Summer is a strange season. Even when the weather doesn't get particularly nice, a hazy laziness descends on motivation, a specter from our school-age days. There's an entitlement towards vacations, an aversion to long working hours, and a general shirking of the shackles of adult standards: we drink more beer, we wear less clothing, we slink into the office later.
I get more nostalgic for summers past than any other season, and I think it's because they vary so greatly. My winters, falls, and springs tend to revolve around the same things, but my summers have been more unique - which I think makes them easier to recall, or more likely for memories of them to pop into my consciousness, especially the summers after high school. As a kid, they all blend together into one ice-cream-man-muzak-soundtracked, sticky-popsicled, outdoor-playing, skinned-kneed, fort-building, chlorine-soaked dream.
A nannying summer:
I drag myself into my old Ford Explorer, and even though I'm only 17, there are two car seats in the back.
I drive to my aunt and uncle's house, grunt a morning greeting to my uncle on his way out the door, and curl up on their sofa to watch tv until The Boys make their way downstairs. Little boy sleep hair, sticking up all around, crust of Sandman sleep in the corners of their 6-year-old eyes dragging soft blankets behind them. First Mike, then Jeff, always. We watch cartoons half-asleep until I make breakfast - always sticky with Mrs. Butterworth's. By the end of summer I can make perfect silver-dollar pancakes.
Paper airplanes, play-doh, Matchbox cars, bikes and sidewalk chalk. Crustless sandwiches and skinless apples and water-wings. Every park in the Portland-Metro area, the ever-present smell of sunscreen, the sound of Velcro sandals. Jeff's red shorts (ALWAYS red shorts), his uncanny ability to identify helicopters by their faint chopping through clouds, and Band-Aids. Long rides on the MAX train, children's museums and the zoo and Mike's afternoon pouting. Blanket forts, and bribes, and only one bloody incident with a plastic leaf blower wielded as a weapon. Irrational fights, dancing around the living room to "Honky Tonk Woman," a lot of tears (some theirs, some mine).
Rosy cheeks, bare feet on hardwood floors, firetrucks and Whoopee Cushions and lisps and exhaustion and little boy gales of laughter.
A Nordstrom summer:
I am always sore from standing in heels all day. I get really thin from sprinting around a store room looking for a hot pink boot with a 3" heel, or a nude sandal in an extra-wide size, or those stupid Keen sandals that were so popular that year. Every co-worker is a character. I get invited to birthday parties, to hear people DJ on the weekends. I meet Lindsay Bozanich. I spent most of my money in the department in which I work. I spend a lot of lunch hours on the phone with my boyfriend. I become intimate with the food court at the mall. I learn the art of the sale. I internalize a deep appreciation for, and expectation of, customer service. We make up a game in the stock room called "Secrets" that involves lookouts, a rubber-band ball the size of a grapefruit, a shoebox, and a point system. When I get home at night, I cannot speak to anyone and I zone out in front of the tv. I pray for the princess shift (11 AM to 7 PM - no opening duties, no closing duties). I drive down to Eugene on free days to see the boyfriend. When he goes home for a few weeks at the end of the summer, I fly to Minnesota and spend my birthday with him and his family. Thunderstorms, and a lake, and a state fair. A bucket of cookies, an ear of corn, an electricity in the sky and our hands.
A Moroccan summer:
It started as an academic excursion and then loomed on the horizon as an escape. There was a promised land in that distant place of exotic language and food and shapes, away from a hurt- far from the suffocating pain of betrayal. I ran away to a new family, to new friends, to a new ocean. I ate french fries with every meal and slept on a stiff wool couch with a new little sister. I got new hair by never washing it- it is glossier and wavier and screams about freedom and lightness. I learned new words, I spoke old languages, I read books on a beach. I drank green minty tea and ate honeydew for dessert and walked and walked and walked. I got a phone call about cancer, and I cried in an internet cafe. I forged new relationships, in person and connected via the internet, and along with that, formed a new hope for myself, for love, for the coming year back at school upon my return. I missed hot dogs, and the American flag, and domestic beer. The maze of the medina, the smell of saffron, the color of the sky. Paris, and champagne, and Montmartre, and Monet and Degas and croque monsieurs. Madrid and sangria and shopping and siestas and bullfights in the rain. Goya and Velazquez and Picasso and a cloying hangover when I land in Rome. Wandering, the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, pizza, so many little tile-floored hotel rooms with their white sheets, their complicated shower heads, their friendly men at the front desk.
Trains, and bottles of wine, and the coast of southern Italy, and me alone.
A Portland summer:
I live in an apartment in downtown Portland. I can walk to baseball games, to bars, to concerts. We have no air conditioning, but I know a guy with a pool. One unbearably hot stretch of days, he opens the pool all hours to everyone he knows, and we form a sort of refugee community, hiding out in his backyard, our legs dangling in the water while we sip Sessions and talk about film and swat at mosquitoes. I go on dates with grown ups, because I realize I am supposed to be one. I learn that I can cook. I get my first speeding ticket on the long golden drive to Eastern Oregon. I spend July 4th there in cut off jean shorts, tan and wild at the rodeo. I get the sense I am still running from something, but at least I am looking forward now in the running, and am not so much at risk of breaking my neck by looking over my shoulder the whole time. Our apartment is sleepover central - I love waking up on a Saturday morning with friends already there: it is like college, but, we have (some) money, now, and no homework. We learn happy hour menus by heart, we drive around the West Hills eating ice cream sandwiches and smoking menthols, singing loud. Concerts, and weddings, and reasons to celebrate that we are young, and we are learning to be adults, but don't need to really commit to that yet, so let's go out for one more beer. Let's wear rompers and red lipstick and listen to techno and eat Taco Bell and sit on the patio at this bar and meet boys and go to work with a hangover.
A New York summer:
There is no reason to wipe the sweat away - it's a permanent fixture and we're all in this, together. Go in hunt of the smell of freshly cut grass and only end up in one place: Central Park. Stare longingly up at the sky on the way to the subway in the morning, and walk the whole way home. Maxi skirts and very little makeup. The sacred spaces of the rooftop, the fire escape, the back patio. Desperate human need for flight on the weekends - to the Hamptons, to the shore, to a horizon of water. Fireworks in the same skyline as the Empire State Building. Yankees games, Mets games, buckets of Coronas on the Frying Pan- an old boat anchored off the West Side highway. Slow long walks around Prospect Park, and sticking to your seat everywhere you go for brunch. Rooftop parties, rooftop parties, rooftop parties. Tank tops and a hurricane party, and texts and that one perfume I bought in Brooklyn. The city smells like hot garbage. I eat frozen yogurt twice a day. I play softball on the Upper West Side in the crowded heat, in summer rain. This city of the ambitious and the grown turns into a playground.
...But today it is March. And I am in jeans and boots and a sweater and my nose runs and the wind bites and I think I have pneumonia. Sounds like last March. And the one before that.