the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Summer Love

Back when I attended my Jewish sleep-away camp, the summer ended with a big dance. It was on the last weekend of August, right before we all went back to our predictable middle-class lives in Queens, Brooklyn, Westchester, New Jersey, and Long Island, where we would focus on our schoolwork and prepare ourselves for a scholarship to a fancy college.  Fall, Winter, and Spring were times of seriousness.  It was only during the summer that we allowed ourselves to paddle a canoe or initiate”panty raids” on the girls’ bunks.

Having a dance as a camp season finale made no sense to a ten year old boy who had no interest in dancing, or the opposite sex.   The girls danced by themselves while the boys got sugar drunk on Dixie cups of purple punch.

One year,  on my seventh year as a camper, I asked Tammy to the dance, but just my luck — she ended up in the infirmity with the flu, so I spent most of the evening standing outside her window chatting with her about science fiction movies, until one of the nurses shooed me away.  I took off to the social hall, relieved to not have missed the final dance.  After so many years at this camp, the “last song” of the summer had grown in meaning to me.  It was always the same — “See You in September,” originally sung by the Tempos in 1959, but this was the latter version, covered by The Happenings in 1966.  The sappy song must have been a tradition for an earlier generation, because all of the counselors and older staff members would grab a partner and do a “slow dance.”

It never occurred to me as a camper that this “last dance” was not for the campers at all, but for the staff — many who were returning back to school or work, and had experienced summer love for the first time.

Summer love creates all sorts of complications.   Some counselors already had boyfriends and girlfriends back at home.  Some of the staff members were international visitors from faraway places like Ireland.   And not even Jewish.

So how did these summer romances turn out?   Most of them fizzled out.  Some tried to reproduce the lake-side romance in the Catskills back in Brooklyn, but it didn’t have the same vibe on Ocean Parkway.   The city can be romantic and mysterious, but it has a different soundtrack, more funky than mellow.

Tammy, the girl who was supposed to be my date for the final dance, ended up dating one of the counselors — a college boy — much to the dismay of her parents.   They are a summer romance success story, married for decades with children who now go to sleep-away camp.

Over the last month, while most of you have been freezing during the winter months, I have been on Summer Vacation in New Zealand.  It is Summer here.   The kids are off from school.  The beaches are full.  Everyone is eating ice cream.

But Fall is close.   Today there was a “back to school” commercial on the “telly.”  School clothes at 40% at The Warehouse, New Zealand’s equivalent of Target.

With summer ending, there is a call to seriousness.   It’s time for me to return to the States.   The vacation is over.    I’ve found a summer love here in New Zealand.   I’ve had a life-changing experience.

Where does it go from here? I don’t know.  It is hard to carry a summer love into the Fall, especially when you live on different continents.   For now, I have a plane to catch tomorrow, and I want my last dance with Juli.


  1. Tiff

    Beautiful post, Neil. All the best to you and Juli as you figure out your next steps.

  2. Jana A (@jana0926)

    Crying for you. I don’t want you to leave, and I know you don’t want to leave. Sending you and Juli happy thoughts for your Last Dance. I feel certain it will be a “I’ll be back soon” dance, though. Thank you for bringing a beautiful love story to us through your images and words. We’re all pulling for happily ever after.

  3. Dana

    What will the song be?

  4. Sarah Piazza

    Ours, at a very similar camp (as you know), was Donna Summers’ Last Dance. Love to you and Juli.

  5. Alma

    This made me ache. It was the most wonderful thing to watch this blossom … next to Downton Abbey. I hope you can make it work somehow. She has the kindest eyes…and that amazing hat.
    Loved this post

  6. kenju

    You made me tear up, Neil. Best of luck to you and Juli as you figure out where you go from here.

  7. Marie Nicole

    I can’t understand why you’re leaving. Follow your heart… that’s all I can say. The rest is just material stuff. Follow your heart – a sappy cliché that has been coined for a reason.

  8. Bella

    Sad, so sad, Neil – but what a beautiful story you have chosen to share via photos & words. Thank you for that.
    I really hope a magic portal opens up, carving out the possibility for this to work for you both.

  9. Gurukarm

    Wishing you both all the best Neil. And remember, you can write from anywhere 🙂 Plus? It’s clear NZ only ramped up your photog skills!

