Wednesday, March 21, 2012

what i think about when i think about summer. and growing up.

Everyone walks to work here. Even the fat, even the lazy. That's how small a place this is, that's how close we're breathing onto each other and how even whispers sound like screams. That's how it is here.

There are tourists and there are locals and then there are everyone else. I am among the 'everyone elses', we work in the bars and restaurants and docks and golf cart rental kiosks during the season. We don't belong, but we recognize that, for right now, we are here to stay anyway. We get to behave like tourists and act almost as entitled as the locals and then, at the end of the season, we disappear until the next spring or forever. We are a dime a dozen and we are constantly reminded.

But for now, we are here, we are young, we are invincible, and we are making cash. There are no banks here. Only envelopes with our names scrawled across in safes at our places of employment or cups we've swiped from work, crammed with bills. The fruit of our labor. Whatever is left in the morning after we've closed all the bars. It's a spin cycle. On repeat. We work to keep it spinning faster and faster, anxious with hope that the days will stretch instead of tighten. That the next night will be a stumble home over gravel and grass and not a boat ride and drive back to wherever we came from. We pray that we'll forget how to drive. We worship the summer. We beg this case to produce just a few more beers. We appeal desperately to the sun, to the tourists we mock and curse to keep flooding in, and to the smell of the dumpster to continue to rot and stink in the alley we walk through to get back home after our shift. We're feverish with the feeling of all we have set foot on here, all we have laid out hands on. And we are drunk. We are drunk, or hungover, or in the state of flux in between. Still, we are standing on a rock.

This is an island. And not in the figurative sense. This is an island, surrounded by water and too far to swim to from any other other bit of land. It is tiny and yet it looms large at the same time. It is enough. In the summer, it is everything.

The first time I turned up here it was still winter and I'd never been on a ferry before. I paid my six dollars and boarded the boat, on the way to my interview to be a waitress for the summer. I'd answered an ad I saw on the internet one day while scanning for a summer escape from my university basement desk job.  On that first ferry there were only a handful of other passengers, if that. A couple of ladies hauling as many Walmart bags as they could handle back over from the main land. Stocking up on supplies, no real stores on the island, and nothing open yet anyway. I sat in the corner of the inside cabin upstairs on the groaning vessel and felt out of place. I was wearing heels. And a pencil skirt. And shivering.

In two summers that was the only time I rode in the inside cabin, or wore heels for that matter. The inside cabin was for tourists. Reserved for those too hungover to be more than three feet from the bathroom, for those who don't relish in the wind raking indelicately through sun kissed tresses. No, for every ride after that I elbowed and edged my way to the front bench upstairs, outside, especially if I was headed to the island, that way I could have the best view, the most wind, feel the waves most intensely, so eager to get back.

It's easy to confuse a place like the island for home, especially when you don't feel tethered to any one place anyhow.

 We live in a dorm-like building. There are rules there, and a strict enforcer called "Dorm Dad" who, despite his portly stature and propensity for flirting with the boarders and starting his day with booze in his coffee cup, will actually fine the fuck out of you at the first sight of a beer can inside the building or a guest that isn't paying rent inside.  The last part is mostly moot, we're all only hooking up with each other anyway, so we don't mind. Plenty of warm beds to keep us entertained enough with each other after hours. Dorm Dad watches the hallway cameras with rapture, just waiting for some poor girl to forget her towel when she goes to shower and tries to make a mad dash to her room. We follow the rules or don't follow the rules, it's too easy to forget those parts. Sometimes the girls walk around the back of the buildings in packs, lining up to pee on the side of dorm that's always blanketed in shade, one hand holding our clothes way from the stream, a half-empty beer can in the other. We never worry about being caught, no one will see us, nothing is at stake except missing out on something out front.

There are two bathrooms in the building. The upstairs for girls and downstairs for boys. And make no mistake, we are girls and boys and not men and women, no matter what we were before we landed here. Anyway, it is explained that there is a girls bathroom and and boys bathroom, but that's not really true. When the time arises, everyone uses whichever bathroom is closest. We are never surprised and we take pride in this; we meet every challenge, we create situations just to rise to the occasion. We are reckless with one another. We are reckless with ourselves. Nothing feels as good as being that alive.

On the evenings when it isn't raining, no matter the day of the week except Saturday, everyone congregates outside the dorm. There are picnic tables, there is a lawn. There is always more booze and a spare cigarette and someone willing to share. Everyone congregates, coming together and splitting apart and multiplying almost like amoeba under a microscope, but make no mistake, there are factions. We may be on a tiny island, but this is a place that thrives and encourages cliques to form, invisible lines to hold everyone in their place.

