The air pressed against my skin, fresh and humid all at once. I walked the familiar roads, my feet still as tough and calloused as they would have been back then.
Plus ça change, plus ça reste pareil.
I sometimes tried to jazz up my walks, but there were only so many places to go. Even when I was younger and would wander around for hours trying to get lost, I’d effortlessly find my way back.
It had been a while since I’ve been back for the summer, and I took advantage. I swam as much as possible, and spent time in the forest, or at the falls. Same haunts as always, but it felt different. I wasn’t a child being being shipped around by my parents. Nor was I a teenager downing the cheapest beer possible by the lake with the rest of the youth, killing time before we become adults.
My strongest memories all take place in the summer. Sandcastles and chalk drawings. Ice cream for dinner when it was too hot for cooking. Swinging at the park and believing that my feet would touch the sky if I could only pump a little harder. Back when my idea of freedom was a bike ride around the block.
Boundaries stretched, and I’d start to walk the length of the main strip with my friends, back and forth, for hours on end. I asserted my independence by sleeping in a tent in our yard, and ran to the beach for a quick swim early in the morning. I’d stay outside at night to watch the stars. Infinity was out there, and it terrified me that I was too small to discover it all.
Summers were a magical time, where one day bled into the next, and there was nothing to do but live. Lazy mornings started the day slow and steady. The only plans for the day were meeting people and wandering aimlessly, from the beach to the park to one of the fast-food restaurants that would serve us some poutine for a decent price. We made pit stops at home only to get changed, or refuel on free food. We’d blast angsty music and speak of restlessness, of powerlessness. It’s still hard to get rid of those feelings when I return, even though now I can leave whenever I want. Restlessness is either ingrained in this town, or in my personality. I still feel a little bit trapped when I’m technically free.
Mild rebellion shaped my adolescence. My friends and I broke into abandoned buildings and old sects just to prove that we could. We hung around the liquor store and asked the sketchier customers to buy us something. It was never too long before they did, and we got on sugary drinks in the park at night. We’d strip naked and jump into the water, rippling the reflection of the stars. We laughed with our backs pressed against the street, not worried about the traffic because the whole town shut down after the sun set.
Our conversations drifted around the future and escape. We didn’t notice what we already had, freedom without responsibility, without the pressure to do anything other than have a good time. The future was full of promise and possibilities, and we were at that sweet spot where fulfilling our dreams didn’t demand immediate action. We had more opportunity to be fully alive than we ever would, and we didn’t quite appreciate it.
It feels like a ghost town now. Did it really get more desolate? Or did I just outgrow the restless teenager scene? There’s no in-between stage in these towns, no young adults trying on a bunch of different lifestyles in an attempt to make one fit. All the people I grew up with either moved away or moved on, starting families, buying houses. Memory lane is a lonely path.
People greet me on my walks. I don’t know if they recognize me or if they’re just feeling friendly. Either way, I wave back.
The grass feels right between my toes. The air smells the same, I think. If I suspend my disbelief, I can recapture that nearly weightless feeling. Like at any moment, I could just float away.