The summer before I turned 21, I met my first teenage alcoholic, or at least the first person I knew who admitted it.
I was working in Ogunquit
, a small town in southern Maine, and serving as a missionary through a local collective of churches that wanted to reach out to all of the tourists that came for the beaches and LL Bean.
During the day, I worked two part-time jobs: a gift shop clerk on Perkins Cove and a snack bar cashier on the beach. During the evenings and weekends, I shared my faith with tourists alongside the team of other college students from the ministry.
At least that was how the summer was supposed to go. As it turned out, our team consisted only of Carl, a seminary student who needed the experience to graduate; Pam, a jilted bride who had left her fiance at the altar in search of the meaning of life; and me, a Midwest green bean who had never been more than two hours away from her family for more than than a week at a time. And just as it would seem, our team had problems.
The tourists, also, didn’t take well to college students trying to evangelize them, either. So I began getting to know other young people who were in Ogunquit for the same reason we were, minus the evangelizing part. They all came for the jobs.
Overall, the summer appeared to be a failure. By the time I left in August to return for my Junior year of college, the team comprised just Carl and me. Pam had been asked to leave. As for me, I only made it through the whole summer because my mom had flown out for a visit. The homesickness was almost too much. And I can’t think of one person who decided to follow Jesus because of our ministry. Except for maybe John, the unemployed man I met on the beach. He said he wanted to know God, but he also really enjoyed the free dinners we offered each weeknight.
But along the way, I met people who opened up the world to me, including Tracy, a college student from the area who went to Tufts University; a group of friends who attended college together and came to Ogunquit for summer work, all crashing in the same house, both men and women. One of the guys, whose friends called him, “Matty,” had long curly hair that he wore in a bandana. Nobody in Indiana wore their hair like that, or would dare be called “Matty.” I instantly had a crush on him.
I also got to know Michael, the gay brother of one of my bosses, who let me borrow his paint pens when my shifts were slow. And there was Mrs. Todd, who gave up her spare bedroom for me to live with her during the summer, and said funny things like, “Would you pull some of the ‘kahn’ (corn) from the ‘gahden’ (garden), ‘Melinder’ (Melinda).”
And then there was Sarah.
Sarah worked at a gift shop on the Cove just a few buildings from me, and sometimes during my lunch shift, I would eat a lobster salad sandwich while window shopping. Her store caught my eye because it had lots of neat toys and contraptions for kids, and I was looking for souvenirs for my little sisters and brother.
I noticed her first because her hair was jet black and her skin was pale white, and she wore red lipstick and black finger nail polish. Then, the next day, her hair was blonde and she had on a sundress.
Strangely, the gift shop also sold wigs, and her boss let her model them. He also let her off early twice a week so she could attend AA meetings in Portland. She invited me to go sometime if I wanted. It never worked out for me. She was only 18.
When Carl and I left at the end of the summer, we had a big dinner and invited people from the church and the other friends we had made. Michael and Sarah couldn’t make it, but Matty and his friends came. So did John and Tracy and Mrs. Todd.
As a going away present, the church bought us framed pictures of dusky ocean scenes painted by street artists down on the cove.
Mine still sits atop the bookshelf in my spare bedroom; the sun has never set on that summer.