When I was 16 years old, my friends and I had what I hope all of us would call the best summer of our lives. Some of my memories may actually consist of two summers, the one after 9th grade, and the one after 10th grade, but the latter of which (aside from a few exceptional stories from the year before) was really the best summer.
Do you remember when summer really meant no responsibilities? As soon as that last bell rang through the school halls, it felt like we were freed forever from the wooden rulers of tyranny and number 2 pencils. The best part was, you weren't alone on that day. Everyone was celebrating with you and we'd pile onto the bus or in someone's car if one of our friends was a junior and was old enough to drive, and we'd be off into the unknown. Maybe we'd go to 711 and celebrate with taquitos and the latest flavor slurpee. Or, perhaps we would take a walk down to the ice cream barn and rent a movie from Linda's Video, to later stock up on junkfood and prepare for a pig pile of a sleepover at someone's house.
In any case, sometime over the course of the next couple of days there would be a campfire in my backyard on Brierly Pond. We would all bring our notebooks and class papers, tests and homework projects, just so we could throw them into the fire pit and say goodbye to another year at Millbury Memorial. I remember throwing in the summer reading list and watching that burn simply for good measure. "That's what SparkNotes are for," one of us would pipe in. Then we'd proceed to stay up until we heard birds chirping or someone's Mom called to make sure if there was a campout or they were coming home before the sun came up.
Beach days were savored and plotted, like a fantastic getaway of sand, sun and ocean water. We were lucky that you could drive about an hour in any form of Eastern direction and hit the shore. It practically made your whole week to get one day on a kingdom of relaxation, toe wiggling, and sun bathing. The ocean water was a sweet relief and a challenge of sorts, it was much
tougher to do handstands with waves hitting your legs than in a still
backyard pool. Fried food, ice cream or even pizza was always around some corner, right next door to a shop of tourist junk and funny trinkets. You wanted to stay in this funland forever... or at least until your skin started to bake.
My best friend Travis and I would sneak out on what seemed to be a regular basis. We owned the streets of Millbury, meeting fellow sneakouters at the park or wandering around downtown hoping someone's dad (also a cop) didn't pull over and threaten to tell our parents if we didn't turn around and go home. That actually happened often when we would sit in the "nest" (playhouse) of Elmwood st Park, but we would disperse and return later only to hop on the swings and smoke peach flavored cigars that Shaun bought for us. The first time I saw a group of kids doing drugs (and said no) was at Woolie World, or Washington st Park as it was also known.
Travis and I met our carnival working friend when we snuck into the Millbury 4th of July Carnival before it opened. We spent three sleepless nights talking and getting to know him at our homes, giving him a bed instead of that tent he was inhabiting on his summer travels. (if you're wondering, we did in fact get in trouble for that, our moms still tell us every summer to this day that we're not allowed to adopt any more Carnies...)
When I had campfires and friends over, everyone came. There were smores, chips, sodas, sometimes a flavored cigar getting passed around as though we were trying to be adults and had no idea what that really entailed. There would be the occasional nighttime canoe ride with a flashlight and giggling screams before the frantic paddle back to the group and the safety of the campfire. There was the time of Crazy Naked Man terrorizing the neighborhood, and Millbury Police disrupting our fun but enhancing it at the same time, while they hunted down the serial naked runner. (That's a longer story saved for a later post, or a book perhaps).
Then there were fireflies. They were everywhere that summer, all over the yard and down the street when we took walks. They seemed to follow us on canoe rides and light up our paddle strokes, and then greet us upon our return. Almost every laughter and tear drop of nighttime memories happened next to one of those glowing magical lightning bugs. I still get a little sad whenever I see one today. I dip into a nostalgic stupor, wondering if there's an old friend or my first love somewhere who still thinks of the same memories that I do when they catch a glimpse of those dancing blinking insects.
The days were long and lazy, sometimes rainy, but there was never any pressure of work, bills, obligations, schedules... Sometimes I compare that summer to what can only be described as a giant sigh of relief. When there were quite literally no worries in my life, and my only intent was to have as much fun as I possibly could. I ponder over those days whenever another summer comes along, wondering if I'll ever feel that way again. Waking up was easy and going to bed was a surrender after fighting sleep due to too much fun and ease of life. I wonder if it's my own head that I can't get out of, or there was something truly different about that year.
Maybe I just need a vacation. I think all of the rush and change of the past few months has made me feel like I had no breathing room. Still, will I ever feel that sigh of relief ever again? Maybe I should just become a writer and forget about the status quo. If only it were that easy anymore. Maybe our parents were right, that those lazy days really do become somewhat wasted, and we will truly never get them back. Did I already leave behind the best days of my life? No, I can't say. I'm still finding the answer to that. But how to get rid of the panic of wasting time? Most of it's in your head when it comes to reality.