Why Can’t Freshman Summer Be Like Pizza?
Andy V. Roamer © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Chapter One—Summer Solstice
I used to love summer. The long, languid days. No school. No homework. Sleeping late. Going to the beach. Staying out later in the evenings and watching the sun set over the hills into the darkening glow of the horizon.
Wow. Am I starting to sound like a poet or just a pretentious a-hole? What’s wrong with the paragraph I just wrote? There are no pretentious words in it, are there? Well, maybe “languid” is. I like “languid.” I don’t know where I picked it up, but I think it perfectly describes summer. Where everything is a little more s-l-l-o-o-w-w-w and easygoing. Where life seems good and there’s no homework. Yup, I’ll stick with languid. Hey, there has to be a benefit to liking words the way I do. I’m not just a nerd, but a poetic nerd.
Ha ha ha. Maybe it has something to do with being bilingual. I never used to think about it much before, but I guess I am officially bilingual. Talking Lithuanian at home. English in the outside world. Just kind of always accepted it, didn’t I? But I wonder what speaking two languages does to someone. Kind of like being split into two people. My Lith life and my English life. Are there really two people inside me? Scary thought. One of me is bad enough.
Luckily, Bobby Marshall doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, so why should I be?
Ahh, Bobby Marshall. I still can’t believe we’re friends. Or should I say “special friends”? I’m still afraid to even think about it. Me, RV Aleksandravičius—nerd extraordinaire, spawn of Lithuanian immigrants, word lover, nervous worrywuss, possible gay person—friends with one of the biggest jocks in school. The world truly is an amazing place.
But, as I was saying, I used to love summer. That was before I had to work. This summer I’ll be toiling away like the rest of humanity. And I’m not just talking about working with the Computer Fix-It company I started last year with Carole. That business has been kind of rocky lately. I’ll blame it on the bad economy, since everyone always blames everything on a bad economy.
No, I’m working at my first real job. I turned fifteen last week. I used to love my birthdays. The end of school. The start of summer. But not anymore. Dad has a friend at work, Mr. Timmons, whose brother, Ed, owns a garage and gas station. Dad was talking to him and lo and behold (another pretentious choice of words?), Mr. Timmons told him his brother was looking for someone to help with chores around the place. Since I’m not sixteen yet, I’m not supposed to work in the garage itself. But I can dispense gas and work around the store that Ed has attached to the garage. Nothing heavy duty, Mr. Timmons said. Ed just needs someone fifteen to twenty hours a week helping in the store and cleaning around the place. A great way to earn a little pocket money.
Fifteen to twenty hours! Dad, bless his parental heart, volunteered me. Said it was a great way to learn about “real” life. And to “round out my skills.” What, my skills are too flat or something? But Dad doesn’t stop. “Too much time with your nose in a book isn’t healthy.” “Develop some skills.” “A young man needs more than book learning.” On and on and on. Says it in the Mother Tongue, of course, but that’s how it translates into English.
Except it sounds more serious in Lithuanian. “Per daug laiko praleidi su nosim knygose.” “Išmok ką nors naudingo.” “Jaunam vyrui ne tik knygos naudingos.” Wonder why that is. Because it’s what we talk at home? Our “real” language? To Mom and Dad, English sure isn’t real. Even though they speak it, Mom much better than Dad. What is real to me, then?
Oh, well. In whatever language, I think Dad wants to have a macho son like the other guys at work brag about. Well, sorry, Dad, not all of us can be macho. And not all of us can be like Bobby Marshall either. A jock. Smart. And nice. Yeah, nice. He likes me. I still can’t believe it sometimes. He says I’m fine the way I am. Okay, Bobby, if you say so. I’ll believe you. I have to believe you. Have to believe someone likes me the way I am.
Oh, RV, stop feeling sorry for yourself. There are people who like you besides Bobby. Mom, for example, though Mom doesn’t really count because moms usually love their kids no matter how screwed up they are. But then there’s Mr. Aniso, my Latin teacher last year. Good old Mr. Aniso. He’s been great, especially when I’ve told him my worries about being gay. We’re becoming real friends. But he’s an adult. Adults only go so far for a kid. We need our peers to like us.
So what about Carole? You’ve gone through a lot with her, RV, and she’s still sticking by you. Yeah, that’s true. She’s a good egg. No, a great egg! I love you, Carole Higginbottom!
