How I Survived the Fantasy of a Summer Love


My adolescent dreams set the stage for hope, excitement, and heartache

They’re the treasures of summers past — picnics by the lake, family vacations, fireworks on the fourth, and cookouts on the beach. All staples of the season.

As I sift through these summer touchstones of my youth, I find most of my recollections have been tempered by time — the details faded with age. And yet there is one memory that always transcends the years with perfect clarity, still stirring emotions and warming the heart — my first summer love.

Maybe it’s because summer brought its own special kind of aphrodisiac – The brevity of clothes, freedom from school, and the potential for romance was a heady combination — and beneath it, all simmered the unspoken hope of finding a love for all seasons.

Like most, my first summer crush was an experience that predated a loss of innocence, before dating was a regular weekend occurrence — when we could only imagine what it would be like for our lips to touch another’s for the first time — and we reveled in the thought of walking hand-in-hand with someone new.

Perhaps the adolescents of today are too sophisticated and exposed to the casual-sex attitude promoted by popular media to understand this, but a large part of growing up in the seventies in mid-western America meant spending the early teen years plagued with the ache of anticipation.

With our childhoods — and the culture — still influenced by a decade of watching Annette and Frankie linger under a coconut palm, restraint was still the standard for “respectable” girls. And while it may seem conservative by contemporary standards of sexual conduct, for some of us the fantasy of a yet-to-be-experienced first kiss was magic.

So if you’re a youngster under thirty-five, read this with patience — the kind that was common forty years ago when personal choice and limits were as popular as hip-hugger bell bottoms, mood rings, and blue polyester suits.

My first date was a very secretive affair. We arranged to meet inside the movie theater to avoid the possibility of anyone seeing us walk in together. At thirteen, I wasn’t willing to risk the interrogation and lecture that was certain to result if my mother found out I’d be spending several hours in the dark with a tempting boy-hunk one year older than me.

My date — I’ll call him Nick — arrived first and saved me a seat. We exchanged a quick “hello,” and then silence. While not awkward, it was obvious we didn’t have a lot to say to each other. I wasn’t really concerned — we could always talk on the phone. And as far as I knew, dates weren’t for talking. Dates were supposed to be kisses and hugs and gentle touches — without having to wonder what you would say after your lips parted.

Previews of coming attractions filled the screen. It was official — our date had begun. As we sat there — shoulders apart, arms separated by the tiniest air gap on the armrest — I told myself I was ready. The show droned on. We ate popcorn and drank soda. I stole an occasional glance, watching him, waiting for a cue.

By the end of the movie, I was aching to feel his arm around me. But as the yellow-orange sunset froze on the screen and the final theme music began to play, he turned toward me and said his brother was waiting for him. Then without the slightest hesitation, he rose from his seat and left me in the dark — his exit punctuated by a quick, bobbing shadow of his head as it momentarily intercepted the beam of light streaming from the projector.

As the credits rolled, I realized my hopes of creating a few cherished memories had come to an abrupt end. While it’s true my expectations were a bit vague and ambiguous, I had hoped going dutch on the overpriced, greasy popcorn and watered-down Coke would have produced more favorable results.

Although I didn’t realize it then, I had just received an introduction to the awkward and confusing world of dating, with all its passion and heartache, apprehension and disappointment — and where most beginnings inevitably fade into forgettable endings. Those early summer crushes and puppy loves delivered important lessons and, in affairs of the heart, there is simply no better way to learn.

So what happened to Nick? Did I get another chance to explore the possibilities? Yes, I did. Even though I kept my feelings secret, I continued to nurture my hopeful expectations.

Three years later, as a fresh-faced sixteen-year-old, I often daydreamed about our first physical encounter, my over-active imagination placing him on the crest of a perfect wave, the water carrying him within a few yards of where I waited on soft, crystal white sand, ready for him to take me in his arms.

All that summer between my junior and senior years, I dreamed of such a coupling and how I would lie there, perfectly still, as the glow from my body illuminated his hard-chiseled features.

Our eventual union was a far cry from my romanticized illusions. But it brought a much-needed dose of reality to my quixotic and starry-eyed notions. And while I still cherish the brief and never-repeated encounter, not once did I imagine Nick — captain of the football team, Thespian member, and owner of a midnight blue 1973 Z-28 Camaro — growing up to become a Dolly Madison route driver, destined to spend the next 30 years of his life stocking grocery shelves with Wonder Bread and Hostess Twinkies.

And that’s the point … Even though our adolescent fantasies seldom measure up to what life has in store for us, the summers of our youth gave us hope — a time to consider the possibilities and experience life as a great adventure instead of a calculated consequence — when a first kiss was served up as a question, begging for an answer.

Looking back, my only regret is I didn’t live the other nine months of the year with the same abandon.

But then I wonder … is it ever too late?