Something about summer has lost a bit of its magic for me. I don't know if it was the summer that I graduated from college, and was suddenly, jarringly thrown into the Real World, or if was something that had been sneaking up on me for years before that.
Summer vacation doesn't exist for me anymore.
It makes me both sad and, admittedly, a little bitter, to lose that sense of freedom. My reward for making it through all those years of school is that I now get to work year-round, sluggishly carrying on with my routine, day in, day out. The only difference summer makes is that it becomes a bit hotter and a lot more humid.
Who can blame me for being a bit nostalgic, then? When I think back on carefree months of playing softball and mainlining soda, working a few shifts at a cash register every week, and that glorious feeling of sitting around and doing absolutely nothing... it makes me envious of my former self.
Softball, one of my main summer pastimes, was something that became such a part of my existence that I can hardly separate myself from it. When we were young, it meant practicing at the small complex up by the old school building that was never used anymore. Traveling to other towns, memorizing faces that we'd eventually pair with names, that were unspoken acquaintances simply by the fact that we knew who they were because we saw them so often. There was the excitement over the novelty treats at the various concession stands. In high school, we had games nearly every single day. It meant that my sister and I got to spend our days sleeping in and watching movies in our dim, air-conditioned living room, then suiting up in our jerseys and knee-high socks, heading out into the heat of the afternoon to either head to our high school diamond or pile into a yellow school bus to visit one of the other area schools.
Summer also meant swimming at the local pool, though less and less often as we got older. The cold, blue water, the smell of chlorine. There's a very specific olfactory memory that's buried in the back of my mind that's a mixture of sunshine and chlorine. It's the smell of summer.
Ice cream and staying up late. My dad behind the grill on Fridays. Hamburgers were (and still are) his specialty. Fresh Iowa sweetcorn, eaten directly off the cob, except for those three miserable years when I had braces and it was a no-no. The summers before we were old enough to drive or have jobs, we'd ride around our small town on our bikes, collecting discarded soda cans. We couldn't have cared less about saving our environment from litter; our primary goal was to cash them in for their deposit (five cents a can in Iowa!) and use the money to buy Doritos, Mountain Dew, and Little Debbies. We were self-sufficient in our junk food addictions, though every once in a while we could sweet talk our parents into a couple dollars to head to the gas station to buy a soda.
Lying in the grass in our backyard, staring up at the clouds and picturing what the rest of the world was like. Daydreaming about becoming someone important or famous. The smell of fresh cut grass, the smell of someone else firing up the grill down the block. Lightning bugs and the faraway sound of crickets chirping as dusk settled in. Bare feet, bare legs, bare arms.
The feeling as fall started inching its way back, the reluctance to admit boredom with the endless days of freedom, excited to head back to school. When we were younger, there was nothing quite as exciting as finding out who our teachers were going to be and who was going to be in our class. I can even still remember the distinct smell of the school when we started back up – it smelled different than it did the rest of the year. I can't quite put my finger on what it was, but that smell always triggered a feeling of excitement, because it meant something new was coming.
Maybe that's one reason summer has lost its shine – there's nothing new waiting on the other end. There's no break from the routine, no measurable new beginning on the other side. It's like you've stopped growing, stopped advancing. You measure your life in years rather than in months. The days still blur together, but in a completely different way. You've become the adult that you used to pity, stuck in an office all day, having lost the freedom to do nothing but lie in the sun all afternoon or spontaneously head to the movie theater or aimlessly cruise around town on a bicycle. There's a 9 to 5 and desks and phone calls and emails and if you're lucky, a hint of sunshine through the window. It's not the same.
Still, it's not all bad, now. I may not have the same luxuries I had when I was young, but there's something to be said for sitting on a patio drinking margaritas and exchanging life stories with my friends. I can still eat sweet corn, I can still smell the smells of fresh cut lawns and burgers on the grill. I can still lie in the grass and stare up at the clouds and daydream. I coach softball now, though it's not quite the same as playing (and the adult slowpitch league I play in is also not quite the same, either, but it's something). It's not all gone... it's just different. And different is okay.
Though it would still be nice to have three months off every year. ;)