Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Best Summer I Ever Had

It's really weird but summer always makes me feel all nostalgic. Maybe it's the sunshine giving me vitamin D, or maybe it's the warmer weather. I was born in Florida and I think that really makes a difference in my well being, I am meant to be in sunshine and summer time mode all year long. Unfortunately, living in the wasteland that is northern Wisconsin, I'm lucky if I get this for three months out of the year. So during those three, very short months, I try to take advantage of as much sunshine as I possibly can.

But every summer I get to thinking about previous summers and I'm always drawn to a select handful that I can say were beyond amazing, all for different reasons, but there is one that is an absolute stand out, always will be.

The year was 1996. I had just turned 14, it was the summer before my freshman year of high school. At the end of 7th grade, my family had moved from Cloquet, Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin. It was only a half  hour away, but that meant I'd be going to a new middle school (horrific) and I'd have no friends. As a back story, I grew up in Florida and at age 9, we moved from there to the back woods of Cloquet, and it was horrible. Absolutely horrible. It took me years to make any friends there and by the time I had one really great one, Jessica, we were moving again and to say I was angry is an understatement.


So we moved to Superior and I started school at a terrible middle school where literally everyone was either high all of the time, trying to be thugs (which is laughable because we're in Wisconsin, how thug can you really be), or kids who you knew would grow up to be losers or teenage parents. And for the most part, that's basically what  happened to the kids I went to middle school with, save for a few who have gone on to do some pretty great things in life and are lovely people. But there was one girl who was quirky and cool, she didn't fit into any one group and was just the coolest ever.

Her name was Allena.

I knew from the moment I met her that I absolutely had to be her friend because I was sure that she was going to be a big part of my formative years. And I was totally right.

We didn't hit it off right away. She was very into theater and band, which neither were my thing. I actually didn't have a thing. I just did my school work. But I think a mutual dislike for a few other girls is what made us friends. Those girls were straight up mean to us and while I was always the kid who took things to heart, Allena never let it bother her. If she did, she was excellent at hiding it, and I wanted to be like her.

After eighth grade, we had become really good friends. That summer before high school was all about her and I. We hung out pretty much every single day. She lived right by the high school, I was on the other end of town, so I would ride my bike over 4 miles one way to hang out with her. Our big deal was getting ready for Spartan Camp, which is like a one day deal at the end of summer where you got a tour of the high school, your schedule, did picture day, and every incoming freshman looked forward to it. We had big ideas that if we just made a really great impression on that day, we'd be set for our high school careers.

Which is not at all what happened, BUT the months leading up to it were epic.

And by epic, I mean we were too cool for everyone. This was the era of AOL being new and we would hoard the free minute discs that we'd all get in the mail so we could go online at her house. My parents were super strict about it, but her mom was super cool and let us be online ALL of the time. We would go into AOL and Yahoo chat rooms and that summer, she had Ian and I had a guy named Brandon who would email us constantly. I don't remember much about her Ian, but I remember Brandon. To this day, I still remember Brandon. I can vaguely remember what he looks like, but what I do remember is that he was in a band, he was a singer/songwriter, and he would mail me mixtapes and guitar picks. He'd write me the best letters, even better than his emails, and I thought FOR SURE I'd run away with him.

(Side note: so every time I hear these stories of girls running away and never being seen again? I can sympathize because I absolutely remember what that felt like, to feel like a boy thought you were the best ever. In hindsight, if Brandon ever showed up where I lived, I would have gone with him. I'm sure of it.)

But when we couldn't be online, we would be watching Alternative Nation on MTV, and she would transfer the songs onto tapes for us. Her parents were going through a divorce, so sometimes we'd go with her dad and he'd take us to places in Duluth and we'd hang out. One particularly great day, we made paper airplanes all morning and her dad took us to Enger Tower and we tossed them all off the top of the tower. Afterwards we had lunch at her grandma's, while painting our nails, and painting rocks with nail polish, all while completely jamming out as loud as her grandma would let us to The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness records, because we were HUGE fans of Billy Corgan.

Our entire summer was dedicated to alternative music, band t-shirts from Hot Topic, bizarre accessories from Claire's, internet chat rooms and oh yes, the most memorable four mile walk to my house.

You see, we made it to Spartan Camp. We got ourselves ready for picture day and my hair was JACKED UP by the time we got there so my 9th grade picture is terrible. Absolutely terrible. But what wasn't terrible was the walk back to my house. We spent the night before Spartan Camp at her house, but the day of was going to be spent at my house. Our parents had to work and we didn't have money for the bus, so the only way to get from one house to the next was to walk. We decided the best way to do this, while carrying all of my sleepover stuff and her sleepover stuff, was to walk four miles, on a hot August day, wearing jackets, taking the route furthest away from where anyone we'd know would drive by. Which meant walking along the corridor where the oil refinery is.

Now, walking alongside an oil refinery, with no water and wearing a jacket, probably screwed us up. Maybe it was the smell, maybe it was heat exhaustion, I don't know. What I do know is that to pass the time we sang Everclear's "Santa Monica" over and over again, and along the way picked up a 2x4 chunk of wood, a hubcap, and a bunch of cat tails from the swamp. I have no idea why we felt the need to pick this random crap off the side of the road but we did. Every time I hear that song, I am reminded of the longest walk of my life and Allena.

Allena moved away shortly after we started 10th grade. Not having her for the rest of high school was so hard. I made some new friends, but none of them were like Allena. We've kept in touch over the years, and she's in Texas now. I miss her like mad and I wonder what life would be like if she hadn't moved away. But every time I hear "Santa Monica", or I drive by her old house, or even the refinery, I think of her. I really hope someday my kids have a friend like Allena because it truly made for one of the best summers of my life.

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