Skinning knees on artificial-red asphalt, burning thighs against thick tire swings — these activities have been checked off of your to-do list for years now. You will not eat crustless sandwiches and zebra cakes for lunch every day; you will not experience the first-time wonder of daylight at 8 p.m. or fireflies or sandcastles with moats around them because these things — while beautiful — are familiar now. They are your father’s face, your favorite book cover. Once, you marveled at them but now you accept them, now you expect them; that’s why this summer will be different.
The summer will be different because you do not need to convince anyone that you’re old enough to use deodorant. You will not swing tiny legs with tiny hairs into a bathtub while your mother waits, watches as you cover them in sweet-smelling cream, as you touch a razorblade to untouched skin in fear and excitement. This summer, no one will nag you until you apply the correct amount of sunscreen, no one will make sure your nose is covered tenfold, no one will hug you when it accidentally slips into your eyes and burns you in ways you never thought possible. No one will protect you from the sun.
You will not spend hour upon hour and weekend upon weekend piled into a car driving along the coast to wherever your parents want to go — a friend’s house in Virginia, an aunt’s house in Boston, a chocolate-themed amusement park in Pennsylvania. You will not fall in love with mushroom-cut boys you’ve known for ten minutes, or girls with perfect ponytails, or men you don’t realize are much too old to be in the running for your too-young heart. When you meet someone lovely this summer, you can’t blame your family or misfortune or fate for tearing you apart because now there is Facebook, now there are cell phones, now it’s not as simple as “Say good-bye and get in the car, we’re leaving.” If only it were that simple.
No more baby-oiled skin. No more sprinklers. No more hopscotch, no jump rope, no dampened, oversized beach towels slung over the backseats of cars. More worry over bodies in swimsuits and what’s see-through and what’s padded and what’s you never conceived of in summers past.
This summer is different because the scent of tobacco won’t stain your virgin fingertips, you won’t drink your first sip of beer and wonder if you’re supposed to enjoy it. You won’t become aware of your body — and who’s looking at it — for the first time, this swelling piece of flesh that glows and shines and sweats. No, you have a handle on these things now; you know how to inhale and how to shotgun and how to cut pants into shorts. Short shorts. You are experienced in the summer sense of the word, so summer will be different this year.
You will not relive the joy of barbecuing in a friend’s backyard for the first time — no parents, no chaperones, no end — and learning who knows how to cook what, which friend makes the best potato salad and which knows exactly how long to brown the meat. The realization that you are suddenly able to survive on your own, that you are old enough to take care of each other, will never feel as profound as it did that first summer. You will not stare at your friends’ young, distorted limbs through the refraction hovering over the grill, cloaking their dewy faces in something that feels and looks and sounds like a very simple, quiet, unspeakable kind of love. When you feel that sort of love this summer, you will know how rare it is and how easily it slips out of your hands when you bite you tongue and so you’ll yell it and scream it and say it frequently at an acceptable volume, most times.
This summer will be different because of the people who will punctuate it, because of the unanticipated and unknown moments indicative of a season when stakes and clothing and inhibitions are low. When you begin to miss the sunburns and the sandcastles and the cigarettes, remember that this summer will be different because you are; because like the sun that lights your longest days, you don’t know how to be anything else.