Summer's not just about beaches and boys. It's about holding hands with your heroes and discovering your city.
I am not a child of summer, but I always wanted to be. When I was young, I was looking for someone to put on a pedestal; I was looking for a hero. That hero was summer. Summer meant you were cool: you had a nice tan, the sun shined on you.
So when a guy in a flat peak hat told me, when I was 17, that I didn’t seem 17, I felt summer change me forever. Kids became cool in Summer.
I am 15. I dream of summer the way I see it in a Coca Cola ad. The flat stomach, the red bikini, lots of friends surrounding me. I feel like summer is a popular person in school who I want to be friends with but isn’t really interested in me.
My parents tell me we are driving north to the beaches for the holidays. At first, I have high hopes. “You’ll find other young people to make friends with,” they promise, as they drive 12 hours up north on Christmas Day.
I might turn into a beach babe, I think. What a story that would be for term one! But all I find when I get there is an empty paradise. It's an isolated kind of summer, full of promise but delivering little. I want friends. I want adventure. I want boys. Heck, I’d settle for a horse ride around the back paddock on somebody's horse.
Instead, I walk at midnight down to the deserted beach in my best mini skirt on New Year's Eve. I call my friends and hear them celebrating uproariously. I want to be able to tell exciting stories, tales of adventure. But the highlight of summer was going to the fish and chip shop and staring bug-eyed at the boy who rolled ice cream cones.
Then things get worse. The girls at school start to mutter words, and I don’t really know what they mean. Words like 'Papamoa', 'The Mount', 'Camping'. In time, I learn what these really mean. They mean solitude, self pity, left behind, not invited to be part of the gang.
But even though I had claimed to have kissed a pro surfer's younger brother, I never get invited. The words of Britney ring in my pink-flushed ears; 'Not a girl. Not yet a woman'. It was synonymous with not being included. So I clock snake on my Nokia 2280 that year, pretending to text to invitations that never came through. I block summer out, and play the Sims 2 on the computer until my eyes are square.
Then things get worse. The girls at school start to mutter words, and I don’t really know what they mean. Words like 'Papamoa', 'The Mount', 'Camping'. In time, I learn what these really mean.
The next year I am 16. I get a job at a supermarket. I have money in my back pocket. And I meet a friend - Patti. I decide: she will be my friend, my hero. She is 18and works thebakery with me. She’s lived in New York. She is my first summer hero. She is an arch angel of music and psychedelic art. She likes me, most importantly.
We spend hours drawing portraits of Lou Reed on bakery bags, in between baguettes and fitness loaf. She tells me she took magic mushrooms once and thought her boyfriend was dead.
Patti suggests we swap mix tapes. I don’t want to tell her my ipod is a mix of Pink, Avril Lavigne, very old Eminem and Evanescence. I decide to burn a CD from a UK music magazine for my contribution to the swap. It has a respectable mix of Death Cab for Cutie and Wilco - the CD was on an issue called Summer Gold.
She gave me Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground and Devandra Banhart. I was suddenly awakened to a whole genre I never knew off. In 2006, as far as I was aware, there was only emo and rap and pop. This was something different; it was called indie. I had never heard of indie.
Hipster didn’t exist back then. In fact, I didn’t know anyone with a beard that drank craft beer. I kept that mix tape from Patti. It spoke to me for years. “I want you,” Bob sang ‘I want you. I want you. So baaaad”. I wanted someone to want me. I wanted to want me.
But Patti left and faded, as summers do. A few years on and I move up in the world. Surfers are no longer cool. It is at this time I meet my main Summer Hero. Jackie. I am 17, Jackie is 22. We work together at a fashionable clothes shop in town. On the day I start work, she looks incredible. Her eyes are made up in smokey blue eyeshadow. Her hair is cut in a modern bob. She wears a Jackie Onassis-style blazer and matching skirt and the biggest smile. “Hullo” she says.
She gives me a nickname - ‘Goosey’. I feel the light sun beams of summer at last. She asks me to her 23rd birthday party and I think I will die of happiness. I ask my friend Hayley to come with me because, she is the only one who can be cool enough to handle it. “Sure,” she says when I ask her. Looking like she does it all the time.
