Photo by Abbie Bradford
It was the summer of sunsets. The summer of joy and love, and most of all, new life.
And that very July, that hot summer of 1999, Elizabeth was born. A sun kissed baby they said, like God had shed his golden-sun tears on her. Newborn: Nobody remembers what their life is like as a baby. I do imagine though. My mother watching my hair grow in, in her lounge chair at the lake. She would caress my face, and she remembers when I first smiled at her, earlier than most babies do, as August approached and the end of summer reigned, fall to come. One: My cousin was born that year. Destined to become the best of friends, my mother made sure that Lauren and I were inseparable, even as babies. She says I loved watching my cousin’s face, one that looked just like my little one. Two: I was walking, and I had been walking for a while. As the waves rolled in on the lake, I carried my stumbly little legs through the grass. I chased the birds and butterflies to my heart’s content and there were no corrupt thoughts in my head. Three: Lauren could walk now too, and together we were the rulers of the world. She followed me around, learning from every step, more sure of her foot placement. And I lead her to see the wonders of our little world, as our mothers watched from their chairs on the lawn. Four: The summer of mermaids and princesses, how I wanted to be like them. My mother taught me how to swim that summer, my father by her side. Splashing in the lake with my small fins, and my big smile. It did not matter that I did not get very deep. It was a future for me. Five: I had made friends in preschool, and they were invited to spend time with me at the lake. But with friends came drama, and I left Lauren alone without anyone. I was naive child, and I had somehow forgotten to be inclusive. Six: My friends didn't come up much anymore. They had things to do over the summer, their parents always busy. Lauren was always there for me though. She always had been. And at age six, my parents too were friends of mine. We all canoed together out to the island where the ducks slept. Seven: My swimming had improved over the years, and I joined a swim team at the pool. It meant time away from the lake, at 6 am diving into the water with kids my age. My father would bring me to practices, and wrap me in a towel to dry me off when I was done. Eight: My father died that summer. I don’t remember anything. The memories were wiped away by my tears. Nine: The lake had become a home away from home. A place I could forget about my family troubles, a place where the only memories I saw of my father were happy ones. Ten: I liked a boy that summer. His name was Carlos and he lived three houses down on the lake. We played in the water almost every day, until he stopped coming to my house to ask me to play. I cried. Eleven: I spend most of that summer with Lauren, not wanting to waste time with a boy like Carlos again. Two peas in a pod, inseparable, sisters more than cousins. That’s what we were and that’s what we were forever to be. Twelve: An ice cream shop opened on the lake, and I spent almost every evening there. Sticky fingers and brain freeze. It was like the one back home that I had gone too when I was younger, but this was new, my own place to make my own memories. Thirteen: I had a crush on a swim team boy. I told him I liked him, and he must have liked me back because he kissed me under the tree by the lake. He said he loved me, but we didn’t know what love meant. Fourteen: I didn’t see swim team boy all year until that next summer. We remembered each other though but what had once been declarations of love and sticky ice cream kisses were shy smiles and awkward hellos. We barely talked. Fifteen: Lauren got her first boyfriend that summer, much in the same way I got mine. I, being a year older, felt the need to instill all my years of experience on her. She spent all of her time with him that summer though, leaving me to swim on my own. I never saw her during the year, only at the lake. Sixteen: My school friends spent all summer in town, and I rarely went to the lake. Parties and concerts and hangouts consumed my summer. I kissed a boy here and there but none lasted. All I longed for was the lake. Seventeen: This year, I returned to the lake. The clear water reflected the memories of sixteen summers before. Sixteen summers of love, and drama. Fun and tragedy. Loneliness and never feeling alone. And yet despite the hardships, the best times and best memories were all worth it in the end. The summer was mine, and I was going to create a memory that would not be forgotten among the others.