The summer of 2019 was warm and hazy, embellished with the scent of sun cream and the sound of laughter and the sight of clear night skies that showed off the universe in all its beauty. Memories, as pure as pearls hidden in the ocean's silent depths, were weaved in and out of trips to the beach and lazing around in the park and dancing around campfires. It was a summer of tanned bodies and giggling friends and pursued daydreams.
There's a photo album on my shelf. It's bound in bubblegum pink leather; silver lines curl their way up and down the spine. The pages are cream-coloured and are filled with photos from that summer. Each page corresponding to a day, each photo corresponding to a memory. A memory, encapsulated in a photo, the contents forever trapped in a still life. Five memories stick out for me from that summer. In a few years' time, they'll barely be visible on the radar of my life, flying just out of reach of my mind.
The Annual August Campfire. My friends and I packed our rucksacks for one night, hiding extra snacks from our parents in between pyjamas and books. We shared lifts to the forest, and trekked across the well-worn path that accompanied the river to the glade in the centre of the forest, the space which we'd pooled our money to book out for one night. Tents were set up (albeit the process involved a lot of swearing) and some of us, including myself, were sent off to find fuel for the fire. By the time it was lit, the sun was sinking below the treetops, ruby-red rays illuminating our grinning, freckled faces. We cooked smores and toasted marshmallows and passed round bowls of the secret snacks. Then our resident Potterhead read us a chapter from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, whilst we snuggled under blankets and she perched cross-legged on a log, wearing her Hufflepuff scarf. A sliver of moon hung over our heads as eventually, stifling yawns and stumbling instead of walking, we put out the fire and said our goodnights, slipping away into our various shared tents. Then we lay awake for another hour or so, shouting to our neighbours and laughing, our voices rising above the treetops and startling the sleeping birds nestled amongst the leaves.
The Outdoor Poor. Every week, my sister and I would gather together our tankinis and sunglasses and walk the mile or so to the pool on the outskirts of our town, flip-flops flapping on the dry summer pavement. We'd pay five pounds each for entrance, handing over those golden twelve-edged coins, and choose lockers next to each other, reluctantly putting a sixth pound in to unlock them. We'd share a changing cubicle, turning away politely to preserve the other's dignity, and then link arms and run through the showers and outside, diving into the pool in a giggling, tangled mess. Up and down the pool, we raced each other and I remember sometimes I'd dive down to the bottom. My nose brushed the smooth turquoise tiles and I would feel so calm. Everything was muffled underwater. Everything was in slow-motion, from the muscled bodies of regular swimmers gliding silently past to the bubbles chasing each other from the shallow end where the little kids would play. Then I pushed myself above the surface and my sister would grin at me, sopping hair stuck to her face, one elbow propped on the side of the pool.
The Garden Days. Occasionally, it would be too hot to even consider going out. On these days, I would use fresh oranges and lemons to make a huge jug of homemade citrus-ade, my own recipe. Ice cubes plopped into the jar, plink plunk. Then I strolled outside and settled down on a deckchair next to my sister, who would usually be buried in a novel. Wisps of cloud rolled past the cyan sky, barely enough to cause the refreshing shadows we craved in the heat. The citrus-ade was the very essence of summer to me; a sweet feeling rolling around in my mouth with just the slight tang of sourness that makes it so pleasantly sharp. Around lunchtime, my sister would trudge into the cool kitchen and prepare grated cheese sandwiches (white bread, always) with a crispy apple. Such a simple meal, yet we loved it. Early in the afternoon, my sister dozed off listening to a BBC Sounds podcast, one earbud falling out of her ear, and I'd read a paperback and then stretch out, too lazy to move an inch. As the temperatures dropped to a more manageable level, I woke her and we'd switch on the outdoor sound system and dance, the prickly grass ticking the exposed skin of our bare feet.
The Summer Storms. Summer would never be complete without its fair share of raging storms, and on those nights when the rain battered the thankfully solid windowpanes, I'd invite a friend over and we'd ask my sister nicely to abandon the living room so we could use it. With plates of pizza warm from the oven and a huge bowl of popcorn, we squished together on the leather sofa under my duvet and browse Netflix and BBC iPlayer for interesting films and programmes. Romcoms and drama and documentires, anything that would spark our curiosity and make us hit play. These TV marathons would last for hours, way into the night. My sister barged in sometimes, claiming she was looking for something, but all she really wanted to do was join in. And, sometimes, have the last slice of pizza, if it was available. All three of us would cheer on the protagonist and make sarcastic comments about the antagonist or villain. Thunder would rattle across the sky and forked lightning gave the room an eerie glow that last for one, maybe two seconds. The living room lights, however, were as soft and as warm as the sun on a late summer afternoon. And we were just fine with that.
The 4th September. I always considered the first day of school the last day of summer. Arriving at school almost felt surreal; after six weeks of no rules it was strange to push open those heavy metal doors and get smacked in the face with the stench of deodorant and disinfectant. My uniform was washed and felt brand new, too crisp, too bright. I met my friends in the courtyard and one twisted the lid off a bottle of Coke, dividing the liquid out into our unfilled water bottles. The sun was still beating down on us, giving the weary plants in the weather-beaten wooden boxes a tired, defeated glow. Sharing glances, we mournfully raised our water bottles and toasted the death of the summer of 2019. Then we leaned in for our final summer selfie. #ripsummer was all the caption read when I posted it.
I bet you that in a few years, when we're off to university, we'll hardly remember the summer of 2019. But now, sitting in the back of the classroom and pretending to listen to the teacher's drone, I can taste those memories like the citrus-ade on my tongue. Sharp in my mind, sweet in my heart.
The summer of 2019 was a summer like any other. And it's bound in bubblegum pink leather. For when I want to divulge in its treasures again.