I used to think of summer as vacation, pure and simple. The school year would end and three glorious months of unstructured time stretched out before me. We lived in San Diego, so I spent a lot of time playing in the water and building sand castles. Summer meant the smell of coconut suntan lotion, and meals made up of Bugles (we'd put them on our fingers like Fu Manchu nails and then eat them off one by one), Lemon Cooler cookies, buckets of extra crispy Kentucky Fried Chicken (I refuse to call it 'KFC') and Shasta Tiki Punch soda.
As I grew older and realized how good a golden tan looked against white camisoles, I spent more time sunbathing. My parents built a pool in the backyard, so I'd spend hours adrift on a raft in the middle of the pool, dozing, reading romances, and daydreaming while soaking up those rays. This was before sunbathing was declared a bad thing, of course.
When I started working, summer lost some of its glow. Mind you, I loved my first summer job at the San Diego Zoo (Food Stand Two, directly across from the shit-slinging monkeys) and the magic of volunteering as a dresser at the Old Globe Theater's summer Shakespeare Festival in Balboa Park. But the sense of free-floating time to follow whatever whims would hit ... that was gone.
After I graduated high school (college and I had a brief fling, but it didn't work out), summer lost all meaning beyond "Boy, it's hot outside!" No more gloriously aimless days thinking the world was my succulent oyster. The future still held unlimited possibilities (as it always does when you're under forty or so), but I missed the sense of freedom that always came with summer break.
Now? Summer is a time of fog and cool weather in San Francisco. I've gone from a perpetually golden-skinned sun worshipper to a pale Goth of my former self. I go down to San Diego a couple times a year and enjoy the sensation of surfing in board shorts and rash guard instead of a heavy-duty wetsuit, but I've lost all sense of the magic of summertime. I haven't, however, lost all sense of a world of possibilities. If anything, passing the forty-year marker made me realize that even as you lay one dream -- whether fulfilled, partially fulfilled, or unfilled -- to rest, there's always a new one to take its place. And maybe in the years to come summer will once again be a time of sun and leisure. If not, I can still conjure the memories. Now if I can just accept the fact I'll never look that good in a bikini again in this lifetime...