Left, Right, Left, King Avenue

photoWhen S and I were planning our end of summer road trip, we took two things into consideration: 1) we wanted to go somewhere we’ve never been before, and 2) It had to be affordable (no trip to Ireland, sadly!) In that, we decided on touring the southeast, which we’ve never done before, going from Florida through Georgia to Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and, last, Charleston, SC. In planning the trip, we needed a place to spend the first night between Orlando and Nashville, so I picked Pine Mountain, GA.

When I was in college, my two favorite summers involved working as a camp counselor in Pine Mountain, at Callaway Gardens. I went with the circus (of which I was part of…) so during the day we took the kids swimming and playing and golfing and water skiing, and at night, we performed. We were average people by day, magical aerialists by night. To the kids, we were their teachers, their heroes.

Callaway is a large resort , and we lived just off site at a house with 16 tiny rooms (girls on one side, boys on the other). My first day I was nervous, shy, being around all of these people – some friends, some people I wished were friends due to their seniority – but by the end we were family. I’d wake up Saturday mornings and before getting ready of the day, meet my friend in the living room for video games.

S and I arrived in Pine Mountain yesterday, and, city wise, everything was the same, despite the eight year time lapse. There’s still the combination gas station/Subway/KFC at the one major intersection (it’s a small, small town). There’s still the no-name pizza place next door. There’s still the legendary BBQ places we used to go to during lunch (which I, naturally, took S to). We drove by the old house and he finally put a picture to the place i’ve told him so much about.

Callaway itself has grown, thrived. New attractions were added, but the same old charm remained the same. There’s still the man-made lake shining in the middle, the acres of woods you can hike through, and the circus tent, standing proud – all green and white striped. S thought it was beautiful.

BUt while S saw it as shiny and new, I saw the cracks underneath. I remember the time we found a diaper in the lake, the time we took the kids to play capture the flag and two got stung within the woods, and all of the blood and sweat spilled inside the tent.

It’s weird going back. Back when I lived there, I was 19 and 20; I, too, was shiny and new and excited to get away. I had my life ahead of me, and a summer full of memories to make. Sure, there were downsides (it was hot, practices ran long, I was constantly sore), but I loved every moment of it (what other college student was paid to perform?) I remember eating breakfast and having the kids run up to say hi, or introduce me to their parents as “this is Lauren, she did rolla last night, and she flipped me in the lake, and it was awesome.”

I made friends that lasted a lifetime (indeed, one was my maid of honor). I created a home in a city I’d previously never heard of before. I felt part of something

Callaway holds a million memories for me, and it’s weird going back, but in a sense, wonderful. I love picking up and, in a way, telling it how i’ve changed, feeling the change in every step. In introducing it to S. Sure, it’s different, sure I’m different, but it’s all the same, really. I’m still the same girl, looking for summer full of memories.

This morning we’re going back to see the gardens before continuing our journey. I’m glad I shared this place wish S, and i’m happy to have visited it again. It’s like walking back in time, into a memory I know so well I can play over and over again. And even though the memories changed over the years, and perhaps dismissed the negative moments, I’m happy holding on to these thoughts, these bits of light over the lake.

This morning when I woke up I kept my eyes shut, waiting to hear the familiar sound of “ready, player two.”

Morning Breeze

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.