Time. When you’re younger it passes so slow. Summers seem to last forever until you’re back at school come September wondering if summer actually happened at all. Your life is organized into school, then weekends, then holidays. And post college it’s work, weekends, holidays and — if you’re lucky to have them – paid sick days.
Then a decade passes. Then another. And despite vowing never to be nostalgic for “the good old days”, you can’t help but let your mind drift back. Your brain filters out the not-so-good and paints everything else in a golden glow where all is well. Time seems to move faster and memories get jumbled, merged or disappear altogether.
You never appreciate the good moments, and those rare bits of transcendence when they’re actually happening. Except once twenty years ago when I *did* realize things were changing, and I was living through one of those final rare moments of true freedom I would ever have.
This is a story of the last carefree summer I ever had. It was 20 years ago. And it changed everything.
Summer 1994 began for me on Friday April 29, after completing my last exam and facing four months in Toronto. I had opted to remain in the city and work there thru the summer rather than go back home. Home had become awkward with my parents’ divorce and I just couldn’t handle being back in a place called home that didn’t felt more like Santa Mira after the Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. It looked the same but wasn’t the same. Plus, year 2 of university had been a long hard climb to recover my GPA after my grades nosedived in the back half of my first year when my parents announced they were getting said divorce.
So to me this summer meant freedom. Of course I had to work, but a confluence of events meant I had the freedom to be free (to do what I want any old time). I had money left over from the school year that was – enough to pay my share of rent and bills on the house I was living in with five others. So, I worked, crewing music videos, paid under the table, five days of intensive work followed by a couple weeks off. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I worked but only enough to feed myself and fulfil my obligations. There was not much room for fun, with the exception of the money I’d saved to buy my ticket for the 1994 installment of Lollapalooza. That happened in early July and while I didn’t know it at the time, it ended up being the last big outdoor festival I ever attended.
Plus, it rained.
The show ended and I went back to Toronto, staying a couple additional days at my friend Mark’s place, making plans to return to my place downtown and … do nothing basically. And at one point Mark asked “why go back?” Rent was paid, bills were taken care of, and I had nothing to do down there. My next paying job wouldn’t be good to go for a few more weeks, and with Mark’s family away on a cruise for the next few weeks the house was basically empty.
Plus it was summer and they had a swimming pool.
So I stayed there for almost three weeks. The day began the crack of noon with coffee and donuts, we’d rent movies, hang by the pool, barbecue for dinner, pile into the car and cruise the city streets all night, return for a swim and turn in as the first rays of dawn streaked the sky. Parites were thrown, parties were attended.
My roomates wondered what the hell happened to me. In typical fashion I left for Lollapalooza and said I’d be back early the following week. But once I realized “hey, nobody knows what the hell happened to me,” that necessitated a trip to my place to grab some fresh clothes and let the world know I was in fact still alive.
This was life for those three weeks that felt like an eternity even back then.
And I knew – we both did – that things would never be this relaxed, this carefree ever again. And they weren’t. I think that’s why we recall this period with such fondness. Because we knew it wasn’t going to last. We knew we’d have to get our shit together sooner than later. It really felt like our last hurrah while it was happening. In fact we’d talk about that fact while this was all happening, like we were narrating events as they happened, like in a movie.
And we both decided then and there that we had to start getting serious about the future. Mark had dropped out of college but was already making moves to return early the following year. I was at the rough midpoint of my college life and in hindsight I should have scrounged up more work. I should have been more responsible, but I also knew this was the last chance I’d have IN MY ENTIRE LIFE to be so carefree.
And 20 years later I’m glad I was irresponsible because I never did experience that freedom again. The following year was a tough one for school. My education, which had been paid for by my parents thus far was now my sole responsibility (hello student loans). My parents’ divorce turned nasty as all divorces do. Summer 1995 I worked 5 days a week at a home electronics store. I worked, I had weekends and the occasional day off. I saw friends and hung out on occasion but much of that summer was work. But it was after that summer of 94 that I really got a sense of the person I wanted to be.
Because it was over that summer that I realized what I really wanted to be was a writer.
Routinely I’d wake up early while the rest of the house slumbered — the place being a flop-house for our friends over those weeks — dig out my notepad and pen, and write. Journal entries, short stories, the scribblings of what would be my first screenplay. I still have the notebook too and looking through it I glimpse the person I was twenty years ago. A person who was still young and still naïve, but also a person who was on his way to becoming the person he is now. Some people took a year off to see the world, travel, find themselves. But for me it was those three weeks in 1994 that made me picture the future I wanted for myself, and made me see what I needed to do to make that future happen.
In 1996 I graduated and scraped out a living saddled with student loan debt and barely kept my head above water. But I stayed focused on writing and being a writer. All because of that aimless, listless summer of freedom where I had time to ask myself where I wanted to be. On graduating I I gave myself five years to make my career happen. It happened in 2 and a half years. Exactly five years after Sumer 1994 I was working on my first big job as a screenwriter. Twenty years later, I’m still here and still doing what I decided my career would be.
That’s the story of my last carefree summer. And on reflection it wasn’t carefree; I was becoming the person I am now.
But that’s not my *best* summer. No, my best summer was 2008 when I moved to NYC to marry my beloved wife.
But that’s a story for another day.