In the summer of 1972, Christy and Ivy and I discovered. They were two sisters in a family of seven children, ages 15 and 17; I was 16 that year. We discovered independence in the form of a one-room guest cottage fifty yards from Christy and Ivy's parents' house. It was dusty with cobwebs and the windows were broken, there was no electricity or running water, and dead moths and junebugs had taken up residence along the windowsills. But to three teenagers tired of always having to turn down the stereo and hang up the phone, it was wonderful.
The three of us were through, for a time, with gym and biology and pep rallies. The summer stretched out ahead of us like a hot, winding road, with guardrails in all the right places to keep us from going over the side. We had tolerant fathers who went to work each day to keep us in food, embroidered jeans and movie tickets; we had flustered mothers who gave us rides into town and didn't complain too much when we failed to wash the dishes. And now we had a place to lay our sleeping bags out on the floor.
I found an old rug rolled up in a corner of my parents' basement. We strung two extra-long extension cords across the garden, one end through the main house's kitchen window and the other through a hole in the cottage wall, to give us light and music. We brought down jugs of water, loaves of bread, and peanut butter and jelly in a cooler. Later we added hand-lettered posters, original paintings and a metal wastebasket to use as a toilet, above which we hung a sign proclaiming "The Can." We piled up Simon and Garfunkel albums, "Seventeen" magazines and a few comic books for cultural release.
The world around us paid us no attention that summer. We protested against the war in Viet Nam by sewing peace signs to the backs of our denim jackets. We protested against prejudice with our poster of a black hand clasping a white one beneath the word "Brotherhood." We protested against the older generation by being young.
We discovered high-heeled sandals that summer, and tight T-shirts with slogans, and fake fingernails, eyelash curlers and lip gloss. Christy and I had long straight hair and Ivy's was frizzy, so we two would braid our hair all over when it was wet to get it to look like Ivy's when it dried. We wore little barrettes shaped like hearts and stars, and silver rings on every finger. The creases in our jeans smelled like wood smoke and cool earth. We were, we thought, smart and beautiful and carefree. Too old for summer camp and too young for broken hearts; this must be what our mothers meant by "the best years of your lives."
Christy and Ivy and I were heady with our sudden, long-awaited freedom. We hardly needed anything artificial, but we wanted to get drunk and find out what it was like. So we stole cans of beer out of our parents' refigerators, hid them in our shoulder bags, walked the quarter-mile up the road to the lake and drank them in the changing booths. Christy and Ivy's mother made dandelion wine, too. We'd wait until she was outside hanging clothes on the line and then sneak down to the damp, dimly lit cellar where rows of cement shelves held jar after jar of the cloudy gold liquid. We took them across the narrow foot bridge behind the house and drank them in the woods amid wildflowers and mosquitoes, and got giddy and silly. At first the wine tasted worse than cough syrup, but after awhile it warmed instead of burned.
After everyone in the house had gone to bed, the three of us would make for the beach and join the other, older townies who parked, played their radios and drank, until eleven o'clock curfew when the constables would drive up and tell us to move along. Christy and Ivy and I knew the city people who owned cottages on the hill, so we'd disperse to their beach, which was private and open all night. There we'd sit on the sand with Steve from the Bronx and Timmy from West Hartford, sometimes until four in the morning, with the sun coming up through the fog and the moon still reflecting silver on the water. It was motionless and quiet; only the sound of branches crackling in a dying bonfire, somebody's dog splashing illegally in the lake and a transistor radio telling us softly "I understand you been runnin' from the man that goes by the name of the sandman." We were all tired but too young to admit it.
Christy and Ivy would have dinner with their family every Sunday. It was noisy and confusing; they were down-home, godfearing and loving. Older married brothers and sisters would bring their families: five-year-olds bouncing a ball in the kitchen, dripping melted popsicle on the floor. The house was fragrant with corned beef and cabbage, furniture wax and laundry soap. More often than not there was homemade ice cream which we'd take turns cranking out, and watermelon, which we'd eat on the front porch swing, spitting seeds at passing cars and waving our upraised arms back and forth to dry the perspiration beneath them. I think my mother, father and brother forgot what I looked like that summer; I think Christy and Ivy's family just assumed another offspring. I was content.
But despite all of our adventuring, for the most part nights were quiet and uneventful. The three of us would lie on the floor, falling asleep in sweaty closeness to crickets chirping, the drone of traffic and the green whirlpools of the waterfall out behind the cottage. We each had our hopes and dreams and expectations for the future, but if we could have frozen time then and there, I think we would have. It was a hard goodbye we said to that summer.
Christy got married right after graduation to a man several years her senior, who glued himself to television with a six-pack, wouldn't let her work, couldn't wait to start a family and forbade her any fraternizing with her old "pot-smoking, party-going" friends. Ivy dropped out in eleventh grade, had a baby, married a man (not the father) and then left him in Colorado. She's back living in the cottage now; I went to see her just a few weeks ago. The walls were freshly painted, the windows fixed and the whole place formally wired for electricity. There was even wall-to-wall carpeting, a TV set and a Mr. Coffee. It was clean and cozy, probably worth a few hundred dollars a month in rent. Ivy was depressed, though. She was worried and resentful; her eyes showed her pain. But after awhile her voice turned to running water, and I could see another room, one with candlelight flickering on ragged dish-towel curtains, and faded jeans that smelled of woodsmoke hanging on the door. We didn't know then, and I'm glad nobody told us: it would be the last time a summer would ever be so full of power and passion and energy and pride; of colors and sounds and mudpuddle mornings and hot nights, thick with stars, burning and ready to fall.