Sometimes when I need to relax, I think about the last carefree days that I can remember. When I think of these days, it is the summer after high school graduation that comes to mind. For me, these were the in-between months. My time in public school was finally over. Homework was over. (In college, we never called it homework, it was “studying.”) Standardized tests were over. I had gotten into a decent college and I never had to think about SATs and ACTs and AP tests again. I had earned my high school diploma and I had about three months of carefree living before heading off to college.
Those were great months in my memory. It was the summer of 1990 in Los Angeles. Everything seemed bright. The world seemed simpler and safer. It was more than a decade before 9/11. It was before the first Gulf War. I had a great summer job, working in a pharmacy just down the street from my house. I had the whole summer to spend with my friends before we all headed our separate ways for college. And then, of course, there was college itself. I was excited to move out on my own, and lived through the carefree days of that summer anticipating the day I moved into the dorms the way I anticipate an upcoming vacation.
I remember taking a drive out to Westlake Village, where we went to a bike shop, and I got brand new bike as a graduation present, a bike that would accompany me to college a few months later. I can picture that day so clearly, that has come to represent the pinnacle of carefree days in my mind. I had no anxiety, no worries, only possibilities that opened up before me like and endless highway. Driving back from that bike shop, on the 101 freeway heading east, I remember my grandfather in the passenger seat, commenting on how well I was driving. (“You’re not a white-knuckle driver,” he said.) The skies seemed unusually blue for summer in Los Angeles.
That summer, I worked during the days, daydreaming of being off at college when thing were slowing the store. In the evenings I spent as much time as I could with my friends, knowing that we’d soon be separated. Certain songs that came on the radio back then trigger some of these memories. Hearing Living Colour’s “Broken Hearts” reminds me of driving to Corbin Bowl in the evening to meet up with my friends. Phantom of the Opera was at its height in Los Angeles at the time, and hearing “The Music of the Night” reminds me of that drive back from the bike shop.
I’m sure I had worries, but they were still the worries of a teenager, and they didn’t register in the way that adult worries do. I imagine I worries that I wouldn’t see my friends as often, and wondered if we’d drift apart. Indeed, for a few years, we did drift apart, but only for a few years. I am writing this piece early in the morning, sitting at the dining room table of my friend Eric’s house in Albany, New York, one of my best high school friends from those carefree days. Our days aren’t as carefree anymore, and neither of us have lived in Los Angeles for years, but here we are, still hanging out, and our kids are also hanging out, and they are getting to the same age that we were when we first met.
Thinking about those last carefree days before college always helps to put me in a good mood. I may not experience days as carefree as those were (as a parent, you never completely stop worrying about your kids), but I think my kids might still have some carefree days ahead of them. This road-trip vacation we are on, for instance. If we can help give them a few days like that in the years left before they head off to college, then it is almost like having a few more carefree days ourselves.
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I often think about those carefree days Jamie, another continet, another year and a different story but I can relate so much to the feelings you describe in your post that is almost as if you where describing my own memories.