin was about half a mile away. A few hours before the Purge started we drove over and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs with the family who lived there, two parents and two kids like ours usually was. My dad thought it was good to get out of the house, and he knows their dad since way back. Or knew their dad, I dunno, we didn’t check afterward. I think they went to college together. I had to sit with the kids and talk for awhile, which got on my nerves. They were younger than me and more inexperienced. When you’re a kid you think that only the Purge can kill you, and you’re afraid of it. You get older and start to remember that everything else can kill you, too, and it doesn’t matter so much. The Purge is just another sharp thing you can’t see in the dark.
Everyone eats dinner early when it’s time to Purge, that’s something I always think about. Nobody’s hungry and we’re all just sitting around in our houses or whatever eating dinner in the broad daylight.
We did what we could to board up the windows and stuff around the cabin, and turned all the outside lights off. On a normal summer night you could look around the lake and see the ring of campfires, but now there was nothing. I had never been up there for the Purge before and I felt grateful to see it, it was like sneaking into the room when your parents are talking privately and they don’t know you’re there. For a minute they’re standing there, two completely different people that you’ve never even met before. You don’t have to like them or even love them. They’re just people who aren’t you.
My dad was watching war movies, the TV was the only light allowed on in the whole house. We didn’t want to draw attention. The volume was down so low that we turned the closed captioning on, most of it said “SOUND OF BULLETS”, “GUNS FIRING” or stuff like that. Just descriptions of noises. Dad called mom to check up on them, she said they had taken board games out of the attic and were playing something I’d never heard of. It got late and I noticed him trying not to fall asleep; I said it was okay, I’m older now. It’s just a few hours to go. He shook his head no but he did fall asleep, and I realized it was the first time he’d gotten any sleep on Purge night since he had kids. That made me proud.
I don’t know why I did it, but while he was dozing I went outside. Waves from the lake were coming up on the shore, softer and smaller than I’d ever seen them. I never considered that waves would exist without us. I walked out on the dock, it goes at least twenty feet out over the water—we have a couple boats and they’re out there bumping against it, knock knocking. Everything in the world felt exaggerated for you to see its weakness, like you could rip the sky open with a tiny little rock. I looked at the moon and imagined tearing a hole up there and pushing it straight through, so that I never had to look at it again. I guess Purge night really is the best time to purge, if you can think of something worth purging.
— Mike Spreter