  10. Jada

    It was never the same distance, but I’ve had two loves from a distance. The one I have now, my second, has been worth every kilometre, every moment of missing him, every second of worry.

    If she’s worth it, if you’re worth it-and I think you both are, then it will find it’s way.

  11. Loukia

    Sigh… I believe you’ll find a way to make it last. Good Luck, Neil…

  12. karengreeners

    Gorgeous post, Neil, but if you don’t want it to end, I hear autumn in New Zealand is just as beautiful. There are many versions of ‘reality.’ It doesn’t only exist after you’ve sat on a plane and landed back in the States. Take it from the girl who went to Israel for two months and stayed for a year.

  13. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios

    What I like best about the story of your trip to NZ is that you took a risk, took a chance, dared to do something bold.

  14. Rainbow Motel

    First of all? This is gorgeous. The first part is reminiscent of one of my favorite books: “City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder” (Herman Wouk), because it centers around summer sleepaway camp and what happens before and after it. You captured the flavor of it immeccably.

    But still…what to do?? I get it. Personally, the pull of New York would pose a huge issue–right there along with the pull of new love. As long as you guys are trying to make it work together, it will be fine. I’m so happy for you.

  15. Suzanne

    I think you should stay! Or at least make plans to come back to NZ very soon. Beautiful photos, beautiful lady, and beautiful love story. Don’t make this a summer fling, make it last!

  16. Stacy @bklynstacy

    Beautiful post, amazing story — not the post; the story you’re living. Life is short, so you have to grab it by the short hairs and go along for the ride, no? xoxo

  17. suzy

    Someone has to move. And I don’t mean like Jagger.

  18. Headless Mom

    This is a really beautiful and honest piece, Neil. I hope your last dance of the summer was nice.

    And? You’ll figure it out. It may not be easy, or on your timing, but you will.

  19. alejna

    Beautiful writing, Neil. I’m a bit teary-eyed, now.

    I haven’t commented often lately, but I too have been following your trip through your photos, and your words when you have written more. I am sad to see it come to an end, and wish you and Juli the best. I know it has been a tricky balance act between your public and private life, so thank you for sharing what you have been willing to share.

  20. 180360

    Though the vacation is ending, I hope the story has only just begun. xo

  21. gorillabuns

    so what you are saying is: You are coming back to the states to pack up your stuff to move there. Right?

  22. Sizzle

    Beautiful Neil. Enjoy every bar of that final song. Xox

  23. Mir

    So happy for you, Neil. 🙂

  24. Lily from It's A Dome Life

    If it is more than summer love, you will find a way to make it work. Enjoy your last dance!

  25. Marty

    Just don’t dance to Air Supply.

    I’ll be thinking about you during this time of re-entry. Good luck.

  26. Allison Zapata

    I’m crying 🙁 xoxo

  27. Erica M

    Beautiful post. I’m so glad you’re happy.

  28. Heather

    An interesting metaphor, this summer camp.

    But, you are a grown man. She is a grown woman. Love is different after you’ve been hurt…it changes people, refines them.

    Don’t let expectations being put on you by whomever.. Deter you from true, organic, beautiful love.

    Not ever.

  29. annettek

    Oh Neil. I so hope you both can find a way to make it work. I would follow my love anywhere in the world. If you feel that way about her, (and I think you do from watching your photo stream) it’s worth it to try.

  30. Lisa Rae @ smacksy

    Rooting for you to be a summer camp success story. xo

  31. Major Bedhead

    Watching all of this unfold on FB has been lovely, and so unlike your normal persona. It’s been really heartening to see you relax into someone more open and vulnerable and I’m sad that this part of it is ending, but also very, very happy for you.

  32. Redneck Mommy

    My heart hurts at the thought of you being separated from your love. Sometimes summer love is just …. love. And I’m so glad you found it. May you and Juli find your happiness, together, apart, where ever. I’m cheering for you, my friend.

  33. renae

    What an evocative piece. I’m feeling so nostalgic now. (In a good way.)

