Each summer between the ages of 14 and 18 I would spend a week at the beach with my five best friends, huddled in an annexed caravan located in the Rye Holiday Park, all six of us crammed into two double beds.
The Rye Holiday Park on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula is at the end of a long dirt road, one I still point out each time I drive past it, saying “That’s the road that leads to the Rye Holiday Park” to whoever I am driving with. We spent days at the back beach, nights playing Uno or watching the Australian Open.
My memories of summers at the Rye Holiday Park are stupid.
I remember things I wish I didn’t, not because they’re bad, but now that I am older I have the feeling that maybe they have taken the room of memories that were very special, that my brain has squeezed out something important that someone said, or a moment I should remember.
I remember instead that one year we went to Arthurs Seat and got spray-on tattoos, and that I chose a gecko on my thigh, and I was wearing ruched khaki Supre shorts. I remember that one summer Rose lost a $50 note somewhere in the Rosebud Woolworths. I remember that maybe that same year we saw the Will Smith film The Pursuit of Happyness at the Rosebud cinema.
The most prominent setting in this film-roll of my teen summer memories, though, is the Rye carnival, neon-lit and loud, located right on the Rye foreshore. To make the most of the Rye carnival you’d order a prepaid ride wristband – one of those waxy paper numbers that you’d leave on your arm for days afterward. Like the bed situation, I don’t remember us ever splitting up to go on these rides, but like the unreliable memory situation, I could be idealising the experience.
But Rye carnival is an idealised experience in my brain, because I am now 30 and am a writer and what better way to remember something than to remember it as warm, as holding hands with your teenage friends; to remember it as the time just at the end of sunset where there’s still a tiny bit of light and look now there’s fireworks and this is a John Green novel.
The 2006 carnival took place at the beginning of our second-last year of school. We spent most of the night on something called the Break Dance, a ride that spins you around, which is the modus operandi of most carnival rides. We chose this ride because the ride operator was an older teenage boy that we had decided was beautiful. He knew we knew we thought he was beautiful because he kept looking at us. That was the extent of the interaction.
In 2007 we went on the Break Dance just once before two terrible things happened.
The first was that the beautiful carny was there, but he was no longer beautiful. His face was the same, his uniform the same, his post at the helm of the Break Dance still his crowning glory. But all of us were together perplexed – this was the “hot carny?” What were we thinking? Why was this happening?
The second terrible thing was that after our first ride on the Break Dance we all became excruciatingly motion sick. Flopping down the stairs of the ride, we sat huddled on a patch of grass nibbling on potato cakes, wondering what was happening to us. If I could not count on the consistency of hotness of travelling carnies, on my ability to endure carnival rides, what did this mean for the future I had imagined with these five women?
2007 was the year I cut my hair off and decided to spend all my time taking myself very seriously. My friends would go on to enter university, whereas I dropped out in a panic after seven weeks, spending the rest of the year watching Blockbuster rentals on my parents’ couch. My friends made more friends. 2008 passed, as did 2009, 2010 and then nine more years.
In these nine years my friends moved overseas but returned; my friends moved into a house with me. I grew my hair back and my friends would hang it over the back of a dining chair and cut the ends for me. My friends would get jobs all very different from each other, and get married, and travel, and there would be moments where I would think, “You are not how I remember you.” But we would still sit on the white couch in the living room of the house we shared and scream and laugh and talk and talk and talk.
This last summer, right at the end of it, we threw a hen party for one of the girls. Around 1am, in a bar where we used to dance until very late, the bride to be asked if it would be OK if we went home and danced there instead, just us. I remember laying on the floor singing and laughing.
Weeks later, the night before the wedding, we crammed, all six of us, into the bride’s hotel bed.
Just as the sun went down, the time just at the end of sunset where there’s still a tiny bit of light, fireworks starting going off outside, and I thought, this is exactly how I remembered it.
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