This story begins with my first taste of independence.
It was the summer before 11th grade and I was working at my church’s Vacation Bible School. I was reluctant to work it, because, I thought, summer should be spent frolicking around Cape Cod’s greenery and beaches and doing high school-type things with friends. Little did I know — in fact, not at all did I know — that the VBS would be the very thing which led to the greatest summer of my life and the closest friends I’d ever have.
We left the first day of VBS and looked around the sweltering parking lot, feeling accomplished after directing dozens of snotty-nosed toddlers through games and crafts and Bible lessons. It was me, my friend Zac, and the Gage twins, Sam(antha) and Abby. None of us knew what the rest of the summer held for us, but at least we knew something fun would happen that day. It was a Cape Cod summer after all, and we had the afternoon free.
We wandered from the church property and found ourselves heading toward the nearby elementary school where we would perch ourselves on swings and laugh about reaching what Zac called “The Zero Zone,” the point at the climax of the pendulum where you feel weightless and your bottom lifts off the seat. We swung and flipped off of them and swung some more. We bit high leaves off of trees while reaching the Zero Zone and then jumped high into the air with hard landings onto the pea gravel.
There are many words I have forgotten since those days; words we said to each other while sitting atop the platforms on the playsets, or lying in fields beneath the humid New England sun. What I do know is many of these words altered my mind, moving me from a peripheral spectator outside the circle of friends to one of the four. One of the four who was there when The Fellowship was formed. One of the four who would spend the entire summer romping from playground to playground, and pond to beach. We swam nearly every day. And if we didn’t swim, we were tracing train tracks from one point to an other and discovering graveyards and art museums. On the Cape’s rainy days, we traipsed beneath umbrellas to the library to rent the first R-rated films I’d ever watch. The Gage’s parents didn’t care what we watched, so I was sure to load up on all my explicit content at their house.
Each of us had our own blanket which we wrapped around ourself until we felt like home.
One day we sat atop the playground near the Gage’s house — an old wooden construction which laid out like a huge maze from the Medieval ages as they’re presented by children’s artists and sword-wielding mice come to life. I was teaching the three of them how to write a letter and came to the explanation of the postscript, or the P.S..
“And if you go past it and need to add another one, you make a P.P.S.,” I explained.
They burst into laughter. Our juvenile minds jumped at any excuse to make a dirty joke and associate completely benign significations with raunchy trivium. Because P.P.S. sounded even remotely like the male reproductive organ, it instantly became a code we muttered through the walkie talkies of inside jokes and covert conversations, even in front of outsiders.
I guess that’s the point of inside jokes though — they communicate much more than the content of the joke. They also communicate that we who understand the joke are , and you who do not are inherently out.
We had dozens of these inside jokes that summer, but of course I can only remember a small handful. P.P.S. is the most memorable, not because it was the most clever or even the most used of ours, but because I recall it every time I write a letter. I have made it a rule for myself that every letter must conclude with at least a post-postscript, in honor of the memory of that summer. I keep that summer alive in a small, personal way every time I pen a letter to a friend. Most, if not all of these friends will never realize the significance of those three letters at the base of the page, but to me, they are life memorialized. They are youth incarnate. They are fun personified.
By now, over a dozen years later, I have scrubbed that summer of all of its blemishes and arguments and painful bits in order to preserve only the purest of adolescent summers in my mind. I look back on those silver days through a sepia haze in which nothing foul can exist; no sin can taint those golden days for as long as they’re lodged in my memory.
In my head, Zac, Sam, Abby and I are still swinging high on those swings, biting oak leaves when we reach the Zero Zone and whispering inside jokes above the slides.