  34. Shannon

    Such a beautiful story, Neil. I SO hope things work out for you and Juli, and thank you for sharing your life-changing experience with the rest of us. <3

  35. The Honourable Husband

    Neil, you’ve received a lot of advice. Much of it encourages you to prolong this summer love into the autumn. That may be the right thing to do, or it may not. You and Juli know, I suspect, the answer deep down in your hearts.

    But don’t underestimate the difficulties of making a move to another culture. To turn a relationship into a shared life takes work. Then add the stress of finding your personal and professional place in a new country—even though the Kiwis are a friendly lot, it will take energy on your part. And a good deal of personal generosity from you—the citizens in the country to which you immigrate will grant you forbearance, but the bulk of the good grace needs to come from the immigrant himself.

    The combined pressures will be more than you expect, I assure you. Juli, I’m sure, has tales of her own experience. Make sure you’re physically, emotionally and psychologically prepared.

    My husband and I both moved countries for our love, and that was thirteen years ago. So yes, it can be worth it. But it is a test of character.

    Love to Juli and you.

  36. abigail.road

    I’ve been in your shoes, and it’s been very interesting to me, waiting to see how this romance and adventure will play out for you, because it never worked out for me. For me, our love was real and passionate but we just couldn’t make it work once there was an ocean between us. Some people can, and I applaud them for it. Just remember, even though it’s heart-breaking to leave New Zealand and Juli, the adventure isn’t over. No matter what happens between you and Juli from here on out, you have a great love, a have had great adventure, and both of you are better because of it.
    Enjoy your last day.

  37. Linda

    Beautiful. Love your writing. Fly safely ✈

  38. sarah gilbert

    I think the best thing about your story, Neil, is that you have celebrated being in the moment in a way few of us are able to do in our own relationships. We all know how hard it is to make romance last into a long-term love with any of the intensity or ease that your summer love has had. For now all that matters (to me anyway) is having that fully-lived moment, and we can see that in her eyes and your photographs of them, and I hope your last dance is wonderful.

  39. Emily

    That was my favorite post I’ve ever read of yours.

  40. Emma

    Aw, I really hope there’s a happy ending to this story.

  41. Mocha


    I wouldn’t presume to offer you advice or tell you how *I* feel about what is happening with you, but there’s something powerful about watching this unfold and seeing you come undone. I can’t put into words what it’s been like to watch you and Juli and the ache we all know you feel over leaving.

    But, damn. You did something amazing. I’m just another voice here telling you that I want you to go for the brass ring.

  42. Marcy

    Echoing what I commented on instagram, I feel honored that you allowed us to tag along on your adventure. Whether this proves to “only” be a summer romance, or something more, I hope the time you spent in NZ will always feel as magical and amazing as it seems to feel right now. We all want to have our say and give our advice, but this is about you and Juli and the only ones who matter in figuring out what happens from here are you and Juli. Safe travels back.

  43. Kim

    I hope it works out how you want it to Neil. Sometimes summer live lasts forever.

  44. melissa

    This was a beautiful post. I, like everyone else, enjoyed watching your journey on FB and Twitter.
    Whatever the change of seasons bring, I wish both of you the best.
    Or you can both move to somewhere it’s always summer.

  45. Marcy

    Go back. Jump in. Make it happen. Be the next summer love success story.

  46. Christine

    Aw. Literally moved to tears.

    Wishing you both the best. Bon voyage, friend.

  47. Bon

    sniff. this has to be hard.

    thanks for letting us all come to camp with you & Juli.

  48. Jenni Chiu @ MommyNaniBooboo

    Whatever the future holds for you two (for it is never certain), enjoy the hell of your last dance.

  49. Karen Sugarpants

    Oh my. Oh Neil! I hope good things for your hearts!

  50. Alexandra

    I have forever loved Juli, her blog, her kindness, her spirit.

    I have forever loved you, Neil. In all your forms.

    And you have done what hundreds have tried to get me to do for the past four years: log on to facebook.

    I have fallen in love with your story.

    I know you know the ending I wish for: a happy one. I want both you and Juli happy.

  51. Ann

    I think it’s just the beginning. Flag-raising, if you will.

  52. Jayme

    I’ve so enjoyed watching this bloom over the last month. I can’t wait to see how it flourishes in the autumn…

  53. Shauna Glenn

    I have been following your story on Instagram, Neil, and I gotta tell ya, it’s been like reading a very passionate love story. I’m so happy you’ve found love. You deserve it, my friend.

