Keep An Eye On Summer
The sun had chased the moon from the sky and burned away all but a few silvery wisps of marine layer turning the waters of the Pacific into a deep and beckoning azure.
Parked in my 1958 Volkswagen Bug on the bluff overlooking Manresa beach in Santa Cruz I was listening to the Beach Boys sing, “Keep An Eye On Summer” on the car’s AM radio and feeling glad to be young and alive.
With graduation scarcely two weeks past and the rest of my life in front of me I felt no compulsion toward anything save relishing this newly earned freedom.
Since Manresa’s typically reliable swell had apparently chosen to take the day off, I left my surfboard in the car and jogged lazily down the trail and onto the sand shocked by the fact that at 10:30 in the morning I seemed to be the only one on the beach.
I tossed my beach blanket onto the already warm sand as a mischievous onshore breeze teased a few strands of my longish hair over my eyes momentarily obscuring my field of vision.
Brushing away the offending hair I was stooping to spread out the blanket when I noticed movement in the periphery of my vision.
To the north I saw a lone figure loping across the hard sand down by the waterline eating up the distance in relaxed strides—head back, blonde tresses swinging rhythmically, mouth stretched into a smile of pure pleasure she didn’t seem to have a care in the world.
Suddenly she spotted me, shielded her eyes against the sun and then gave a short little wave of recognition before altering her course.
My heart stutter-stepped in my chest for bouncing across the sand was Susie Simmons—she of the dimpled smile, dancing eyes and fantasy of every red-blooded man in the senior class.
She had been the head pom-pom girl and I the director of the school’s Pep Band.
As such, we had worked closely together throughout the school year and had become friends of a sort, talking during study hall, after student council meetings, after class, but never a phone call and for sure never a date.
Being around her nearly every day, often in close proximity had ignited a smoldering, pent-up flame in my soul.
“Hey you,” she called affably from about ten feet away.
“Hey yourself,” I said (at least I think it was me for I did not recognize the strange croaking emanating from my throat).
Stopping in front of where I stood she immediately threw her arms around my neck and pulled me into a warm hug nearly sending me into cardiac arrest.
“What was that for?” I said as she stepped back.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied with a laugh. “I guess I’ve just missed you. It’s weird, you know, seeing people nearly every day for four years and then, all of sudden you don’t see anybody.”
She plopped down on my blanket, looked up at me with those crazy blue eyes of hers and said, “Well, aren’t you going to sit by me?”
I dropped like a stone, lost my balance and fell ingloriously backwards, which she thought hilarious.
Once recovered she said, “So, what are you going to do now that high school is over?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I suppose I’ll go to Cabrillo until I figure out what I want to do with my life.”
Cabrillo was the local Junior College, future home to some 80% of our fellow graduates.
“You don’t know what you want to do,” she said, making it more of a statement than a question.
I shook my head, “No” and said, “Not really.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Actually, I’m not.”
She leaned forward and scooted around so she was facing me.
“You’re the best musician, maybe ever in our school and you don’t know what you want to do?”
I said, “Well, what do you want to do?”
She stared at me in silence long enough for it to be a bit uncomfortable before saying, “I want to dance. You know, in front of people…like on the stage.”
I had no doubt she’d be a success for she was a marvelously gifted dancer and I told her so.
“Thanks,” she said quietly. “But my parents…”
“Not thrilled with that direction?” I said.
“No, they’re not. Their idea is that I be a nurse like my mom and sister.”
We sat for a while in silence, the breaking waves providing a hypnotic underscore for our little scene.
Suddenly she said, “Why didn’t you ever ask me out?”
The question was so preposterous an uncontrollable laugh escaped my throat.
“I’m not kidding,” she said. “I waited the entire year for you to ask me out and you never did. And I want to know why.”
I felt like saying, “Well, you know there was that little matter of you going steady with the student body president; the captain of the football team; the fact that you were Homecoming Queen…” But instead I just said, “I wanted to…you have no idea how much I wanted to.”
She reached over and took my hand in a gentle grasp saying, “You know, of course that you’re the only one I could ever really talk to. All those hours after student council when we’d just sit on the bench in the quad talking. That was the best.” Staring deeply into my eyes she said, “We would’ve been really good together.”
My heart, which previously had been merely pounding now threatened to jump out of my chest.
“You’re killing me here, Susie,” I said while withdrawing my hand and brushing the hair out of my eyes. “I mean finding this out now is torture!”
“So, you’re saying it’s too late?”
I said, “Look, you’re going away to college, I’m staying here. A girl like you—“
“A girl like me? And just what exactly am I?”
I stared at her, once again amazed at how beautiful she truly was.
“Beautiful,” I said softly. “You’re absolutely beautiful,” and just left it at that.
After a few seconds she said, “You know what I wrote in your year book? That part about not forgetting me and keeping an eye out for me wherever life takes you?”
I nodded my head silently, not trusting myself to speak.
“Well, promise me you’ll do that,” she said as she stood to her feet and reached down to help me up.
Standing there in front of her I said, “I promise.”
A quick hug and a peck on the cheek and she was off at a run tossing a quick glance and a smile back over her shoulder.
And then she was gone.
I saw her one more time about six months later, high on LSD and running with a really bad crowd.
And as we look at the future
Though it be through a tear
Keep an eye on summer this year
To this day I can’t hear that song without thinking about that morning on the beach when things seemed so right with the world and I came so close to something so unreachable.
I thought about all of this as I sipped my medium coffee with room for cream on the patio of St. Arbuck’s on the Pacific Garden Mall in Santa Cruz one recent late summer’s morn; comfortable in middle-age, deliriously happy, still in love with the wife of my youth.
And yet, I wonder what became of her.
I wonder if she’d remember me.