Sometimes, when you’re sitting on the deck after work with a glass of Pinot Noir in your hand, you tip your head back and think about other summers that came and went. Especially when you’re 35 and panic is setting in because things that once recalled clearly are getting all fuzzy-edged. And because you are beginning to preface far too many conversations with, “I think this happened, but it’s possible I just dreamed it.”
Oh, it’s not that bad, most of the time.
But Virginia Woolf did say that, “Nothing has really happened until it has been described.”
And that is such a waste, because people LIVE such interesting happenings. They just forgot to tell the stories–and then they eventually forget the stories all together.
And so I wrote this memory because, as I savored those last drops of Pinot Noir and felt the stickiness of late-summer heat cocoon around me, there were a few, rare telepathic moments with the girl I used to be. I could recall and sympathize with how both immense and small the world once looked through her eyes:
As teenagers, my friends and I meandered around our sleepy harbor village, manufacturing whatever occurrences we could because nothing—NOTHING—happened on its own accord.
The village grown-ups adored this, but for anyone between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, it really was excruciating. Usually, we ended up at Syl’s Café, eating mozzarella sticks, drinking gallons of sugar-and-cream assaulted coffee and pining for a more exciting existence in the Big Somewhere Else.
In the throws of this ennui, my best friend and I camped all night on the beach because a few boys from the Big City who were rumored to play in a band—an ACTUAL band—were visiting relatives nearby. The possibilities for first kisses and summer love seemed, for the first time, breathlessly within reach.
On a beach, just like it was for Sandy and Danny (although, they looked like old people, not teenager, and this disturbed me at the time. Actually, it still does.)
And if neither love nor kiss happened before fall, I was prepared to crawl in hole and die. And so we supplicated that the Boys weren’t too scrawny or too fat or nurtured wispy mustache hairs which some teenaged boys felt compelled to do.
A fire was built.
Soon, as we had hoped, the Boys came around.
Immediately, we began to flirt; at least, we began something that felt like flirting. We had never attempted it before—not really, anyway–and so of course, weren’t any good at it.
The Boys, who were gratifyingly good-looking, didn’t seem to care and made somewhat of an effort to impress us.
They seemed resigned to the fact there was little else to do on this isolated edge of the universe but ingratiate a few local girls who gazed at them as if they were demi-gods from another universe.
And so the evening progressed towards glorious possibilities; when the oldest one sat with me at the fire, shoulder against shoulder, I reveled in self-assurance that my first kiss was all but certain by the night’s end.
And the next day, my diary would have its most interesting entry EVER.
He talked about himself—a lot—and made derogatory remarks to no one in particular and everyone in general. A small voice suggested that on any other night, in any other setting, I might think he was a jerk and hate him.
But another—louder—voice pointed out that his eyes were impossibly dark and that he was a musician and so he could be a little bit jerk-ish. How many handsome, saxophone-toting boys would sit next to me at twilight before I was too old and too gray for it to matter?
This was for sure my only chance. And so I thought hard and tried to channel every film femme fatale I had ever studied who smiled and giggled and batted her eyelashes.
The balmy summer air, the purring tide, the way everyone’s skin looked like creamy, melted toffee in the firelight.
Right off the silver screen.
But none of it mattered because, just as it seemed the moment had nearly ripened, a large figure broke out of the shadows. A Dad charged on the beach and chased the Boys away in just the manner that dads do that sort of thing.
We had to promise we wouldn’t let them come back; they didn’t try and this disappointment seemed especially bitter as we settled in our sleeping bags and stared up at the open sky. In the movies, they would have tried to sneak back, long enough to deliver a phone number or an address or a token of love requited.
It was a clear sign that nobody would ever kiss us and life would always be boring and, come to think of it, every girl in the universe was prettier and luckier and better dressed, and so what was the point of hoping for anything.
On the tail of such dejection came an abrupt awareness of self-preservation; sleeping in the open was, after all, an invitation for a bear to shred us alive. Maybe a serial killer would stumble upon us and our faces would flash on shows like Unsolved Mysteries or Dateline with their creepy incidental scores.
I was very cold; the fire burned low. My skin prickled with goose bumps, my teeth made a horrible jack-hammer sound in my head and the tears welled hot, spilled and then cooled on my cheeks.
This night was nothing like I had anticipated.
WHY would our parents let us sleep on the beach with boys, bears, serial killers and hypothermic cold posing as very real threats?
It was obvious they really didn’t love us.
All night, long after my best friend left me alone on the beach to travel the Land of Nod, my eyes were wide open; first, with terror, then with wonderment.
A celestial performance was unfolding in the horizon. A dozen moods of nightfall, mirrored by a serene Superior below, slow danced with the stars from dusk until dawn. I forgot everything—city boys, parents, murderers. The aching cold.
I wished I knew the words that described what I saw. I wished I knew the artist strokes that could capture it forever.
I felt inadequate.
And yet also significant.
On that lonely, desolate shore, I alone witnessed magic while the rest of the world was oblivious; it felt big.
Bigger than anything else; and I alone was part of it.
The next morning, we dragged ourselves off the beach towards home.
Without a backwards glance, the Boys returned to the Big City, to their band and, most likely, to their gorgeous Big City girlfriends.
And when all was said and done, his eyes were never that dark, and boys one meets on beaches often end up being jerks.
Just like in the movies.