And what about Ray? Brothers are usually close, aren’t they? But not Ray and I. Too bad. He’s just off in another world. I’m sure he thinks it’s a cooler world than the one his nerdy older brother inhabits.
So there’s Bobby. He’s a guy. A regular guy. Something I’ve always wanted to be, but will never be, alas! (Another one of those words! Where are all these pretentious words coming from?). Anyway, if Bobby really likes me that would be amazing. I still can’t believe it happened.
There I am thinking about him again. But that’s okay, right? I mean, after all, we kissed and everything.
!!$$#*&!! Did I just write that? Yes. GET OVER YOURSELF, RV! YOU KISSED A GUY AND YOU LIKED IT. What’s wrong with that? You’re not hearing thunder from heaven, are you? This computer isn’t blowing up because you wrote those words, is it? So you might be gay. Chill out. Or you might be bi. After all, you enjoyed making out with Carole until she started falling for that zit-faced Tim— Whoa! Whoa!
I have to stop worrying about everything. Maybe Dad’s right. Maybe too much time on the keyboard, writing down my thoughts, isn’t good. But I like keeping this journal. Helps me sort things out. When Mom and Dad gave me this computer they said they wanted me to make good use of it. I think I have. Maybe not the way they’d want me to, but I think they’d be proud of me for writing so much. And I kept it up all school year. That’s good, isn’t it? Even if Mom and Dad would be shocked at some of the stuff I wrote here. I hope I keep up the writing during the summer. After all, I should have more time in summer, even if those languid days are cut by fifteen to twenty hours a week.
I gotta go! Bobby just called. He has some free time and asked if I want to get together. Of course I do. He told me he wants to take me to a special place he’s discovered. A quiet place where he can think and dream. I showed him the special place in the woods behind the ball field in West Roxbury, where we live, but he says he has another one, maybe better. Okay, we’ll see. I could use as many of those places as I can find. Places to forget work. Or being macho. Or pleasing other people. Sounds just like what I’ll need this summer. Okay, Bobby. Here I come!
Funny how circumstances can change your outlook on things. The place Bobby has discovered is in Larz Anderson Park. In Brookline, next to West Roxbury. It’s a pretty enough park, I suppose, with a cute lake and trees and flowers, and even an auto museum with some cool old cars. We’ve gone there on a couple of occasions as a family and had a good enough time.
But I’ll always remember the skating rink. It’s not enclosed like other rinks are, so if you’re a good skater you can enjoy doing your pirouettes on the ice while looking out at the snowy landscape or the starry sky. (Pirouettes. Why do some words sound prissy?)
Anyway, I said if you’re a good skater. I wasn’t, though Dad kept taking me, trying to get me to learn. “Čiuožk! Nebijok nukristi! Čiuožk!” Dad’s way of motivating me. “Just skate! Don’t worry about falling! Just skate!” Like so many things, it didn’t work. After about the fourth or fifth time of going and falling, I landed smack on my nose and almost broke it. Since then, Dad and I have avoided the park like the plague. But Dad keeps trying, doesn’t he? Like telling me to cut down on the books. I guess he hasn’t totally given up on me being more like the sons of his friends at work.
But going there with Bobby is a whole different story. It took us a while to get there on our bikes since Brookline is pretty big. I was a little nervous whether I could keep up with Bobby since he’s such a jock and in great shape, but I did okay. And, yeah, he did stop a couple of times so I could catch up with him, but he didn’t make a big deal of it or anything. Maybe that’s what I like about him most of all. He never makes me feel bad about anything. Though he could. Man, he really could!
Anyway, it was already late in the afternoon when we got there, and I was pretty sweaty after cycling in the hot sun. So we locked up our bikes and cooled down, walking around the lake and through the trees.
We ended up on top of a hill, the skyline of Boston visible in the distance.
“Nice view, eh?” Bobby said, grinning. “As good as your place by the stream in the woods?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed. With the tall, shiny buildings reflecting the sun, Boston looked like a magical city outlined against the bright-blue sky. The park around us felt like some kind of magical place too. Some people were trying to fly kites in the gentle breeze. Other people were on blankets having picnics. And others were sitting or lying on the grass doing nothing or just holding hands and talking quietly. Everyone seemed happy. Yeah, summer! It makes me happy too.
Bobby still grinned at me. “But this still isn’t the special place I wanted to show you.”
“No. Follow me.”
He led me to some trees on the side of the hill. They formed a little grove, a private place where you were hidden from everybody else.
