Falling in Love on Summer Street

The first time I fell in love, it was to a soundtrack of Sufjan Stevens, The Shins, Nada Surf, and Broken Social Scene. Our first kiss happened in the front bedroom of a house on Summer street with a group of hardcore straight edge guys playing video games in the living room below. Chicago was playing, because why would it not be playing during a first kiss?

His name was Eric and he made me feel like the manic pixie characters I was constantly writing about in my fiction at the time. In his eyes, I was thing to be constantly in awe of. It began so tentatively, I can’t remember exactly how we met. My earliest recollection of Eric-induced butterflies were his responses to my away message on AIM that I read upon returning a youth symphony performance. He somehow found out I wasn’t going to senior prom and wanted to take me, but couldn’t afford it. I was embarrassed by his enthusiasm. Not only was I not accustomed to attention from boys, but he was three years older than me and had graduated from another high school. I imagined introducing him to friends and classmates. I told him I was flattered and thanked profusely, but told him that I was fine. When you’re 18 and awkward, romantic attention is impossible to process.

We started spending time together under the guise of starting a band. He wanted to write songs & I had no idea how to accompany unwritten music. Somehow we got promo photographs taken without so much as a name or song established. Eventually we stopped using song-writing  as the reason for spending time together and then we just started kissing a lot.

This probably would have been our band's first album cover.

This probably would have been our band’s first album cover.

He wasn’t the boy I thought I would date. I was acutely aware that my parents didn’t understand my attraction to him. He gardened. He had a pair of male and female vintage Schwinn bicycles just because. He wore slim-fitting Levis, tired Converse sneakers, and a perpetual red hooded sweatshirt. He had a habit of making sly observational remarks that surprised new acquaintances.”You just don’t get him,” I felt compelled to explain when I saw this happening. “He’s just commenting on the absurdity of life! It’s just what he does!”

Our timing cultivated the perfect setting for a doomed first love: dewey sunsets, rickety vintage bicycles racing down the hill by the river, ipod classics and auxillary speakers, dusty box fans, virginity’s farewell, and my impending first semester of college just months ahead. Though I maintain the swing shift job I worked that summer was my worst ever, my only memories are those of complete bliss. I was carefree – I had two hilarious best friends, a boyfriend, a convertible car, and an endless supply of mix CDs. I didn’t need anything more.

It’s been ten years since this brief relationship, but some of my most vibrant romantic memories are with him. They’re embarrassingly innocent and naive. I think that Eric was (and perhaps still is) an extremely self-aware person who translates well only to a niche audience. Sometimes it felt like he was directing the scene, ensuring maximum nostalgia for years to come. Sometimes he would change a song before it ended, only to arrive on the one I realized should have been playing all along:

  • Sufjan Stevens: Chicago –  for our first kiss
  • Nada Surf: Your Legs Grow – a sticky night, tacking photographs to his wall
  • The Shins: Those to Come – the timid and moon-bright night when I inaudibly told him I loved him
  • Broken Social Scene: Shampoo Suicide – the night I wore a lime paisley boatneck tank and he breathlessly told me that I was amazing
  • Kenny Chesney: Summertime – driving to Woodman’s in his truck, listening to something like the Getup Kids, and Eric saying he had heard a country song that made him realize he liked the way my toes looked on the dash
  • matt pond PA: Lily Two – sitting on a quilt in some field off of highway 76 with our instruments, Eric trying to get me to loosen up by singing “leaves of grass, leaves or grass, leaves of grass…” at the top of my lungs
  • Silence – lying on our stomachs, watching rain fall beneath a streetlight, then him saying “You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes right before you die? I hope this is one of those moments I see.”

Eric was mindful about creating memories. He was a complicated person, someone I don’t think I ever fully knew or understood, but I knew that if he was choosing to spend time with me, he thought I was special.

I only have the one, but I think it’s safe to say that first loves are magical. I could go on to describe its end, but it doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that it happened and that it was special.

Brighton Beach

The following is an essay that I am currently revising in preparation to share with my writers’ group. Enjoy!

We ripped off the top of my rusty Geo Tracker and hopped in, not sure of the destination. Heather, Carissa, and I took turns choosing songs on my ipod, each one full of adolescent lust – an ache for attention with the dull throbbing of discontentedness. As we listened and sang, we fell more in love with the night.

It was a clear night and the sky reminded me of sailors in the fifties – navy uniforms that made hearts thud in anticipation. The stars were brighter and dustier than I had seen in a year, full of the promise of summer’s arrival. The evening air had traces of the day’s earlier humidity and we welcomed it as it pummeled the bare skin of our arms. It was the night of my high school graduation and the three of us ignored the loud houses we passed, containing my red-faced peers sucking down cheap beer. The city was full of kids ready to move on to the next step. It didn’t matter what came next, as long as it didn’t include the dingy, noisy lockers of high school. Before any of us had felt the crazed spontaneity of a drunken night, we were content with our innocent endeavors. The most toxic thing about our Friday nights were the lattes purchased at the coffee shop while we wasted the gas money our parents had given us, swirling around the tri-city area.

