Ok, if the title grabbed your attention, because you thought I was going out on a limb and sharing salacious details about myself— Sorry. Not the “head” you were expecting, but a memorable summer nonetheless. This post is part of a “blog hop” that sounded intriguing to me. I imagine that Emily and Ashley will be collecting some fun stories this summer, so follow along. Check out the details here. I figure that I spend plenty of time remembering things from the past, I might as well jump in and join this party. This week’s theme is Remember the Time: Summer Vacation.
Note: most of the photos are gone… but the memories linger. Share your thoughts, when you’re done reading:
The summer I was fifteen, I got tired of being good. As the oldest of three, in a single- parent family, I was always super responsible. I did what my mother wanted, without straying into trouble; I took care of my two younger siblings, and I was generally a “good kid.” My Mom would tell you I was “the perfect kid,” but later in life I did fess up to a few less than stellar performances. Nonetheless, as a teen, she didn’t know anything about the things I did that didn’t keep me in her good graces; I wanted it that way. My brother and sister, who each had a much higher tendency to stray into troubled waters, hated that I was held up as the good kid. I would argue that I earned it. Until that summer.
To say that I strayed, would be stretching the limits of truth. It’s far more accurate to say that I hitched my hopes to a band of kids my mother wanted me to stay away from, and rode their groove to the beach. Every day. Suffice it to say, Mom had no idea where I was spending my time. This was back in the day, when parents rarely asked where you were going, or worried about what might happen on your way— as long as my chores were done (they were), I was home by dinner (I was), and no one ratted on me (they didn’t… at first), I was free that summer to do what I wanted. I had spent years taking care of my siblings, but that one summer, I was unshackled, and I ran toward the light of what felt like edgy freedom.
I was definitely a preppy girl at that time. I wore belts with whales on them, that matched my head bans with whales and my sweaters with whales—or the Izod alligators, or fruit, or any of the many silly things I wore that matched other silly things I wore. My clothes coordinated; my colors were kelly green, pink, navy blue, white, red. If it had Dean, Izod, Lacoste, or Talbott’s (then, a small, family owned, local story) on the label, it was my uniform. The year I got my first pair of Levi’s straight leg corduroys, and broke out of my perfect image for a little while, my mother turned away in disgust, and I walked around thinking I was a little more “cool,” even if the stiff fabric had me in fact walking a bit bow-legged and awkward. Comfort was of little use to me— it had to match, it had to be preppy. The corduroys were the only way I asserted myself, openly, for a long time.
The summer I was 15, my best friend was a girl name Julia, who also had a single mother. We’d been friends for a couple of years, and eventually our moms had tried hanging out as well. It had not gone well, and my mother got it in her head that I shouldn’t be spending time with Julia. So, I didn’t tell her. I made up stories to appease my mother, and hinted that I had a wonderful, new group of friends, who went to the beach most days. Every parent wants their child to be accepted by the crowd, and back then, my mother wasn’t a mom who pursued more details. I simply packed a towel each day, put my bikini on under my clothes, and said I’d be at the beach. Growing up in a small coastal town, an hour south of Boston, we went to the beach every day in the summah. We didn’t use sun screen; we didn’t hydrate properly; and, I certainly didn’t tell my Mom that I was hanging out with the “Heads” that summer.
In my small high school, there were lots of cliques. If I try to really remember how that played out, in today’s terms, I don’t think we were a warm and fuzzy place for everyone. I know that some kids were called “faggot” or “loosah;” beautiful people reigned, and many of us fell in the middle. I lived in the middle. There were only a few kids that went out of their way to push my buttons, but mostly I got along with all of the groups: Nerds, Jocks, Preps, Popular kids (which might include some of the others), and the (pot) Heads— AKA: Stoners, but I fit into none of them. It was the late 70’s and early 80’s; we didn’t have goths, or punks or any of the colorful characters that would spin out of the music scene of the later 80’s. I probably wouldn’t have fit in there either. I just drifted. I had my friends, and we weren’t any particular group.
“The Heads” were as far from my world as was possible. I knew I didn’t fit in there, didn’t aspire to, and I was quietly wary of them. They all looked too cool to me: they epitomized the “I don’t care what the fuck you think” attitude that I wished I had, but knew I didn’t. I cared way too much what my mother thought, what my peers thought… what everyone thought. I was terrified of screwing up, but secretly craved an opportunity to break free and push the boundaries. Julia had wandered into that crowd in Junior High, and the summer we were 15, we were “best friends” and she invited me along.
We usually met at her house. Her mother liked me, and I liked being at their home. We set out from there, and walked for miles each day. We’d cross town, follow the old “tracks,” swim in the marshes, and generally end up by the beach eventually. We’d meet her boyfriend Jamie and his band of “who the hell care” buddies, at the beach, and we’d make camp for most of the day. Every day, on the way there, I stopped at a small store to buy a blue slushie and a Hostess blueberry pie. I always saved the end/corner of the pie for last (woe to the fool who ate it), and God I loved those slushies! My tongue would turn bright blue, but the idea of dyes and bad stuff never entered my thoughts. That blueberry pie and frozen drink were often all I ate for a day. It seemed like all the nutrition anyone could need, when I was 15— but we also believed that not eating, to look thin, was a reasonable approach.
