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  • Writer's pictureebeth206

Summer's Always Over Before It Began

This is how I feel about summer.

I get dressed for it. I show up for it. But I don't love heat. I don't love sand. I don't love the breathless sprint to cram all the fun into two slender months. I don't love the fact that as soon as you settle into the pace, it's done.

When I was a kid, I spent my molten-slow summers reading in the hammock and counting down the days until school began again, because that was where I lived. Occasionally, I experience a pang of overwhelming fondness for the season that can't be rooted in nostalgia, at least not mine, but it tastes the same, salt on watermelon, intensifying the sweetness. Last week the feeling hit me as I was driving Reed and his friend to basketball camp, listening with one ear to their sports chatter, and I saw a skinny shirtless boy running in knee-high sweatsocks on the sidewalk alongside the road, and something about those seventies socks, along with the slant of the morning light and the car's open sunroof and the green of the grass hemming him in, shifted me abruptly from one key to another in a way that I'm sure the neuroscientists have dressed and demystified in crisp white coats but I can grasp only in barely sensed metaphor. My brain gets my childhood all mixed up with my kid's, the two intertwined or perhaps superimposed--the way sometimes, when he was little, I'd slip a gear and feel like I had cleaned my own ears just because I'd Q-tipped his.

7-Eleven just didn't offer blue slurpees back then.

I was working on an entry last week, after we got home from Florida, and Wix ate it, which I always ascribe to a lesser angel, because you might as well. In any case, Florida was heavenly, not because I have any particular fondness for the state but because this:

Props to the Nikon's ten-second timer.

My brother and his family met us down there, and we spent the week together. We went to visit Mom every day. It was the first time we've gotten to see one another, and the first time I've seen Mom, since Dad died and covid. It was also the first time Sean and Reed and I have traveled. The first vacation. I didn't take many photos and I didn't write a word. I just absorbed it all.

I also absorbed several of my brother's Bloody Marys, Best in All the Land, on the day that we designated as Dad Remembrance Day and sort of accidentally-on-purpose spent cleaning out Mom's walk-in closet.

A couple of decades ago Mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In retrospect, I don't think it was an accurate diagnosis, for reasons both lab-coated and musical. But there was something not right. And now there's dementia. And there were all of these aspirational clothes and cleverly packed little travel kits. Goodwill was pleased to receive them.

And dementia be damned, because Glen can still make Mom laugh her ass off.

Ever thoughtful, Lisa brought Mom a key lime pie for belated-birthday celebrating, and Erika (of whom I am inordinately proud in that fine tradition of auntliness established by Aunt Pat) brought the effortlessly lively conversation.

I brought Sean and Reed.

When we got back home, one of the first things I did, after unpacking, was to clean out my own closet. I am admittedly covetous, and I don't travel light. Some of my weaknesses: books, small paper/leather goods and writing implements, bags, jewelry. It's like Stevie building a nest: she tugs at a frond of my fern, and a bit of yellow paper, and she's positively stoked to find a paper clip on the floor. Whatever she wants, she needs it RIGHT THEN, and nothing else will do. And then she sits on that nest, it's her home and her heartbeat, her source and her stay.

I tried on every single piece of clothing in my closet and kept less than half. What Not to Wear, indeed. And then I went the next day to Francine's in the village and asked her for help, and she clicked through hangers on the rack and pulled out white pants and a tangerine tank, a flowy pink top not shy on the bling. No way, she could see on my face, so "Trust me," she said, and I did, in part because I don't trust myself, or rather, because I do, to buy shirts that would look better as drapes.

I once thought the question was what did I learn instead of how to be a girl--but when I look back, I see that I understood exactly how to be a girl, and I did it way past the point where it was cute. The real question is this: what did I learn instead of an abiding belief in myself.

I spent too many years being angry with my mother for what I thought was a lack of love. But she was wholly invested in family. We were her job, her world, to an oppressive degree, not just of us but of her. She had an overabundance of (nervous) energy and a tenacious commitment to whatever she tackled or tended; "good enough" wasn't.

All my appetites ran higher and faster than Mom thought they should, so she corralled and criticized and chided. She gave Dad a report on my behavior at the end of the day: "She was an angel" if I followed the rules, a recitation of misbehavior if I didn't. So I got really good at being good. How can I help. What do you need me to do. Did I do it right. Whom do you want me to be. And then underneath, a full kettle of bust-out.

One of the reasons I haven't written a lot lately is because--as the perplexed lady in the bagel store said when I ordered "one of those flat bagel thingies" because I wasn't sure "flagel" was a universal term--I think a lot. And I'm not done yet. But in process is okay, so I'll post it.

Because life is more than overlays, and summer is more than heat and sand.


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