The party, it turns out, is even cooler than I first thought. It’s in Newtown. I have never been to a party in Newtown. When we arrive, Hayley recognises one of her brother's friends outside on the porch and starts talking to him immediately. She greets him with familiarity. I go upstairs. Jackie sees me and runs over. “Goosey,” she cries, “you came”.
A boy in a flat cap says, “You don’t look 17”. I die again.
That summer, I dwell in the beautiful happiness of feeling protected by a prodigal big sister. When that boy in the flat cap never called me back, and it didn’t make sense, Jackie tells me, “All these boys, they think they are casanovas”
Suddenly I can brush off hurt with rhetoric and poetry. I stay with her and her flatmate, who works at Sweet Mother’s kitchen, over summer. In the daytime, I work the shop floor. I find myself living off apples, vogels and beer. I lose my puppy fat. I wear makeup for the first time properly.
One day, when I had four hours to kill, I took a nap in Civic Square. My cool has limits though. When everyone gets together for New Year's Eve, they do lines of stuff and I take 6 No-Doz instead. It was just as great as far as I remember it- except my pee the next day was dark brown. I look at the photos on facebook now, and I see that girl with a blunt fringe in a Dotty playsuit. She is so much more uncertain than she lets on. I got away with it, anyway. And I found summer in the city.
But cool girls don’t have it all figured out. This was when I learnt that perception is not reality and reality can be tricky. When Jackie wakes in the mornings, she is often exhausted. Some days she is so low. But she always puts on a brave face for me. She explains life in matter-of-fact terms. She explains why she feels like she does, but never in a way to worry me.
Over time, I am the one giving her care and support. I pre-empt every piece of advice I give her with “Well - I’m only 17 and I don’t know very much.” But she listens. Being listened to is what makes me feel seen for the first time.
Jackie moves to Melbourne. I go see Jackie. She is still putting on her brave face for me, but isn’t great. She’s tired from her two-hour commute every day to and from work. She’s going out late with her boyfriend every night. She still loves me though, like the little sister she didn’t have. She takes me to all the cool bars in Melbourne. Even when she has other friends around, she takes care of me first. She holds my hand on the tram. My boyfriend from that time never held my hand the way she did.
'Time passed, summer came and went. Dreams changed'
A few summers on and she is back in Wellington. She tells me she is opening a shop. They put paint on the walls and buy stock from all over New Zealand. I find myself back on the brink that year. I am finishing university but also failing. I break up with my boyfriend. I walk out on my parents after a rowdy fight.
I ring Jackie from a flat in Aro Street where I am imbibing whiskey with too much abandon. “Jackie,” I ask, “Can I stay just for a while?” “Stay as long as you want,” she replies. I stay 10 days.
As time goes on we stay close but the new business and a new boyfriend take over. I am no longer 17. I am no longer the baby. Suddenly, I am 23 - the same age as my hero - or at least the same age I will always remember her. I couldn’t reassure her with childhood innocence anymore.
"All summers end with a great sunset"
All summers end with a great sunset. When Jackie got married this year, I went to the wedding. I look around at the faces, and while I know many of them, I don’t see anyone I can trace back to when we first met, Jackie and me.
I wonder where all those people have gone, the people at her party, the people from Melbourne; the ones who accepted me when I wanted more than anything else to be accepted.
The reception garden was green. Flowers bloomed. They danced all night to Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and the Velvet Underground. I saw Jackie standing slim in her 20’s wedding dress.
After a few drinks, even though I know he is not there, I look around the faces, again, to see if the boy in the flat peak cap could be hiding somewhere. Of course, he isn’t. So I dance on my own, on the stage set up, above and among the crowd.
The heroes had changed and so had the pedestal. But I didn’t need a hero any more. I had me.
This story was originally recorded for the storytelling series "The Watercooler". The Watercooler is produced by Alice Brine. You can read my interview with her here. I give fill credit to the Wireless for the gorgeous illustration accompanying my story on the soundcloud, by Mathew Worthington. I was paid to write this story, and I am not sure but in case of any doubt I think it is the property of the Wireless. Please attribute to The Watercooler and The Wireless NZ and me if you want to share, and please ask permission. Enjoy! If you have a story to tell, email firstname.lastname@example.org or hit them up on Twitter or Facebook.