For the last several years, I have promised myself that I wouldn’t let another summer go by without doing “fun” things. “Summer things.” That sounds childish and vague, but I don’t know how else to put it. In my neighborhood, where no one talks to one another, I can hear the laughter and chatter of people gathering for barbecues and backyard doings and I think, “We should be doing that.”
Meaning my husband and me.
We should be hanging out on our enclosed deck with our new furniture that has largely gone unused as it’s been so hot here in the Chicago area — as it has been in so many places.
We should be grilling on the gas grill that also has gone unused for far too long, and sits, patiently waiting for one of us to literally “give it the gas,” along with a chicken breast (for me) and a steak (for my husband). Instead, it’s a rusting testament to our rusting existence. That’s what it feels like, anyway.
Wow. That was dark. But that’s how I get at this time of year when summer is relatively new and I still possess a semblance of hope.
I get weird.
The predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago where I grew up harbors a myriad of memories for me, some of which I embrace, and others, I do my damndest to close off. Yet, they still visit me on those early mornings when I can’t get back to sleep.
My parents drank a lot and fought a lot. Horribly. Viciously. But, when summer cast its siren spell, with it came a kind of respite from the ugliness.
We had a pool in our backyard. Not built-in, but an above-the-ground pool, and we reveled in that circular island of our own making. It was just deep enough so that we could splash around underwater and pretend that we were extras on Sea Hunt. Long summer days were whiled away in that pool in our yard, scented by the smell of fresh basil and tomatoes from my father’s beloved garden.
My mom and dad enjoyed the pool as much as my siblings and I, perhaps more, as it seemed to soothe them. I recall my dad, his fair skin lobster-red — which did not serve him well later — his belly protruding over his swim trunks as he floated on an inflatable raft, often with a cocktail in hand. And my mother, stunning in a slinky, one-piece bathing suit, stretched out on a chaise lounge, long legs tanned and lithe, face turned to the sun.
We were reckless back then. Skin cancer wasn’t a thing, you see, and singeing one’s epidermis to the color of burnt caramel was considered a sign of health and vitality. Not only did we tan, but we kicked the process up a notch by using reflectors. Everyone I knew made their own. We took an album cover (that’s right, albums!) covered it with aluminum foil, and held the thing — both sides open — under our chins to intensify the sun’s rays.
Damn, but we were clueless. Many of us are paying the price now with wrinkles the size of craters. Thankfully, I dodged that bullet by sheer luck and a shit ton of beauty products. But this story isn’t about wrinkles or skincare. It’s about summer and the feeling that, at least for me, life is hurtling by like a runaway train on a track to oblivion.
Where are the brakes? I want to stomp on those f##king brakes and stop this train before my number is up.
When my BFFs and I could no longer take the heat, we chased each other into the water, shrieking at the sudden chill on our hot, hot skin.
There was an ice cream cart on the beach, and every day we indulged in chocolate sundaes, so cool and sweet on the tongue and so ingrained in this particular memory that I can almost taste them now. I would take my time and savor every last drop without worrying about what it would do to my hips or my thighs or my ass as I’d burned off plenty of calories in the water. How freeing that was! Not like now, when gobbling up a sundae would hardly be worth the anxiety of what the scale might reveal the next morning.
How f##ked up is that?
Those lazy, languid days. The memories wash over me like the waters of Lake Michigan, which has become as foreign to me as the Thames. I’ve not been to the beach…any beach…in a long time. That is on me, I suppose. Often, I imagine what it must be like to live by the water. To look out a window and see a lake, a pond, or a stream. To watch its ebb and flow as the seasons change. To walk down to the water’s edge and just breathe.
Now, I am uncomfortable. Writing about these things makes me feel like a whiner, like I’m complaining about my “lot” in life. As if I’m unhappy that I live in a suburb of Chicago and not Sausalito or Martha’s Vineyard or Vancouver. I’m not. I’m merely immobilized by memory. That happens to me in the summertime. The season brings out a longing in me that I can’t seem to feed. And questions that I have no answers for.
Why am I sitting here writing this? I should be outdoors, my face turned to the sun, soaking up the sustenance I so badly need in this second half of my life.
Perhaps because some of you may relate to my obsession with time and its irrevocable passing. Everything’s moving too fast for me, like the asshole drivers here, on what once was a sleepy side street.
Remember when summer felt like it would never end? When we didn’t see Halloween crap in July like I just did in a nearby store? What is wrong with us?
Summer is a season for dreams, not for Jack-O-Lanterns and scary masks. It’s a time for shorts and T-shirts, morning coffee with the birds, long walks at dusk, making love on cool, crisp sheets, ice cream sundaes that taste like the best thing ever…and daily dips in a backyard pool.
Summer is a time for fun. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll scare some up.