As the engine churned away miles, we passed memories back and forth. We agonized over lost relationships and slid gossip across an unseen table. We wondered what would happen in three months when I left for college and they stayed behind to finish high school.

“Ashley, don’t worry. We’ll visit every other weekend,” Heather said. “It’s not like there’s anything to do in Menasha.”

“Yeah,” Carissa said. “You can show us around the big city that is Stevens Point and tell us what it’s like to be in college.”

Smiling to myself, I imagined a cramped dorm room and the idea of big pit classes with cranky professors in argyle. I was looking forward to the independence, though the idea scared me a bit.

“Heather, remember the time we were camping with my family and we stole my mom’s wine coolers after she went to sleep?” I changed the subject.

“Omigod that was so funny!” Heather shrieked, then told Carissa the story.

We talked about our first kisses and blushed, remembering the faces of those boys. We pondered how eye colors changed and tried to define what it felt like to be in love.

“It’s exhausting,” Heather said. “It’s beautiful, but I hate feeling like I depend on Jim, it makes me feel crazy.” She paused, watching her hand grabbing at the air. “It’s overwhelming – obsessive and time consuming, but it smothers you just right.”

Carissa was staring beyond the car, watching a couple walk lazily with fingers intertwined. “It’s perfection. It’s like you have all the puzzle pieces and you can accomplish everything.”

I paused to think of what I knew I love. I knew enough to know I had never been in love. I had dated a few boys, nothing very serious, but each time I let myself get carried away.  “I think of an hourglass,” I said. “My brain empties, but my heart fills up.”

After driving around for an hour, Heather decided she wanted to go swimming. “It’s frickin’ hot,” she said. “Ashley, take us to the beach.”

“Heather, you do realize that the beach is probably closed, right?” Carissa asked.

“Well screw that. I want to swim.” Heather was the youngest of us. Spunky and stubborn, she was never afraid to mouth off to her mother or to tell her boyfriend he was being a moron.

So I drove to the beach, which was, in fact, closed. It was ridiculous to think that a lake could be closed. A chain link fence was all that blocked us from the cool water. Heather jumped out the back seat of the car. “I’ll meet you in there.” She walked over to the fence and found footing in the links. “The beach is open when I say it is.”

Carissa and I stood behind, waiting for Heather to leap off the other side before climbing ourselves. While we fumbled over, she stood impatiently.

“Imma beat you there!” Heather exclaimed, running and pulling her shirt over her head. Carissa skipped out of her jeans. I peeled off my tank top. Thundering into the water, we let out girlish squeals, not expecting our skin to be met with such shocking coldness.

In a few seconds, we grew quiet as our bodies adjusted to the water. Eventually it felt warm and didn’t seem to mind that the three of us were in nothing but bras and panties. It welcomed our splashes as we floated on our backs and looked at the stars.

“When I was little, I used to think stars were crumbs from the moon, “I said, breaking the silence.

“Ashley, you sound like a crackhead,” Heather said.

“Shut up, Heather.” Carissa pushed her underwater.

“Ya bitch!” Heather spat when she surfaced.

While we splashed and laughed, I paused momentarily. Remember this moment, I told myself. I tried to soak in everything about the instant – the far off blinking buoys, early summer’s sticky yawn, the sandy clinging to my ankles, and the shimmering laughter of my two best friends. Soon, adulthood would be upon me and I would no longer be able to enjoy childlike moments deserving to be cast in porcelain. I wished suddenly that I had an album full of the last year: the Friday nights spent in party dresses, eating pancakes and crepes at IHOP, disgusted by the taste of lingonberries, exchanging Christmas gifts while pretending to be drunk off of sparkling grape juice, groaning with laughter as Heather sang Disney tunes and danced with her cat, the night we painted Heather’s room, only to have the project turn into a colorful fight, with us hurling fistfuls of paint that left flakes of green and yellow in our hair. I inhaled as deeply as I could, as if I could savor the flavor of adolescence and girlhood all in one gulp.

An hour later, we stepped out of the water drenched with moonlight. We picked up whatever clothes we could find, not bothering to give the right shirt or bottom to the right girl. When we came to the fence we threw the heap of clothing to the other side, pausing for the moment when the heavy jeans and t-shirts were silhouetted in the streetlight. We climbed the fence, no longer talking or laughing. All I could do was breathe in the summer air and smile to myself. In the car, I turned on a song that we all knew the words to. Together we sang out, “Someday you will find me caught beneath the landslide, in a champagne supernova in the sky, a champagne supernova, ‘cause we don’t believe that they’re gonna get away from the summer, but you and I will never die, the world’s still spinning around and we don’t know why…