A Summer Fantasy from Childhood Days of Yore and Yesteryear
The summer of 1993 will always rage in my mind as a euphoric time that defied reality. It was the summer before entering the sixth grade. I knew that the start of my middle school years would be brutal as transitions usually were throughout my childhood. The first day of school approached like a doomsday scenario promising new forms of bullying and the chaos of changing classrooms all day long. There was also the reality that the next seven years of life would chain me to waking up no later than six o’clock in the morning. There would be no escape from this bitter future. The summer that seemed like it would last forever was coming to an abrupt close. Or so I thought!
I woke up the first day of school and waited for the bus along with my classmates who were ages 11 to 13. The bus never came. We waited and waited until the other students went home after giving it a half-hour. I gave it an hour-and-a-half in hopes that that by the time I went home, it would be too late to salvage the day. My plan was to pretend to lack any common sense while maintaining the belief that the bus would come eventually. In reality, I was so scared of this transition that I would have induced a case of appendicitis to give me a “vacation” in the hospital to ward off the inevitable bullying, rejection, and consequences of my peers pretending that I did not exist. The reality remains that during my sometimes to often-unhappy childhood, I would engage in ridiculous and inappropriate behavior in order to force my peers to acknowledge me. This included farting on purpose and flaunting erections in the middle of math class. Considering that I would never get attention by being a “good boy,” I felt it was always necessary to exaggerate my eccentricities. If I could have had a man-to-man conversation with that boy from the days of yore and yesteryear, this is what I would have said. “It is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better at times. Nobody has the right to make your life a living nightmare or put their hands on you. But it is going to be a reality that not everybody is going to like you. This is just reality. If everybody likes you, it means you are selling your soul every single day trying to fit into a system that does not want you in the first place. If everybody likes you, it means there is something seriously wrong!” Anyway…allow me to continue with the story and get to the point already!
I finally went home to let my mother and father know that the bus never came. They yelled at me, of course. Asking why I did not have the sense to come home a long time ago. In accordance to my plan, I feigned being stupid and not having the common sense to understand that if the bus did not show after an hour, it was not just running late. There was no way any of us could have missed that damn bus considering that all of us were there about twenty minutes early to avoid screwing up the first day of sixth, seventh, or eighth grade. I just prayed that it was too late or I had shaved off what would have been the start to a prolonged nightmare. (The middle school years were particularly brutal for undiagnosed children on the autism spectrum throughout the 1990s!) But as it turned out, no bus ever came for any middle school student that first day!
Keep in mind, these were the days before text messaging existed and most people had not even heard of email. It was a time before ubiquitous communication and social media messages bounced around like tennis balls. If we could have fast-forwarded about twenty years into the future back in 1993, everybody would have received the message that a small tornado has touched down for a few minutes the night before. Out of all the buildings and homes it could have targeted, it made itself a brief and destructive neighbor of my new middle school. This benevolent force of nature caused an ancient oak tree to lose its stability after many decades on this planet. A huge gaping hole was left in the middle school as crews had already struggled to repair it. The building was uninhabitable and could not host any students due to the fact that it was not structurally sound at the moment! The building would in fact be closed for over a solid week!!
There are levels of euphoria that cannot possibly be measured by a regular emotional gauge. Supernatural forms of joy entered my mind during that first day of unscheduled vacation. Damnit! It was surreal. As a chiid, nothing like this is ever supposed to happen because we are fed tiny spurts of free time from birthday to age 18 only to have it abruptly robbed by the dictated motions coming from all adults. It could not have become any better. Or so I thought…
My mother and father ordered me and Dena into the car and said we are going to visit Howe Caverns to fill up what should have been a monotonous school day. The Jesse Andrew Saperstein before the miracle happened would have complained the entire ride through about how he is missing out on cartoons and Super Nintendo games for an educational trip when it was still pool weather. But there were no complaints that day. I was just happy to be living the ultimate childhood fantasy about having the first week of the school year decimated. It was incredible. Just incredible…
I noticed my father, Lewis was driving in the direction of New Jersey, which was strange considering that even at that age, I knew that Howe Caverns is in New York State. But I said nothing and just went with the flow. At long last, we arrived. But it was not Howe Caverns. The educational trip underground with the cavernous-like atmosphere and colorful stalactites frozen in time was only an elaborate ruse. We were really heading for the beach of Wildwood Crest, NJ! We had already been to the beach that year, but this time it was an extra-special gift-wrapped package from God because it was unexpected, unplanned, and freakishly extended summer for the first time in possibly the history of childhood.
For an entire week, my sister and I had been reunited with the surf as fantastical images of what existed underwater filled my imagination once more. As a child, I was always intrigued by anything aqua-related whether it was the Disney movie, “Flipper” or “The Little Mermaid.” Even the Ron Howard romantic comedy of “Splash” made me think that an underwater kingdom could exist deep beneath the ocean blue. And there were also the video games at Wildwood Crest, of course. This was back in the 1990s where such technology was somewhat old school, but Pac Man and Donkey Kong were still enough to tease the senses with exhilaration. It was a rare week of no family conflict and Asperger’s-like phases that plagued those childhood years. It was a week of pure perfection and nothing else.
I discovered during that sacred week that there was a summer beyond summer. The weather was hot in early September as it usually is for the first two weeks before the weeks melt away to reveal the relentless changes that transition us into lukewarm days and frigid nights. But for that particular week, the motions appeared to stop. The first week of school that would have been carved out by new homework, Sunday School, Hebrew lessons, bullying, struggling to get used to the middle school schedule, and other forms of torture was absorbed in a lingering beach paradise for just a while longer.
Alright, fine. Maybe that did not happen quite as I described. Actually…it did not happen at all. It is just a story…a fantasy that would never have happened. But to some extent, I feel as though I am seizing this particular fantasy as an adult. Now I am milking out summer on my own terms and pretending not to see the Free-Form Channel’s Halloween lineup or the pumpkin spice lattes…all of which debuted in August. August…damnit!! Right now, I have one full day of Wildwood Crest left to enjoy despite it being past Labor Day. I am here all by myself, but this is perhaps the best type of vacation in the world as I plan out each day and am justifying this “break” as a means of attempting to lose more weight by running around the beach and not eating junk all day long. To all of the schoolchildren out there dragged back to class kicking and screaming...I have this one thing to say to you if it is any consolation prize. Your day is going to come at some point! Summer will linger for you someday in one of your favorite places if you play your card right and know you deserve it!