Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It was 20 years ago today

I've been thinking about summer, and August, and when it was that they began to feel such a chore. It certainly wasn't always the case.

Summers were great when I was a kid. Somehow we managed to live through the heat without central air. We rode around--took long trips even--in cars for which "air-conditioning" meant rolling the windows down as far as they would go. We played OUTSIDE and never worried about heat exhaustion. We had a small creek running through our front yard, and spent countless hours catching crawdads and minnows and splashing about. We spent long weeks camping at the lake, or swimming in the river and plentiful icy-cold creeks. The only drawback to August was the countdown to the start of school. Other than that, it was all good.

Somewhere along the line, things changed. And I know when the change started. 20 years ago. Oh, maybe not exactly 20 years ago today, but pretty darn close...that was the tail-end of my last truly carefree summer.

My last summer in Tahlequah.

My last summer working outdoor theatre.

My last summer not followed by a return to school.

The last time I dated someone who really, truly thought I was perfect. And I ended up dumping him. Sigh. Okay, that doesn't really have anything to do with summer, per se, but the two things are inextricably linked in my mind, since I met the guy in question at the outdoor theatre in question, and he was the impetus for my leaving my hometown and, however briefly, my home state.

Yes, I shook the dust of Oklahoma off my heels, and headed off to Texas with my true love (or so I thought.) We were going to stay in Texas until he finished his degree--he was a bit younger than me--and then we'd head off to New York. That was the plan. Didn't work out quite so neatly, of course.

I hated the small town in which his university was located. People would find out I was from Oklahoma and immediately start the mocking. Really...what's that about? I know all Texans aren't like that, but there were an inordinate amount of them at that school for whom making disparaging comments about "Okies" was apparently the most fun they could possibly have. I don't get that. You don't have to like us, of course...but shut up about it while I'm a guest in your house, for heaven's sake. So there was that.

I couldn't find a job, anywhere, doing anything, and soon we were absolutely broke. I even stood in line for a couple of hours to apply at Wal-Mart. "Have you ever worked a cash register?" Yes. "But have you ever worked a scanning register?" Well no, but don't you just swipe it past the scanner? Seems pretty easy. That was the wrong answer, by the way. Apparently the person conducting the interview had a bit of trouble learning that newfangled scanner technology, and did not care for my cavalier attitude regarding same. So there was that.

It wasn't all bad, of course. He had some lovely friends, one of whom "hired" me to help her sew costumes for the local Renaissance Faire. Those evenings spent in the costume shop with her, sewing and surging shapeless pants were actually quite fun. My 25th birthday came along shortly after we moved, and some of his friends insisted on planning an elaborate surprise party for me. Very sweet of them.

But mostly it was bad. I was STRESSED, and consequently I was a bitch. He didn't care. I was still perfect in his eyes. But he was increasingly imperfect in mine. He was brilliant--he took honors physics classes just for fun--but he didn't have a lick of common sense. He was always losing the car keys. He couldn't make himself a sandwich. It began to wear on me. After about three months, our money ran out. We couldn't make another rent payment. My car had developed a major oil leak. My kitten was sick one day, and I hated that I couldn't take him to the vet. (He was okay the next day, thank God.) We didn't even have a phone. I sucked it up, called my parents, and asked them to come rescue me. He pleaded with me to stay--we could crash with friends, we could live in the car. (He had done these things many times before.) It wouldn't matter as long as we had each other. But you know what? Love is NOT enough. Not for me. I'm not overly materialistic, but I by God need a roof over my head and a steady source of food. So home I went. (We didn't actually end things then, though. That came later, over Christmas break. A story for another time.)

So back to Oklahoma--but now to Tulsa, where my BFF was living. He had pleaded with me to come, and promised to let me live with him and his roommate until I could afford my own place, and to help me get a job. Done and done. I had two decent part-time jobs with a week, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But summer's never been the same. Oh, I've taken some great summer vacations, through the years. But 10 days in California, or a week in Chicago or New York, no matter how fun, isn't A SUMMER. You come back to a piled-up desk, and all the tasks they've been saving just for you. And air-conditioned houses and cars and work places seem like essentials now--how could I possibly live through August without them?--but I do sometimes think back to those last few pre-"real life" summers and wish I could have a summer like that again, A/C or no.

Maybe I will, some day. I've often thought if I ever find myself between jobs at just the right time, and can afford it, I'd love to spend one summer doing outdoor theatre again. (Of course the heat would probably kill me now. I'm 20 years older, you know!) I had a friend (my "celibate lesbian" friend, actually) who had a "zoo summer" between her last real job in Oklahoma, and her moving back home to Illinois. She worked for minimum wage at the zoo, and she had a blast. She said everyone should have a "zoo summer" at least once in their life. I think she's right.

It's the closest most of us (unless perhaps you're a teacher) can come to those childhood summers of long, lazy days that stretched on forever, of pitchers of lemonade, of catching crawdads during the day and lightning bugs at twilight, of walking to the town library and lugging back armfuls of books to be read at your leisure (and not merely sandwiched a few pages at a time into your work week).

When the only thing wrong with August was that it just wasn't long enough. Wishing for MORE August--it boggles my now 40-something mind.


Stinkypaw said...

Nice post - I miss those summers as well even if some people might think that because I work from home I do enjoy more time off then others.

Unlike 20 years ago, we now have "responsibilities" (read debts) and can't really afford to take a month off, so we made do with weeks off... I guess we adapted to that like we did to the A/C...

stefanie said...

As you know, I am thinking a lot about lost love this week too. :-( It is indeed a time for August malaise.

A zoo summer sounds like lots of fun. But I'd rather have a beach summer instead.

Noelle said...

I used to go to summer camp every year, and get home around this time. It's funny, the noises and the smells of late August take me right back to that month between camp and school. What I wouldn't give to have a whole summer off again...

lizgwiz said...

stinkypaw, you are so right about the "responsibilities." Someone should tell you when you're longing to be "grown up" what all that entails. Sigh.

stef, a beach summer would do. I think any short term summer job with limited responsibilities could be considered a "zoo summer."

noelle, a whole summer off WOULD be lovely. I refuse to become a teacher just for the holidays, though, and I can't think of another way to accomplish that. Well, maybe moving to Europe. Hmm...

Paisley said...

I never had summers like that. I've lived in AZ since I was 9 and it's so freaking hot here that we don't really have anywhere to play outside or anywhere to just go and hang with friends and create those types of memories. I envy those of you with those fun, carefree, summers.

Well, I guess I DO have my own type of memories. But you know. Now it's all different that is for sure.