An Ode to Summers Past and Summers Future
September 12, 2020 / Karen Xie
Swatch the shades of childhood, adolescence, and pandemic-adulthood. Hold them up to the midsummer sun, and revel in their roundabout ways. This year, we’ve seen both return and revolution — how? Why? And what’s next?
Summer ’09 was green and sticky sweet. The hot haze of a sprawling summer in the south promised days spent indoors — refuge from calamitous reality. It was simple and darling, I smiled with my teeth, and for years to come, that’s all I would need. See, a step outside meant clammy brows and icky trails down the backs of my knees, and besides, there was much to do. Tea shops to run, paper planes to fly, imaginary worlds to shape — very official business. At 9, I attend to home most diligently, and I am happy.
Summer ’19 was a different color. Growing up means wild lights and chasing time and go go go. It means there are people to see and places to be, and I laugh with my eyes shut tightly. The air conditioning of my car is an icy-cool blast, so I can be there in 10 — southern heat be damned. Orange Theory at 11 and lunch with Chloe right after. Poolside function tomorrow, so I won’t be home for dinner, Mom. Late-night drives are lullabies for the sleepless souls, so hop in. At 19, I hold sweet summer in a jar, and I crave fulfillment.
Summer Now is void of hue. It has transcended space, transcended time; its palette is from no dimension we can recall. Early March, a pandemic arrived at our front door, and calamity was suddenly knocking, banging, busting its way in. So we hunted for refuge again, many of us returning to that first house of darling dreams. Within days, we were scattered to our respective corners of the world, and the stillness was shocking.
Isolation is louder than they let on. Its cry reverberated across knotted networks and channels in plaintive pleas for help, affection, and company. At home, we bottle ample time, then choke on solitude.
I feel as if I’ve aged to an unknown number this year, caught between childish fantasies and the very grown-up burdens of disaster, disappointment, and dread. Yes, I am somewhere between one and 100, positioned between sanctuary and prison. Yet, somehow, I found a pocket for myself within that unphysical gap. Many of us did, I think.
It came in the form of that first oven-timer-beep heard around the world. It was banana bread in kitchens and guitar players picking. It was tie-dying and card-making, flower-pressing and harp-building. My sister and I dusted off the roll-down-gate of Megan’s Magical Tea Shop, and at ages 16 and 20, we were back in business. Tonight, we’ll be home for dinner, Mom.
This summer was a slow rebuilding of the hearth, a returning of brittle ember to flame. Many of us reverted to household comforts like crafting or reading because it felt homely, grounded us in contented memory. For a pocket of bottled time, we found a greener space to enjoy the simplest of things. Maybe it grew old quickly, but I think we were better for it. Stripped to nothing but coverall and hope, we rediscovered individual truth — call it a reset, a recharge, a revival of battered spirits. What’s more, the whole world seemed to be in on this same little secret. In our respective corners, we split fitful emptiness and filled it with community.
Suddenly, war began raging outside of our windows, and together we found the will to leave. The stifling southern heat becomes bearable when you’re confronting a fate worse than sweaty feet. There are many more valid reasons to feel as though you can’t breathe. So we released bottled time and chased it with solitude — they had no place on streets littered with the names of the deceased. This summer, we marched and we sang and we blazed with eyes wide open. I mark these months with intentionality.
Summer Now may have been void of any hue we were familiar with, but remember? We had long forgone the shaping of imaginary worlds in favor of forgetting our own — late-night drives instead of paper plane flights. These past few months, we’ve remembered what it is to be visionaries, and what a gorgeous color! I recall shades of childhood green, but I dream of vivid sunrise.
Our summer was spent at home, but for a fraction of frozen time, we were content with making ourselves content. Then, we worked to do the same for others. Look, my jars are empty, but summer roams free.
I think we are on the way to peace. ■
This article was written as a part of Spark Writing’s first annual summer workshop series, Words With Friends: A Spark Writer’s Summer!
Graphic By: Jennifer Jimenez
Graphic By: Jennifer Jimenez