There is something strange and sacred about the summers of our youth. They stand as the first deep breaths of freedom that we get as we grow and the memories we find there are always there, waiting to be rediscovered once the days get long and the air cools once the clock hits one in the morning.
In our teen years summers feel like an unending vacation from everything, even if that is scarcely true. There are always chores, and jobs, and responsibilities but it’s often when the sun slowly starts to drop that we feel this fever rise in us and we look out our windows into the growing gloom.
Night is when summer seems to come alive in the most dangerous and seductive ways.
As a kid I lived down a street where there was a field across from our house, some woods down at the end of my street and then another, bigger patch of woods down at the other end of the street. We lived in a rural area just before things got built up and populated. I still remember when they dropped the first big culverts and pipes in that wide, open field and how sad it made me because I knew the end was coming.
Our days of freedom were ending.
Now there are houses and houses and blocks in that field.
Both wooded areas are long gone, cut down to make room for immense houses that pretend at being mini mansions.
I had a lot of good times though before all that happened.
I remember those summers still.
Nights spent walking with friends to the bigger of the woods well after dark and daring one another to walk back there.
Games of Gray Ghost – Bloody Murder cleaned up because of some religious kids we played with.
Watching movies at home until late, late, late.
Those were magical times, but the real magic came as I got older.
When I reached college and a little past summer seemed to fully form and its magic caught me up in it.
Hanging outside of the local rock club sitting on the trunks of our cars and talking before heading out to diners or all-night restaurants.
Talking about everything and nothing.
Just meeting friends late to sit in parking lots or in booths nursing soda pops and exploring the world through words.
Fires at my parent’s house with friends, all of us silly and strange and laugh, laugh, laughing until the wee hours.
Marshmallows arcing through the air during fights, waiting to be found and discarded the next morning.
Starting another movie well after midnight and smiling because sharing that movie with friends and lovers was the most important thing in the world at that moment.
Going to parks and playgrounds to watch the stars from the swings.
And music, music, music.
Loud and electric and like lightning between your ears.
Concerts that stretched out into the night at festivals and fairs, as you all crowd together to get the best view of those tiny people on stage.
The stories, the secrets, the kisses shared under the blanket of darkness.
Learning about love, and lust, and pain, and heartbreak all within the matter of hours.
Summer at that time of my life felt like the birth of the person I was going to become. Meeting so many people, experiencing so many things. Evenings where you start one place with one group and end up somewhere else with new friends you only just met.
It’s those first deep drinks of adulthood without as many of the consequences to the body or life that whisper – you were always free.
Reminding you that all of this was right there, waiting, if you were only willing to open your eyes.
And it exists today, in more ways, watered down but there in so many places.
We just forget those long summers, those nights of music and friends and adventure and movies. Those nights where we cruised back and forth in our towns and cities trying to make a connection with someone else.
Someone that could teach us about the world and ourselves.
None of this is to say that reality didn’t exist.
That people weren’t in trouble, or drunk, or on something, or dangerous.
In all these summers there was that too.
A friend wasted on acid for the first time just before he fell into drugs heavily.
A time we picked up a guy from the downtown city scene while we were cruising, and he said he had a gun, so we ditched him.
Falling in love so hard, so fast those long, late nights only to realize it was just a one-sided thing as morning came.
Fights you just missed.
Some you saw and stay with you.
The nights were full of all of it.
It was like trying to drink a Big Gulp in one try.
But it was still all magical.
Because no one ever said magic was all good.
Some magic is dark.
Like the night.
But it’s magic, just the same.
And even today those long lost nights still hang with me, a silent partner when the air is warm and the sun is low, patting me on the shoulder to remind me that freedom is just as close as a late night car ride or an all-nighter with friends.
And it’s ready when we are.