The summer following my sophomore year of high school was a fever of calico sunrises, salty beach air and youthful memories made with “Whatcha Say” by Jason Derulo playing in the background. It was long car rides down the Pacific Coast Highway in my best friend Jovi’s souped-up family 4Runner with the matte-black, monster truck tires, blasting Coastal Grooves by Blood Orange into a neapolitan sunset. It was days blanketed in the Crystal Cove Beach sand with my six-member squad, talking about our crushes and how to pick wedgies without people noticing. It was a summer of lying to our parents about where we were and what we were doing and finding out later that Jovi’s car had a tracking device on it the whole time. It was a summer of experiences that were unlike any other.
Before this, we were not so adventurous. The break was spent watching newly released movies in a cool theater, drinking lemonade and picnicking at the botanical garden in my neighborhood. We did our summer homework early and read an inordinate number of books. Days were evenly split between friends and family. If we wanted to go to the beach, we had to ask an adult to drive us. A birthday party meant time spent at a bowling alley or community pool. We were on our parents’ time schedule. We weren’t adults and we didn’t stray from our routines.
With the rise of the driver’s license, the book “Palo Alto” by James Franco and the age 16 making us think we were mature, things changed. As the school bell tolled for the final time of sophomore year, the six of us were free and the summer was ours. Instead of being home before dinner, we didn’t get home until midnight.
The entire month of June was filled with days at the beach and nights in Santa Ana. We scream-sang to Fetty Wap unironically as the rising tide licked our legs and dampened Isabel’s One Direction blanket — the blanket she perpetually used as a towel. As the sun dipped into the pocket of the horizon, we’d play Tobias Jesso Jr. with the windows rolled down on the ride to Santa Ana. There, we walked around the Artwalk, envied the talent we saw and danced terrible salsa to the jams of that one street band that was always there.
This ephemeral time was billowy in the beachy breeze. To an outsider it might have even seemed uneventful. To us, they were days of independence. We stretched our limbs, indulged in the exhilarating sparks of our small world and discovered ourselves in the summer heat.
When July rolled around, we stopped apprehensively testing our boundaries and instead slammed into them with a poorly aimed wrecking ball, setting fire to the wreckage with a flamethrower. In July, we went to our first ever party. It was a birthday party in which balloons and birthday cake were traded for Hawaiian shirts and Jello shots made with seven different types of liquor.
All the lamps in the house were put in the living room for the aesthetic and the party playlist was named “Table Salt” for some inexplicable reason. Izzy — a member of our squad by whom I had previously been intimidated — and I decided to be best friends while Childish Gambino’s “Sober” played over the speakers. Jovi and I danced to “Rumpel’s Party Palace” from “Shrek Forever After” and we promised we’d move to New York together someday.
Anna screamed that she wanted to hear “Sure Thing” by Miguel one more time since it was her birthday. Nicole tried to cut a pineapple like a Samurai. When they thought no one was watching, Isabel and Izzy changed the song and performed the lift from “Dirty Dancing.” At the end of the night, we huddled outside and silently enjoyed the cold, 4 a.m. breeze coming from the Back Bay of Newport Beach.
The whole summer was citrus. The memories leave my lips tasting of lemon, sour knowing that they are in the past, yet sweet, knowing that everything that happened was transitory. Every moment of that summer was a piece of pulp in the orange juice I drank to grow stronger. The best party of my life, picturesque Santa Ana nights, swimming with my best friends under the salty, cerulean water of Newport Beach — all these memories are inscribed with summer sunlight onto the back of my eyelids like constellations. I am 16 again every time I close my eyes. I thumb through these memories every time I hear “Champagne Coast” or “Life Round Here.” Listening to songs like these, my headphones become conch shells. With the familiar rhythms, I hear the rippling waves and I see my friends and myself together on the beach, watching the cusp of adulthood creep toward us with the tide.
Maisy Menzies writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on milestone moments experienced through art. Contact her at [email protected].