We are the wait staff. The people out front for the customers to see. The ones who look healthy and all-American. We're part of the display and we know it, we love it. The kitchen staffs and bus boys are townies from across the water, trash from the towns dotted on the shore's crust, or foreign kids. Mostly Russians and Macedonians. The foreigners are the smart kids that expected more and just wanted a piece of Americana culture. Instead they get to wash dishes, chain smoke, and get drunk in the corners of bars. Some speak decent English and they are allowed in the outer circles of groups. Some speak almost none and cluster and cling to each other. Sometimes when the magic is right, alcohol proves a great equalizer and we all sing some shitty song over one sad guitar. Off key, too in love with ourselves and everything around us to notice or care. It's summer, who fucking cares, right?

We're the cool girls, we get our own booze and we go out to the tables before the boys do. We're not waiting for them, but all we want is for them to join us. For them to grin and swig from our bottles and place a hand on our thigh under the table. We're nearly blue in the face holding our breaths, holding our poses, hiding our desperation for one of them to sit down next to us. They almost always do. They're on the same stage, they know their roles. And the darkness hugs us and the drink warms us and we hold hands and couple off and go on walks or we go to bed alone, ignored, ready to try again tomorrow. You never know if the result will be the same of different, but at least we're the ones getting attention, if anyone is.
We are the group that everyone wants to be a a part of. We are the most reckless, the ones that needed to escape the doldrums of outside life the most, and we cling to this despite our place in the light. We drink the most, laugh the loudest, look the best, and have the greatest chance of falling into favorable graces with the locals- or at least of them knowing who we are. We have older siblings who paved the way for us here, or we are at least hooking up with someone who does. Everyone is having fun here, but we are having the most fun. We are having the time of our lives. We are most gluttonously consuming sunsets and bottles of island wine. We are sure we are sleeping under the fountain of youth.

Everything important seems so far away.

Nothing can touch us here. Nothing can touch me. Even after I get an expensive helicopter ride off the island to a mainland hospital for alcohol poisoning on my birthday. I can barely hear the strain in my parents' worried voices over all the "It'll be a great stories!" all around me. It's already a great story. I'm so alive. I'm so thirsty. I feel greedy for one more of everything I've felt. Everything coarsing through my veins is never enough because the next moment will always bring more. I lose touch with people. I don't care. Nothing is real but everything I'm doing and feeling moment to moment. It's too much to try to explain. Why would I try anyway, when just living it instead is so goddamn easy?

I've heard it being compared to doing heroin the first time, always going back to try to get a high like the first one,  but I've never done that, so I can't say.

Nothing that good, that powerful, that fast coming, can last. This is the lesson you learn after you've left, before you've learned anything else. You can go back to visit or to live another summer, but you can't drink enough to hide all the cracks that start appearing from banging yourself around with abandon. We all try anyway. We all just need a little bit of the way it was the first time. Remember that? That was the best. We're all here again, all the people who mattered anyway, so what's the problem?

If it's an apex, it's the height of stupidity. It's the summit where one side climbing is blissful irresponsibility and the slide downward is heartbreak and the reality of all the choices you made while you were still allowed to run wild. It's harder to run wild that second summer. The people, the island institutions you used to name drop about jokingly and roll your eyes start recognizing your face, feeling threatened by your presence, not sure if they want you there anymore. Is this still a game? Why is this a two-way transaction now?  They'll tighten your reigns. You see all the same places you used to run free, but you can't get to them anymore, not if you want to be allowed to stay.

It's a trap.

Once you realize you've been snared, the desperation sets in. Snared, scared animals are always the meanest. All the trapped animals biting at each other because they can't get close enough to the keeper of the keys. This is the way it is. This is the way that the 'everyone elses' act toward each other, ripping at the seems, just trying to tear someone else apart enough that no one else will notice where they're falling apart themselves.

Remember how much fun it used to be?

Yes, let's remember it. We'll recount it over Oberons- Remember how we used to grab them out of the cooler behind the bar after our shifts and go sit on the patio and drink them while we counted our money? Shift drinks, the first one always free. We'd compare customers and recount the night before if there hadn't been time, but there was always time, wasn't there?  We'd discuss the night stretching ahead, itching for it to start fast and crazy, but willing it to last forever, to top the last one. Plans are made according to the teams playing on the one grassy softball diamond, the island league, the amount of cash in our hands, and the hours of remaining daylight. It's an equation only we know, only we can work the solution. We're so good at this kind of math.

We laugh and laugh and do our hair and makeup side by side just as we half-assedly did when we stumbled out of bed this morning, but this time with more care. We try on clothes, but really, it doesn't matter what we're wearing. We're tan. We're pretty. We're paying. We've got each other and we're fine.

You've got to understand that all the good gets jumbled up together. The bad does the same.

The first summer I left with a full heart, the second with an empty one.

I think it's what growing up feels like.

No comments:

Post a Comment