That Long, Dark Summer

“Every human being has a finite number of heartbeats.  I don’t intend to waste any of mine.”

–Neil Armstrong

—–

“Call me and we’ll do something,” Chris said.

“OK,” I replied.  “And you call me.”

—–

The school year was over.  It was the summer between 7th and 8th grade.  Chris had become one of my closest friends.  Whether it was at school, after school, or on the weekends, Chris and I did a lot together.  He lived a couple miles away, but we had our Stingray bikes and it was the 1970s, so transportation wasn’t an issue.

I’ll call Chris tomorrow, I though on that first day of summer.  Besides, he’ll be calling me soon anyway

Except that I never called him.  And he never called me.

I quickly developed a sad little daily routine.  After a quick breakfast it was back to my bedroom.  I laid on the bed, the curtains drawn tight, the lights out, staring at the screen of my small black-and-white TV.  Gilligan’s Island. I Love Lucy. The Munsters.  These were my only friends that summer.

At some point I realized that I was wasting away the summer, and needed to do something.  Inspired by an old issue of Popular Mechanics magazine my dad had picked up in the 1950s, I decided to build a boat.  Not a model boat.  An actual boat.

Based on what I had seen in the magazine, I drew up some simple plans.  It was small–just barely big enough to fit my 12-year-old body–and I had no idea if it would really float, or if I would ever even have the chance to test its seaworthiness.  But that didn’t matter.  That wasn’t even the point.  The point was simply this: do something with your summer, you lazy idiot.

Luckily there was plenty of scrap lumber around the house for my project.  I created a work area on the west side of the house, in a small space between the illegal addition to our house (an awkward “den” off of the master bedroom) and the fence along the property line, and then went about collecting my supplies.  Lumber, check.  Tools, check.  Nails, check.  Glue, check.  Waterproof caulking, check.  Paint, check.  There was only one thing missing now: my summer friends.

I ran an extension cord out of the window of the den and down to my work area, and then carried the small TV from my bedroom out into the yard.  After adjusting the antenna, I was able to watch my morning shows.  I Dream of JeannieBonanzaBewitched.  You see, I couldn’t miss my shows.  Building the boat was important and all, but I couldn’t be away from my TV friends.

—–

Chris wasn’t my only “real” friend during that period of my life.  There was Mike, Brian, Tim, Marc, and others–and they all lived much closer than Chris.  In fact I could probably have thrown a rock from my backyard and hit Brian’s house.  We were all great friends.  But none of them ever called me during that long, dark summer.  And I didn’t call any of them either.

Towards the end of summer, with my boat-that-would-never-sail basically completed, I was still following my routine.  Immediately after having breakfast, I would run the extension cord out of the window then carry my precious TV out to the work area.  Then, without much work left to do, I would putter around my project like an old man, killing time doing nothing much except watching TV.  Except one morning, a week or two before the summer was over, I broke the routine.

As I plugged the TV into the extension cord and turned it on, ready to hang out with my summer friends, I suddenly realized what a sad, pitiful life I was living.

I started crying.

I unplugged the TV, took it back to my room, and laid down on the bed for a good, long cry.

Things were different after that.  I vowed to never again waste my time like I had that summer.  And a couple of days later, we were off to our annual trip to the eastern Sierra.

We spent a week camping, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors.  I fished, more out of habit than anything else, but my favorite thing was to simply explore.  I would wander up the creek and through the woods by myself for hours, doing nothing yet accomplishing everything.  It was the perfect antidote to my poisonous summer.

Although it was my favorite time of year, it was at the same time my most hated time of year.  The end of summer meant two things: a week in the glorious Sierra, immediately followed by re-imprisonment at Middle School State Penitentiary.

—–

I locked my bike in the bike rack and walked towards the table where we used to hang out before school and at lunch.  From a distance, I saw Chris.  I dreaded the confrontation.  Not that it was going to be ugly.  Just awkward.

“You never called me, asshole!” Chris said as I approached.

You never called me, asshole!” I replied.

We laughed, talked about what we did (or didn’t do) over summer, and made plans to hang out after school, just like we always did.  Why we had never called each other was a mystery.  But it was like nothing had ever changed.

A few short months later, everything changed.  In the middle of the school year I left my friends and moved 10,000 miles away to Africa.  It was just the kick in the ass I needed.

Things would never be the same again.

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One thought on “That Long, Dark Summer

  1. Pingback: Coming September 2013: A Life Outside 4 | Matt Artz

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