When I was a student the school year ended on May 25th. The last bell rang in the morning as all school in our official “white aprons” uniforms gathered on the courtyard for an official ceremony. A few people said their “motivational” speeches, and we presented our teachers with tulips and peonies as a sign of our deep appreciation of torturing us all year long. The teachers, dressed in their “holiday” clothing, with curled hair and freshly applied lipstick put all the flowers in the buckets with water, and tried to find somebody to help them get all these beautiful, delicious-smelling blooms home, where they would successfully die a few days later. The final exams ended about 2 weeks later; then off till September.
There were no computers, video games, smart phones or tablets. A few hours of programming on TV per day, and an occasional visit to a movie theater was our idea of hi-tech entertainment. What were we doing all summer? I honestly don’t remember. When I was younger I went to a sleep-away camp for a month, then to visit my grandma. She lived two hours away on a train in a small, but lovely town. I was assigned a bed and a shelf in the closet that came with unlimited outdoor space, marvelous weather and a complete freedom. I had a bunch of friends that also came to visit their grandmas – we had a solid crew of teenage vacationers. I woke up usually around noon, buried myself in a book, an adventure novel taken from the local library, than gathered with my friends to figure out what we were going to do next. Sometimes figuring it out took us longer than the activity itself; but we had time on our hands, so no rush.
We went to the beach on the river that you could easily swim across in about 10 minutes. The water was warm and calm; the sun was pleasant and not too strong- just the right amount for the perfect tan. We lay on the blanket, scanning the crowd for the new pray. Some regular visitors, like a bunch of local boys, were also the object of our attention. One of them, the tall, muscled guy, looked exactly like the leader of the popular band; we even thought he was him for a few days. We never thought of approaching them (not in our league); saying nasty things gave us much more satisfaction. So why did we need to know if they had girlfriends – just curiosity, more objects to trash, or something else? Years later, I realized that he was not tall, not muscled, and far from handsome. In fact, were I to meet him now, I would consider him fat, with a face lacking any signs of intellect whatsoever. My 9-year-old son could play guitar better than he did, and his voice was hideous. But back then, I was not sure what I would do if he approached me; melt or ran away – thanks God he never did.
Every few days we checked out several stores for the signs of new merchandise, which came about once a month. Then we hang out in the two recently opened cafes. Both of them offered two choices of ice-cream –vanilla and coffee, and two syrups-strawberry and blueberry. Three kinds of juices, and four different pastries were also on the menu – which made it the best assortment in town. We gossiped while slowly consuming the ice cream, taking apart each word, move and look our other friends made, trying to assign a hidden meaning to the totally meaningless things- “the real housewives” syndrome, only without 10 people TV crew.
The only movie theater showed mostly Indian movies – one per week. We laughed and cried with the beautiful girl in a colorful sari, desperately trying to reunite with the handsome, tanned boy she loved against her or his family wishes. That was how I knew that if you sing and dance long enough, doing the smooth, sexy moves with your hands and belly, the love would overcome any boundaries, and the drop-dead gorgeous guy would be yours forever. I never learned how to do it, so no wonder that I did not end up with a drop-dead gorgeous, but with a regular guy. “Don’t confuse causation with correlation”, as my son would say. The joyful tunes of “Jimmy Jimmy, Acha, Acha” was sounding in my head well into the next school year.
We played monopoly for hours, selling and buying the factories, plants and railroads with the fake money, increasing our imaginary capital through the roof, just to declare bankruptcies minutes later. Cards games taught us to strategize, analyze, memorize and count, but most importantly to put it in the loser’s face with the meanest smile one could master and the most offensive comments that came to mind. We could not deny ourselves such a pleasure, so we just kept on playing until the hunger or thirst became unbearable.
The main, dirt road outside the fence was used for practicing badminton. We never got bored striking the shuttlecock, and considered it a personal failure when it finally fell on the ground. The occasional passing cars and motorcycles did not interrupt the game, just made us move closer to the wooden fence, while exchanging the shuttlecock in the air. The ping-pong was another part of our daily exercise routine. The old table in the yard in-between the strings attached to the trees with the fresh laundry hanged to dry and the barn was a treasured possession. I don’t remember where it came from, but it was truly multifunctional. From its original purpose, it would easily turn into ping-pong table when net was installed, and the hanging out “lounge”, when the game finally ceased due to the inability to see the ball in the dark. Then we talked; or rather boys were telling jokes and the girls were laughing. Most jokes were not that funny, plus the supply was limited. There was no internet, social media or a comedy channel, and a teenager with a good sense of humor and a feel for comedy was as a rare species as a Sumatran Orangutan. However, this activity was a good way to identify who liked who, and how to proceed based on this invaluable knowledge.
The interactions between teenagers were not easy to read. They were full of clues and unsaid, but clearly communicated signals. The teenagers didn’t usually know how to talk to the opposite gender, except for the homework and jokes. Any words that didn’t fall into these categories were considered super deep and super intense, and a prelude to something big and significant, a little scary, but so worth to explore. Smiling at the girl or touching her hand was an act of an ultimate intimacy. At least that’s how it was in my day, when kids did not know that 16 was a cut off age for having sex.
There was this one guy in our group. He was a year older, had a tanned skin and bright green eyes. We did not really communicate much, or engaged as partners in any gaming activities, but I’ve convinced myself that his green eyes were talking to me. I did not give him any reason to believe that I was attracted to him. I did not even laugh at his jokes. But he continued staring at me with this meaningful gaze, like there was something more that words could say (even though he did not say any words on the matter). So I’ve decided to give him a call, which for me was the equivalent of death, because I never, ever, would make a first move. For a few days I kept convincing myself that I, in fact, was not making any moves; I was just trying to get to the bottom of things. What bottom of what things was not clear. Then I came with the wording and rehearsed my completely neutral and matter-of-fact speech in my head. However, when I finally dialed the number, my vocal cords betrayed me. As soon as I said: “Hi. How are you?” they went on strike, and remained there until he said:”See you later.” Until the end of the summer we both kept thinking that there was something between us, except it was invisible to the human eye. Few years ago I found a picture of him on the social media, and was very happy that it did not go any further. He looked old, with a beer belly and an ugly wife. I am starting to appreciate my husband more and more.
We did nothing all summer; we killed time – the concept I’ve abandoned decades ago. At the end of August we promised to write each other letters, and we did, at least for a few months. We met up the next year, like we’ve never departed, and continued exactly where we stopped the last summer.