Lately, I feel grumpy. It’s July, which means days are long and hot. Pool parties. The beach. Short shorts. Blah fucking blah. In other words, a constant reminder that despite my best intentions, somewhere along the line I sold out and became an adult.
I feel nostalgia for the summer of my youth so heavy I can’t breathe. Growing up in the tiny ranch town of Gardnerville, Nevada meant summers were like a country music video on repeat. Especially the sweet spot between ages fifteen and seventeen, when we were old enough to drive but too young to go anywhere.
The launch of summer was Carson Valley Days, the town parade and carnival at Lampe Park. Everyone came and everyone rode the same five rides we’d been riding since we were kids. We spent summer days at Lake Tahoe and summer nights at the river. Cheap beer was usually involved. We rode in the back of pickup trucks, driving too fast down county lanes, nothing but the stars above and our uncertain futures ahead.
The lack of options is what created the bliss. Gardnerville had one movie theater and lots of empty Earth. Social life meant seeing the same movie for the fifth time, or circling up around a bonfire in the desert or the woods, drinking our parents’ purloined liquor and blasting Country Grammar (I know I just seriously dated myself, but Nelly’s debut album was really tight).
I marvel at how we found these bonfire spots. Before Waze, before texting. I guess we called each other on land lines and wrote down the directions?
I could devote an entire book to growing up Gardnerville, and I still might. But for now the last thing I’ll mention here is the scent — summer nights in the ‘Ville are the aroma of hay fields, fresh unpolluted oxygen, cows, wholesome American dreams. I know I’m waxing poetic, we always look back on our youth with a rose-colored lens.
But no matter how many cities I visit, or fancy Hollywood events I attend, nothing feels as great as being seventeen on a summer night, surrounded by my gang of friends, parked at the river, singing Garth Brooks into the night.
Yesterday I drove home from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe and cried the whole way.
Countless times I’ve done that 8 hour drive, since I was a kid and we’d go to LA several times a year from Tahoe to visit family. “Scenic 395” runs through Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous U.S., then through all the cute/weird little Old West towns that dot the journey from California into Nevada like Lone Pine, Bishop and Bridgeport. You transition from a desert landscape into the snow, passing Mammoth Mountain and the bizarre tufa formations of Mono Lake. The scents along the drive are: sagebrush, cows, crisp mountain air, exhaust, pine trees.
I was driving home for a joyous occasion, the birth of my new nephew, and my emotions were close at hand. I’d wanted to be at his delivery (I was honored my sister and brother-in-law even asked me to be there!), but he came two days early and as I packed my bag in LA he was already taking his first breaths in this world.
I was feeling down I’d missed such an important moment (though I kept shouting at myself “You’re not what’s important here! A healthy baby was brought into this world. Check your ego. He’s all that matters!”). Add in the LA malaise of traffic, helicopters, whatamIdoingwithmylife and amIevergoingtomakeitasawriteractressetcblahblah, and I was a total basket case. I cried what felt like ancient tears. But I didn’t necessarily feel sad, I just felt.
And I remembered another time I did that drive and wept like a heartbroken teenager. I was driving south on 395 that time, 5 years earlier, my big move to Los Angeles. I’d been planning to move to LA with my best friend Beth since we were 15, but now that it was happening I suddenly had a lot of reasons to stay put. I was leaving behind a life that allowed me to write prolifically, a cool cheap apartment, a job I liked, lots of friends, a boyfriend I was in love with. I had my two cats in the car with me, Chairman Meow and King Alobar, and I was all turned upside down. I listened to Fiona Apple that entire drive, sobbing and doubting and growing up by the second.
What punched me in the gut driving yesterday was how tremendously time passes. Lightning fast, yet full of life. Was that just 5 years ago that my life had an entirely different shape? The people in it were a different cast of characters. Now I have a whole new community of friends. I’ve had jobs and opportunities I couldn’t have known existed (although that’s why I was going, I didn’t know the details ahead, but I knew fortune favors the bold). Now I’m in a different relationship, a new boyfriend to love. Even the cats are different. Chairman passed away and Alobar found a different home. Now I have Lady Fluff and Kitten Coyote. But I’m still listening to Fiona Apple.
Driving toward home, toward welcoming a new life into my family, I felt gobsmacked by how much we change. Every year, every moment. I don’t know if it’s any sort of answer, but something feels connected in this: they named the baby Quest.