It’s hard not to be surrounded my memories on days like these. When a light breeze tickles my arm as I leave the apartment, and the morning feels crisp, as if freshly opened and not left over from the day before. There’s no need for a jacket yet, but sweat marks don’t freckle my clothes either, from the normal mountain of humidity that plagues our state.
Every time a morning is like this, I think back to Callaway, despite the fact that I lived there six years ago. I think back to scratchy cloud blue polo shirts and khakis down to my knees. I think about waking up early so I didn’t miss one thing in our house that held 24 college students (even though I missed so much every night after my eyes closed). And I think of billowy green trees on the way to work, hiding what the day would entail.
I lived in Georgia for two summers, working as a camp counselor at Callaway Gardens. The second summer was more comfortable, more memorable, but I always reflect on the first initially. It held so much more.
I went in right after my sophomore year of college, scared and shy and clinging on to my two friends in the house. I knew everyone else by name and face, but held them on a pedestal usually reserved for celebrities. They were my peers, but so much more. They were the flying trapeze artists, the master riggers so comfortable in their skins that they could do and say what they wanted – even to our coach. They made jokes, decisions; I made my bed and hoped someone would stop by to say hi.
I was asked to go to Callaway while helping take down the circus tent. Fingers callused from holding a rope all day, and clothes a new color from what they once were, I shrieked with joy upon hearing I was accepted. I had been in the circus then for two years; I was far from one of the notable performers. I felt with this, I’d become one of the select few who were popular.
I roomed with a girl who quickly took me under her wing and opened my world up to old-timers and hair straighteners. I’d hang out with the others through her, rarely offering my perspective, but comfortable with the fact that I was included. I didn’t learn to have a voice yet, an opinion. I just wanted them to like me.
That’s not to say my friends weren’t enough – they were, and after a while, they became more than friends. Lifelines. Assistants in helping me realize who I was. I had John with me, and Abel, two friends from the dorm. Hunter, who I had Italian class with, and Lindsay, who I met while loading the truck to go to Georgia. As if it were meant to be, Lindsay and I fell into that comfortable friendship formed when two people don’t know many others in a full house. We were best friends from day one.
As the days went on, I opened up to them, and we formed a group, a clique even, and slowly added others. Mike, with his fast car and loud music; Jeff with his wacky antics. I learned their idiosyncrasies – they knew mine. I started speaking, really speaking. When forced to live together, it comes almost natural.
We drove to work together, the Georgia air just right as it flowed through the car. It was different from the breeze I was accustomed to, and it brought with it hope. I picked out CDs to play; I fought for the front seat.
Just like growing, there’s no exact moment I can point to when I learned to let go; when I learned I didn’t have to fear my own voice. I said I didn’t like a movie everyone else did; I slept an extra few minutes in the morning. I realized that no matter what I did, these new friends didn’t care. They were still there, despite my misgivings and mistakes. But more so, I realized the others, who I held with such high regard, were just like me, embarrassing moments and all. The pedestal vanished, we stood on solid ground.
When I got back to Tallahassee after the summer was over, I instantly called Lindsay, asking what we were doing that night. Within the hour, Mike came over and Hunter soon followed. We walked on campus together, hiding a summer no one else could relate to. So much happened, and so much changed. I was part of something, and when I went to the circus lot, I didn’t feel alone or shy; I was part of a giant web connecting us all, keeping us all together. I felt right and whole; the person I was covering up all those years.
So whenever the weather is just right, I remember that summer. I feel myself speeding through the woods in Mike’s car, wind whipping at my face as he takes each corner a bit too close. Red foxes running, yet stopping to admire when they’re behind the safety of a tree. And looking behind me to see my friends, singing along to a song we know all too well. The faces of the campers fade over time, and I’m sure soon I won’t remember the shortcuts through the grounds. It’ll become hazy, a memory from long ago that doesn’t want to say goodbye. Because no matter what, I know every time the weather is just right, I’ll think back to that time. And know it as the summer I became me.