“But when you sit down here, by this tree,” Bobby said, doing just that, “you can still see out. But you’re pretty much hidden from view.”
I sat down next to him. Yes, there was Boston through a small break in the trees. And there were all the other people on the hill, enjoying what they were doing, totally oblivious to our existence. (Oblivious is a good word too. It’s a little like invisible, but better. It means you do exist, but are clueless. Hello! How often do I feel clueless about things?)
Bobby and I sat there for a while, not saying anything, just enjoying being together, feeling like we were watching the whole world but not letting the world see us.
“So? Was this worth the bike ride and the climb?” Bobby finally asked.
“You bet. I love finding special places. Like the place in the woods not far from my house. It’s a good place to think and dream.”
Bobby nodded. “Yeah. I discovered this spot when I came to the park with my folks. They just wanted to sit and relax on the hill, so I went exploring.”
“Yes, exploring is good. Where would we be in life without exploring!”
I laughed and gave Bobby a nudge. He nudged me back. “Now I’ve shown you a good place to think and dream too.”
I nodded, and we sat quietly for a long time, just happy looking out at Boston and being next to each other. Bobby put his hand on mine and it reminded me again of the first time he had touched me in the spring. The crazy, amazing feeling that went through my whole body. I know it’s stupid to say, but it was like I became alive in a new way. Even though that jolt of excitement lasted only a few seconds, I’ll never forget it.
It was great to experience the feeling again. Bobby’s gentle touch on my hand probably didn’t mean much to him, but to me it meant a lot, especially that things were good between us. It was one of those moments in life when everything seems perfect. Just the way it’s supposed to be. I wanted to stay there forever with Bobby’s hand on mine.
Then I remembered something. “Hey, Bobby!” I exclaimed, turning to him.
“It’s the summer solstice!”
Bobby looked puzzled.
“The longest day of the year. When the sun is exactly over the Tropic of Cancer. It happens every year between June 20 and 22. And this year it’s today.”
Bobby suddenly laughed. “Oh, RV. You should go on a game show!”
My cheeks were getting hot. Carole calls it the RV Blush. When I’m really embarrassed about something, my face turns bright-red. And I was really embarrassed by my nerd part coming out in front of Bobby of all people.
Bobby was still laughing. “I believe you. I really do.” He put his arm around me and gave me a little hug. “Being with you, I learn all these crazy things. That’s why I like you.”
“Don’t these long days make you feel good?” I said, more quietly. “Summer stretching out ahead. It makes me feel optimistic. Like I’ll have time to live my life, and not just do homework. Or chores. Or other things I’m forced to do. Summer is for us.”
I don’t know if it was because of my long speech or something else, but when I glanced over at Bobby again, his happy expression had changed. He seemed somewhere else, thinking about something.
“We might have to give in to some things we have to do,” I said, “like my working at Ed’s Garage, and stuff you have to do. But that’s okay. We’re going to have a good summer anyway. Right?” I kept talking, not wanting Bobby to give in to whatever was bothering him.
But Bobby didn’t sound too confident. And the frown was still there on his face.
Bobby told me he’ll be going to football camp later in the summer. It won’t be for all summer, but I wondered if he was having second thoughts about it.
“C’mon, we really are going to have some fun, aren’t we?” I repeated, again trying to make him forget whatever serious thoughts were on his mind. “Summer’s a great time. Even if we’ll be busy, me in the garage and you at football camp. We’ll still have time for some fun, right?”
“Yeah, sure.” Bobby still had the same look on his face.
I had to find out what was on his mind. “Bobby, what’s the matter? Is everything okay?”
“I’m sorry.” He shook his head a little. “I’ll be real busy this summer. I think it’s all good stuff. But, still, I don’t know if I’m happy about it or not.”
“Don’t you want to go to football camp?”
“Oh, I—yeah, a lot. But there’s something else. I didn’t have a chance to tell you.”
“I’m going to be doing some work too.”
“I thought the program your dad was trying to get you into didn’t work out?”
Bobby’s dad is as bad as mine. Trying to get him into all sorts of programs at the bank where he works even though Bobby is only in high school. But his dad’s ambitious. And he wants Bobby to be ambitious too. I guess that’s one way Bobby’s like me. He’s not sure if he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“Well, Dad doesn’t give up. He talked to as many people as he could, and something opened up with one of his friends. Joe Moocher. He’s an accountant, who has his own business. Dad says this is a great opportunity to see how accounting works up close. And he says it’s not too many hours and won’t interfere with the football. So I can’t say no.”
