Thursday, July 14, 2016

July Comes Early... Grumpy Thoughts on Summer.

Something about summer always seems to take me by surprise. I'm not one of those sun-loving people that looks forward to the season. I don't dream about planting my garden all year, I don't enjoy weddings, baby showers, bug-infested night-time concerts or park-shelter picnics, and I don't ever have enough money to go to the ocean. I love the ocean, being in it, being near it; if you get me into the ocean I'll stay there till I'm sunburnt & dehydrated and you have to pull me out. The last time I was there, the aftermath included three days of virtually bathing in Aloe with Lidocaine with a headache as big as the sea, and I would have gone back and done it all again the next week if possible. But as I said, I may never get near an ocean again, and definitely not in 2016.

Our long cool spring probably had a hand in helping summer sneak up on me this year. Then busyness took me over: writing and worrying about my mother's health and trying to find a part-time nanny job and trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage. And now, halfway through July, I look up from my computer to find it's either too hot to bake fruit pies or too rainy to sit in the yard; that I haven't weeded the flowerbeds yet, the roses are besieged by crawling vines, and the annoying weed of a tree that I cut down to a nub last year has grown out from its hiding place under the toolshed for the third year in a row, so big it's blocking the door to the tools I need to cut it back (clever b*tch!). Real, sunny-hot summer just got here and I'm already behind on seasonal chores & activities. Not that there are many activities I go in for; getting fresh cherries to eat & bake with is nice, and making watermelon salads, or drinking wine at the table in the backyard.

I can't remember when I stopped looking forward to summer. Like every other school kid, from age 6 & onward I loved seeing June arrive, knowing my daytime freedom was coming. My family didn't take vacations anywhere and we got to the beach maybe once per year, but it didn't matter; my little sister and I loved being outside from morning till night, playing & riding bikes or whining that we were bored till Mom told us to go back out and give her some peace; or eating drippy popsicles and watching ants on the sidewalk. We loved our summer clothes and our cool back bedroom, an add-on room in our rented flat-- it didn't have heat and was well shaded by a huge maple tree, so it was super-cooled year round. In summer we'd play Barbies in there when it was too hot to go out. And although most nights we moaned and groaned about having to come inside to get ready for bed, I always enjoyed slipping into the nice cool sheets and closing my eyes. Then the morning would come, and let's face it, what's better for a kid than waking up to summer sunshine through the window & knowing you get to go outside & play in about a half hour-- if you want to?

Somewhere between then & now, that joyful, hopeful, excited savoring of summer left me. Maybe the summer I was twelve, and we lived in a new neighborhood with no kids my age and nowhere to walk to but a few residential blocks that looked just like mine, chipped away a bit of the enjoyment. It was the most deadly dull neighborhood I've ever lived in.

The couple of years I spent summer babysitting my oldest sister's kids while my little sister became popular & hung out with her friends all the time rollerskating, might have changed me. The year that I knew I'd have to go back to a middle school where I was a complete and utterly despised pariah, wasn't a great summer either. But was it those experiences that altered my perception? Was it later, when I lived in Indianapolis and it was 90 degrees or worse almost constantly from May to September?

 I haven't wondered about it before, not really. I thought it was more of an immediate thing-- since I moved back to Buffalo in 2007 and had a relapse*, and especially the last few years, I haven't been able to do much of what I'd like to do to prepare for any season, so as to fully enjoy. I'm often unable to be outside, and I used to loved being outside in all but the harshest weather-- and sometimes even then.

 I'll never forget this one long, long walk I took with my best friend in Indy, on a summer day that went from nice to superhot to grey & drizzly to a damn 40 minute long downpour, with thunder & lightning. We were both soaked. My Jackaroo hat had waterfalls pouring from all around the brim, my mineral face makeup washed away, my skirt was absorbing so much water I had to keep wringing it out so the weight of it didn't stop me from moving forward along the Monon Trail, and Mike's long curly hair kind of tripled in size from all the moisture; and still we walked, on and on. We walked so long, we finally got dry again, except for our squishy wet booted feet. Then it rained for another hour. I think we ended up walking back to a Taqueria we liked, for cheap quesadillas, dripping all the way.

 So, I can't do that anymore. The auto-immune disease that made me disabled and damaged my muscles took my physical confidence & stamina to a lower level, as well as taking away, maybe permanently, some muscle memory; which until you've lost it, you don't realize how you've relied upon it constantly for things like walking downstairs without having to see the steps as you descend; or putting on socks and a half dozen or more other daily actions we all do without forethought. Well, I used to.

 Is this why I don't love summer anymore? Hot weather, illness and the financial struggles that came with it? Was it that easy to lose? Or did it come away piece by piece, starting from those first few bad summers in teenagehood, and keep slipping as more unpleasant changes or forced seasonal activities gradually built up to a "block" against summer? Did the weddings & baby showers & that one horrible camping trip in sixth grade, all those activities that are hell to an introvert because of the vapid chitchat and the draining over-stimulation from hours of forced sociability while wearing uncomfortable clothes, did they play a part?

 I don't know. There's more I could look at, to begin to understand the process. I do have good summer memories: riding my bike down quiet cemetery paths pretending I was in Mirkwood; making love under swaying maple branches at midnight; grilling pizzas for friends using homegrown tomatoes & herbs; helping to make a movie with almost no budget but lots of imagination, commitment and resourcefulness; singing at a gig in Terre Haute where the music came through me so perfectly I was illuminated, transcendent; backyard theater nights & playing bocce ball with my family & having a sweet baby boy fall asleep on my shoulder; for every bad idea about summer, there's a good memory to counter. And I'm a make-the-most-of-it kind of person, so I've kept trying, at least most years I can remember.

Yet here I am, on a lovely July afternoon with no schedule to keep, no one to please but myself, on a warm but not hot day with beautiful breezes coming through the back screen door. There's beer in the fridge and ice cream bars in the freezer, a cat to play with, and books to read, and I'm sitting here thinking how I don't like summer anymore...

Or maybe now I have more time to learn and practice whatever I want than I've had since I was a kid, maybe I'm learning to like summer again, and this whole exploration is how I'm facing that weird reality. For years I've thought of myself as a summer hater, and now I feel it changing... I hope.

*I have Dermatomyositis, a debilitating, incurable auto-immune disease. Feel free to look it up, or not. I can vouch for this-- it kinda sucks.