There were rows of summer homes along the beach, and many of them then were up on stilts to protect them from the big storms and tidal surges my hometown was prone to. During the Blizzard of ’78, many of these homes were completely destroyed, but in the summer of 1978, sitting underneath these homes provided shade and privacy. Julia was in the midst of her first “serious” boyfriend, and most days I sat pretending to be cool, while they made out under our beach-house sanctuary. It was nearly impossible not to watch sometimes. Frankly, I had never come close to having a boy friend, so I was utterly intrigued by this development. The fact that they all smoked cigarettes and occasionally got high, only made the entire scene that much cooler to me.
Jamie was edgy and seductive in a way that John Hughes would later capture in countless movies. He was Judd Nelson, before I ever saw Breakfast Club. He was skinny but sultry, and wasn’t someone I’d known from school, but his cocky humor and the way he looked at me, gave me chills. He was flirtatious with everyone, and I was both jealous and terrified of what Julia had with him. The way he held her— just being around them was the only high I needed then. It was enough for this prissy girl, to live the experience vicariously through my best friend. Having grown up with a mother who smoked constantly, and being the “good kid” that I was, I only tried an occasional puff of the Marlboros that they smoked. I coughed; they laughed. They respected me for sticking to my own guns, but I knew I didn’t fit in. I never tried the joints that were passed, and could only pretend that things were as “interesting” or “funny” as they thought they were, when they were all high, and I wasn’t. It was enough to breath the smoke they exhaled.
I had no interest in the guys that made up Jamie’s group. Some of them flirted with me, but whatever silent signal I sent out all through high school and some of college made its mark, and I was just the quiet girl who got to join in. I found Jamie very attractive— with his flirty brown eyes, his curly mop of hair and his wry smile— but I would never have dreamed of anything happening, as Julia was my bestie; that’s a line no girl should cross. Thinking back, I know that I was attracted to the idea of it all, more than the reality, but at the time I was just grateful to be part of their merry band. And we were merry all that summer. Every day felt like an adventure. I felt so free, and life felt exciting for a change. I lied to my mother, but I figured no one was getting hurt. Given all of the other good things I did, and the squeaky clean image I kept, I felt entitled to that summer of wandering outside my box.
It had to end. As much as I loved that summer, and still can recall so much of it with vivid detail and a smile, it was bound to end badly. It did. My mother eventually got wind of my comings and goings and hauled me in for questioning. I had grown up knowing that I was her partner, not her child— but we were not equal partners; she was definitely in charge. I didn’t have the metal in my teens to take a stand, and it cost me my best friend. She was convinced that Julia was taking me down a bad road. No amount of rationalizing, explaining… pleading, got me anywhere. “You’re hanging out with the wrong people, and I won’t allow it.” She told me that I was forbidden to spend time with Julia anymore, and that she would be making sure of it. I didn’t dare push back. I knew that she had eyes in every corner, and I believed that I was sure to get caught if I lied again.
It was the last summer that Julia and I hung out, and gradually our friendship fell apart. I was heart-broken, lost, for a long time about it. I wanted to explain to her, but it seemed impossible to tell someone I adored and thought so much of, that my mother thought she was “trash.” That my mother thought her mother was “trash,” too. Neither of them were, of course. My mother was a big personality, with strong views. Many of those views were “right,” and some were wrong. I knew she was wrong about my friend, but it would be years before I could really stand up to her. I had lost my father early, and lived for years afraid to lose my mother as well… emotionally or literally. I could not risk stepping out of line again.
Instead I just stopped calling Julia as often, and then stopped calling altogether. There were no answering machines or Caller IDs then, so things could drift easier… logistically. Emotionally, it was awful. I felt terrible, and knew I’d hurt her… but I didn’t have the strength of character at that stage, to fess up and tell her the truth. For the rest of high school we avoided each other. There was no nastiness, no mean things said, but we both felt the loss. It was there in the glances we shared, the awkward moments when we were near each other. I would see her at school and watch from a distance, missing her. I wondered how she was, and cringed when I would have to walk by her house. I grieved the loss of my friend for years. Still.
At a high school reunion, years later, I saw her briefly and tried to reach out. We chatted, but it was still strained. She’d moved out of state; so had I. She was happy in her life, as was I. But I wanted to apologize. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was for what I’d done all those years ago. The moment just didn’t happen, there in a crowded, loud room full of former classmates. I told her that I remembered our friendship fondly, and she smiled. We hugged, neutrally, but I didn’t say what I wanted to say. Years later, I heard that she’d died of cancer, and that summer came back to me a vivid, sharp slap… and I mourned her passing, and the lost opportunity to say what I should have said, so long ago.
That summer vacation changed me, in so many ways. A year and a half later, at 17, I chose to stay behind when my mother and siblings moved out of state. It was my way of standing up a bit for myself, and the choices I wanted. That one summer, when I was briefly a part of a group that let me ride along, I tasted freedom— and never was the same.