“Our fathers need some parenting lessons, don’t they?” I said, trying to keep things light. “Lay off your sons!”
Bobby didn’t laugh.
“Do all fathers want their sons to be exactly like them?” I asked, turning a little more serious myself.
Bobby ignored my question. “It’s not like I don’t want a good career,” he said, obviously still thinking about the job with the accountant. “It’s just that—it’s just that I don’t know what career I want.” He continued talking, still thinking about everything he’d told me. “I wish my parents would leave me alone. I wish that everything I do wasn’t so important to them.”
I didn’t know what to say, but it got me thinking about my parents too. Was everything I did so important to them the way everything Bobby did was important to his parents?
Bobby had started talking about his father. “It’s like he wants me to fight all the crap he had to fight in life. But I want him to let me live my life and deal with my own crap.”
“I’m sorry for all the pressure you’re feeling,” I said, full of sympathy for him. “I feel pressure too.”
“At least you have a brother. I’m the only kid. I think it makes it even worse.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “though Ray seems about as different from me as a brother can be.”
Bobby let out a laugh. “Me, working with numbers!” he exclaimed. “If you think my writing and spelling needs help,” he added, shaking his head, “you should see my math homework.”
“Is accounting all about math?”
“I think so, but I don’t know. And I don’t know if I want to know.” Bobby grew serious again and stared out through the trees. “I just wish I could be more sure about things.” He turned to me. “And then there’s the gay stuff. Some days I feel the crap just doesn’t stop.”
“I know.” I nodded. “The gay stuff gets to me too. Sometimes I think it’s a big deal and other times I think it’s not a big deal at all. And shouldn’t be.”
“I know what you’re saying.” Bobby sounded glum. “But it’s a big deal for me. The last extra thing I need to worry about. My father, the football team, the coaches.” He turned to me, his expression stern. “Promise me you’re not going to say anything to anybody about us, RV.”
“Okay.” I nodded again.
“No. Promise me, RV. It’s really important to me.”
We sat there in silence. Was the gay stuff a big deal or wasn’t it? I couldn’t answer that question, but I had to respect Bobby’s wishes. I told myself I didn’t know the first thing about what it was like to be a football player, so I had to follow Bobby’s lead.
Bobby’s hand rested on the ground and I placed mine on top of his. It was my way of telling him I would keep his promise. And maybe more. Sitting there, with my hand on top of his, made me believe a little more that things would turn out all right. That he and I together could fight whatever crap the world might throw at us.
“It’s okay, Bobby,” I murmured. “We’ll still find time for us. And you’ll figure things out.”
Bobby took my hand and gave it a little squeeze—his way, I hope, of telling me he agreed with me. But I could see his mind was still on the coming summer he might not have.
So I didn’t say anything more. We stayed quiet, just looking out at Boston through the trees, lost in our own thoughts.
We sat in silence for a long time and finally realized it was getting late when some lights started to come on in the distance.
Bobby was still looking a little sad, so I had to try one more time. “I love these long, languid summer evenings,” I said, throwing in my favorite word of the moment. “Don’t the lights turning on make you feel like life is good. That magic is still possible?”
A grin appeared back on Bobby’s face. “Languid? Where did you get that word, RV?”
“I don’t know. I just like it.”
“I like it too.” Bobby removed his hand from my hand but then patted it instead. “You and your words, RV,” he said smiling. “Keep ’em coming.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I like them.”
We sat there for a long time, enjoying the languid summer evening. In that moment, it seemed as if magic was really possible. One way or another we’d be able to solve whatever problems might come our way.
Magic doesn’t last long, though, does it? By the time we pedaled home it was totally dark, and I got a talking-to from Mom and Dad. More like a yelling-to. They were getting so worried, they said. I could have had an accident, they said. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I said in return. Glad Dad didn’t threaten me with his belt tonight, like he used to when we were small. Luckily, he’s finally realized you don’t do that to your teenage son. Nor to my twelve-year-old brother, who will be thirteen soon. Though he can’t help pointing to his belt sometimes. One of his New World gripes. “Man nesvarbu jeigu to nedaro Amerikoj. Darė kur aš gimiau.” “I don’t care if they don’t do that in America. They did that where I grew up.”
Oh, well. Will Dad ever mellow? Who knows? After sitting there with Bobby on top of that hill, sharing a quiet moment, whatever crap my parents throw my way won’t bother me.