The Endless Summer

By Anna Mitchael

I went to high school in a very small town

In Oklahoma that was home to the headquarters of a very large oil company.

So even though there weren’t a lot of people, there was an airport that saw a fair amount of planes. And in that airport was a Mexican restaurant so good, people would fly in just to eat enchiladas. I don’t know what they put in the food, but I would guess one of the ingredients was pride.

If you told three people who lived in other parts of Oklahoma that you were from our town, at least one of them would ask about the restaurant. And then you could smile and talk with this complete stranger about the pleasure of spending an afternoon eating sopapillas and waiting to watch planes come in.

Every year around this time I think about that little restaurant. I think about the airport in the town and the lake that was on the other side. On summer nights all the high school kids would drive to the lake and park their cars up and down. There was always at least one car of guys who were too cool to park, and we loved and hated them in equal measure for that.

During the days while we worked jobs as lifeguards and babysitters, waiters and hosts, we would ask each other, “Are you going to the lake?” And the question could mean a thousand things. Are you going to the lake because, rumor has it, your ex is going to be there? Are you going to the lake because, rumor has it, your ex isn’t going to be there … and by the way, I like you?

Sometimes there would be beer at the lake, and the cops would come. Then the question got a little more dicey. Rumor has it, people are getting grounded. Rumor has it, people are getting tickets. Rumor has it, nothing feels better than a little adrenaline on a hot night in June. Should we risk it?

Other things come to mind. How it felt to drive by the one high school in town and see it look like a ghost town. So empty you could almost convince yourself these days were going to last and no one would ever have to go back and walk the halls, take science tests or smell onion rings cooking in the cafeteria. How good it felt to want a tan and then go get one — to just put a beach towel down in the backyard and park yourself there. No warnings or danger in mind, no curiosity or concern about what might freckle or wrinkle or pucker when you’re 40. Forty was just a number, not an age — certainly not an age for you.

There were other details in those days, of course there were, but the architecture of the hours has fallen away. Anything I was anxious about has faded. Every year around this time I think about summer and everything I want from it, and those memories are what come to mind. I look at lists of all the things I want to do with my kids — everything I’ve outlined for us to experience, and I’m left searching for what isn’t written. Words can’t catch the roar of a plane with honey on your fingers. They can’t explain the ease in spending hours in the yard, before we all had phones in our hands, when closing the door meant closing out the world and stepping into the sun.