I was seventeen years old during the summer of 1987.
I was a young seventeen. Imaginative but wholly undisciplined. Deeply in love with my boyfriend.
My boyfriend and I had few shared interests. He didn’t like swimming or dance clubs. I had never been backpacking or sturgeon fishing. Neither of us liked the mall and anyway neither of us had any money. We drove around for hours in his un air-conditioned Dodge Aspen, smoking cigarettes and swearing that we would escape the treeless desert of suburbia. We didn’t know where we were going, but we were going, man. We held hands down the freeway and everything was hope and possibility. We couldn’t believe our luck to be this much in love.
Sometimes at night we parked on lonely lanes in the hills. Sometimes we made out. More often we stretched out on the hood and talked. He was the smartest, kindest and most thoughtful person I knew. I could have talked with him forever without ever getting bored. Early Johnny Cougar songs still remind me of those slow kisses and warm evenings when time stretched out in front of us in an eternal ribbon of starry nights and endless looping cassette tapes in the car stereo.
We headed to different colleges. We broke up the following May, one year after we began. He dropped out of his college program and took permanent residence in a small rural mountain town four hundred miles away. We stayed friends and continued to write letters, but I didn't see him again for years.
But at least we had that summer.
In my fortieth summer I live in an urban tree-lined neighborhood enough unlike the suburban desert to make me happy. My oldest daughter is nearing her own seventeenth summer. She is nothing like me. My daughter is goal oriented, cerebral and hard working. I can’t imagine her enjoying long hot drives to no place with a boy who hates school. I may be wrong about that. Parents don’t know.
That boyfriend and I got back together eventually. Our marriage is seventeen years old this summer.
The mountain man is also now a college professor, still the smartest and kindest and most thoughtful person I know. We haven’t smoked in over twenty years and we don’t need to park on deserted streets for time alone anymore. Time does not stretch out in quite the endless ribbon we imagined at seventeen, but it’s still plenty long. In a few days we’ll hit the road on vacation with our girls in the backseat, and we’ll listen to the guitar rock we loved a long time ago, as well as the Killers and Regina Spektor songs that our teenager likes.
We have air conditioning, but my husband prefers the natural warm wind that blasts through the windows. Maybe it reminds him of the summer we were seventeen and the freedom we felt driving out of town even though we knew we would eventually have to turn around and return in time for work.
In our fortieth summer we’ll still feel free even though we know we will eventually have to turn around and return in time for work. We will still be filled with hope when we hold hands on the freeway. Everything is still possible.
I can’t believe my luck.