Last night as I was sliding in my Saturn down Garden of the Gods Road in the snow, a song came on the radio that took me back:
The last time I went on the annual family vacation out East, I was a posh fifteen year old. I couldn't believe how completely unlawful it was that I should be forced to share this twenty-eight hour road trip with one dork, one brat, and two insanely illogical authoritarians. It was a complete injustice that I would have to put up with this totally inferior clan for no less than the seemingly impossible duration of TEN days! I had a Discman, a journal and a yearbook full of people telling me how awesome I was. The Discman to drown out the unbearable drones of Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura, the journal to record the abominable actions of the travesty that was my family and to express every detail of my maltreatment. And of course, the yearbook to make me feel a little closer to the ones who knew what it was like to be cool. My friends, the people who "get it".
There are parts of my self whom I wish to go back in time and kill. Or at least sternly reprimand. One of these selves is a fourth grader whose floral stretch pants and scrunchy socks were thought to be all the rage. The other is a sixth grader who thought her killer Down's Syndrome impression was second to none. Another is that surly fifteen year old in the back seat of the gray Plymouth Voyager on the way to Long Island to see Grandma.
I don't remember much about that family vacation. It probably went something like this:
Erin stop! Mom, Erin's touching me! Are we there yet? can we go to McDonalds (Teresa) Can I have some pretzles? Hiiiii Graaaandma. Your pants are too long, they're dragging on the ground. Let's go buy you some nice pants. Where are your bangs? You can't grow out your bangs, your forehead is too big! We're going to Mass. I hope you brought something nice to wear to Mass. Do you want to play with the American Girl dolls? I bought a new outfit for Molly and I bought her backpack and her bicycle too. No running on the hardwood floors you'll slip. Take your shoes off in the mudroom. You can play with your mom's old jump rope if you wish. There's also a Skip-It in there. Do you girls like Skip-It?
One thing I do remember very vividly in fact, was the one and only cool person I saw on that vacation. On the ferry to Fire Island. He had Airwalks on his feet, a boom box in his lap, jean shorts and shoulder length brown hair which whipped his face in the salty Atlantic wind. He was at least five years oder than me. Maybe in his mid-twenties. He must have been a camp counselor or something because there were millions of Puerto Rican children swarming about him. Tugging at his shirt, poking him then giggling and ducking out of the way. None of this madness phased him. He was completely relaxed as he closed his eyes and breathed deep and gave himself to whatever was coming out of that boom box.
Intrigued, I moved up a couple of seats to be across from him and to disassociate myself from the cheesy family who kept talking to me in direct violation of our understanding that we were to ignore each other in public. I wanted to see what was written on his "Hello My Name Is.." sticker. I wanted to see what color his eyes were. Most of all I wanted to hear what was coming out of that boom box that seemed to be taking him far far away. As I leaned in I recognized Don Henley's "Boys of Summer". Except at the time I thought it was "Poison Summer" and something about that misconstruction fit perfectly into the little hole I had taken along on the family vacation. "I can tell you/ My love for you will still be strong/ After the "Poison Summer" has gone..."
I fell in love with that guy on the ferry that day. Although I never did find out what his "Hello My Name Is" sticker said, or the color of his eyes, as he had them closed the whole while, there was still something about the way he tapped his foot and drummed the boom box. Something about his hair getting windblown and tangled in perfect conjunction with Don Henley's voice singing "I can see you/ Brown skin shining in the sun..." Something about a little smile on his face that told me he had no idea I was watching, no idea that anyone was watching. Something about the way he was able to put himself in another place just by closing his eyes and listening.
I wondered if he had a girlfriend. I wondered if he called her "Baby." I wondered if he lived in an apartment. I wondered if he was in college. I wondered if he would open his eyes so that we could get married. Whenever I hear "Boys of Summer" I think about that guy and my own "Poison Summer," cursed with spending ten days of quality time with my loathsome kinfolk, only my CDs and my Clearasil to comfort me. It has been almost ten years. Still, when I hear that song I close my eyes and become transported like that guy. I feel the wind on the ferry and I taste the salt in the air. I see his Airwalks tapping and his stringy hair dancing. And I laugh a little inside, because "Poison Summer" is not the name of the song. And looking back, that summer wasn't so bad.