  54. Dresden

    I am so thankful to you for sharing this beautiful quest and story of love. As someone that often feels like it will never happen for herself – it’s been inspiring to see it bloom for you.

  55. Amanda

    I believe that for every broken heart love reaps, it defies the odds and mends another.

    Here’s to everlasting summer.

  56. Karla Archer

    I have so enjoyed watching this unfold. It’s been so lovely and wonderful…

    My heart aches, as I know what you are having to wonder and consider. I remember the hours and hours and hours Randy and I spent wondering how to make our relationship work over miles and miles of separation. Wondering if we were just fooling ourselves. But it was real – and that alone was enough to give our love wings and allow it to fly.

    Regardless of the outcome, you stepped out and took a chance – and THAT is inspiring and beautiful.

    Wishing you both tons of happiness.

  57. Shannon

    Whatever happens from here, I can’t help but think that this month spent there in New Zealand discovering a love of a person and a place, has a deep worth all on its own.

  58. summer

    We were separated by just a few thousand miles, on different coasts of the same continent, but my partnership of almost 13 years began in a similar fashion. A virtual romance punctuated by a week, two weeks, six weeks of heartbreaking face to face contact at a time, until we figured out how to get in the same time zone.

    I hope you work this out. It’s been delightful to watch the unfolding in pictures.

  59. holly

    Wow, that is such a beautiful way to tell your story. I agree with Stacey, life is short. You’ll figure it out. In the meantime, what amazing memories to guide you through time.

  60. Jack

    Hi Neil,

    Been reading your blog for what is it, 6 or 7 years now and this post just strikes a chord with me.

    My nickel advice is that it is better to try and find out what might be than to never try at all. Sometimes the biggest reward requires the biggest risk.

  61. Chrisy

    It’s been a privilege to follow your summer with Juli. I feel nostalgic and sad after reading this and listening to “See You In September”. I’ll be thinking good things for the two of you.

  62. Ruth

    Dear Neil,
    It’s been beautiful seeing your photos and Juli’s tweets. And the silence at your blogs has been SUCH A WONDERFUL SILENCE. I bet your stats having just been growing and growing (#jealousbloggertalking). I keep imaging all of us at home and on our mobiles seeing each new photo — our anticipation for the details growing, watching what could be love bloom right before our eyes. This is a modern romance for the masses!

    And it’s also your life. Ugh. And wow.

    I’m failing to avoid imposing my personal history into my view of your summer. When my guy got on that plane for Melbourne, he died a month later. Oh, and, he wasn’t *really* my guy because . . . ugh, life is so messy. So I know my excitement & tears “about Neil and Juli” are really about me. That’s human nature.

    What I DO want to say to YOU—a stranger of sorts, is that I feel for you … going through something emotional and complicated in the public eye. Probably hard enough to discuss privately — and now all these people are “watching”, exerting pressure of sorts, imposing their dreams onto you.

    I wish you happiness. You will listen to your inner voice. No explanations to the blog fans needed. But you must have that in mind already — see, I don’t even know you — ugh, I’m annoying myself — heading back to over here, where I’m quiet and I stop typing…. 🙂

  63. Father Muskrat

    I’m glad you had this experience and that it continues!

    • Father Muskrat

      put a “hope” before the “that it continues” ….

  64. Elizabeth Aquino

    Sigh. Vicarious sighs.

  65. anymommy

    I’ve loved following you through this story, Neil, and I’m anxious (maybe as anxious as you) to understand the next chapter. 😉

  66. Fran

    As always, I love your transparency in letting us experience life vicariously. I love your sense of adventure. I love the way you make the globe so richly navigable. I love your style. I love you. Thank you, Neil.

  67. Avitable

    The people we can find in the computer are wonderful, and I hope that you’re able to cherish this one.

  68. Backpacking Dad

    In 1996, I had a summer love with a girl from California while I was living in Toronto. We didn’t know what the next year would bring, and that uncertainty drove us to some pretty insane decisions. For instance: I moved to California.

    17 years later, we’re still married.

    Summer love can fleet fleet fleet along, or it can anchor you, solid, in the world.

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