Finding Out What’s Real

I’m just gonna say it: I miss summer. Yes, I know we’re smack dab in the middle of it up here in the northern hemisphere. The season is upon us. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m an adult. I go to work. A lot. I miss summer.

I’m not out and about on a beautiful summer day. Instead, I’m sneaking snaps out the window between stares at a computer screen while Neil Young’s Sugar Mountain is playing on my iPod. Now the lyrics “You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain, though you realize you’re leaving there too soon” make sense.

I remember when I was getting close to graduating high school, I asked my father what it was like being an adult. He told me, “There’s a lot of nostalgia.” For what? I wondered.

Then, several years later, after college and before the eve of my best friend’s wedding, I asked him if he ever realized he was younger on the inside than on the outside. It had begun to occur to me that my inner self was trapped somewhere in the 1980s, although the 1990s were flying by. My dad laughed at the question, so I knew he understood.
“Well,” I pressed. “How old are you inside?’
“17,” he said.

Man, who isn’t?

I’ll never forget that conversation because we were hiking down from the Never Summers. I didn’t miss the irony. Childhood held something special, something soon to be ethereal: a whimsical cloud-shape-finding, long-grass-lying, skateboard-trying effervescence where anything is possible, nothing hurts, and someone has dinner ready when you get home.

A girl bungee jumps off a bridge to uncertainty

The free fall of summer. Anything can happen.

Decades later, my days of lying in hammocks, biking through the evening screaming the lyrics to U2’s Twilight, stealthily shooting bottle rockets into lakes (it makes the most satisfying sound), river rafting, fair-going, and having no real responsibility whatsoever seem like day-dreams, just something I imagined while expelled from paradise–I mean: sitting at my desk. It’s not helped by the fact that these days when I roll home, my kids are gorked out on cartoons and Bazooka bubble gum, proud of themselves for being the first guys to ever try building a tree house with remnants of fence, or to ever dizzily jump from the highest branch off the rope swing and not fall into the irrigation ditch.

Children, please.

I could be any time in summer: 1976, 1984, 1992. Aside from my height, who would know? Summer is the eternal optimist, the ultimate experience in what is and what should never be. We would carouse all evening, never feeling cold, never needing to go home. We’d bounce house to house, boat to boat (if at the lake), or ride bikes while slightly impaired, a tittering, teetering experience that made a girl feel smart and stupid all at the same time–a common experience with summer, I learned.

The air was always soft. Everyone was always in good humor. Plans just “worked out.” Even thinking about Friday night was exciting because we really didn’t know what was going to happen next. Maybe that night, I would meet some guy and fall head over heels. And then, one year, I did.

But, no point wasting youth on the youthful. One of the first rock lyrics I taught my boys was by Rush, of course: “Though it’s just a memory, Some memories last forever.” It made sense to pass it on down.

I suppose that’s the point, too. I want their summers to be like my summers. I want the glory and the innocence and the unraveling of that innocence to be wrapped up in thunderstorms and lightening, fireworks and campfire, mountain hikes and riding bikes and singing songs together. Swing Life Away, boys. Swing away.

Then, maybe, summer never truly ends.

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