Some nights get into me like fish hooks. Teeth marks left long into bleary-eyed mornings. Tiny scars to remind you that adventure starts with a simple decision.
“Are you coming with?”
And then suddenly I am flung into my favorite headspace: sitting in the back seat, music turned up so loud you physically can’t think about anything else, a quick glance and a shared smile.
Let’s talk freedom. Let’s talk summer. Let’s talk that rumble in the pit of your stomach, that happy growl when you bend the rules, that lustful humming of hubris. Let’s talk being as young as you’ll ever be again.
Nights like these are the ones I am always scared to write about. I can’t find a way to explain the feeling of youth. I can’t hold them long enough to examine them, to pick them apart. The memories don’t stay still. They wiggle and buck and skitter away into the dappled shadows of street lamps.
Your name melts into the folder of things I wish I remembered, but I can’t get the way your hands felt out of my head.
Until this year, I never spent a summer in Columbia. I fled, with the majority of my fellow students, to other adventures. Found home in cities far away from Missouri, from routine. But from May to July I found myself, college degree (metaphorically) in hand, dancing in summer rain and crying in my empty apartment. Alone, but not lonely (except when I was).
It was a happy, sleepy, sweaty, stormy existence. Half of it was the mundane pattern of food service closing shifts and finishing my research project. The other half was a fever dream of freedom, of clinging to friends and not acknowledging the countdown to saying goodbye.
Romanticizing the hell out of my life is something I do very well. I can take a stranger at a red light and spin them into a glowing golden lost love. Very basic human kindness sends me spiraling into a mess of metaphors. I am a sappy, ridiculous human being, all sadness considered.
But the months I spent in Columbia this summer practically wrote their own poems. When I was in the thick of it, it was too big to fit into 26 letters. I couldn’t open my eyes wide enough, couldn’t swallow enough sunshine, couldn’t hold enough rain in my hands.
I moved home and things slowed down to a quieter existence. I mostly drive my family to work, stress about finding a job and build my marketing portfolio. And, of course, write. Spare time presented itself to me shyly for the first time in ages, and I was excited to examine the life I had lived so decadently for two and a half months.
But every intention of dissecting my summer went out the window with a pain like a train leaving without me on it. I couldn’t look directly into the sun I was trying to write about. Nights blended together — was that the night those creepy guys were staring at us? Or was that the night we made dinner together? Before or after I closed my thumb in a car door?
I have tried and failed to convey how it felt to be there. The haze of vodka and beer, warm in the bellies full of cheap Mexican food and cheese pizza. Passing a cigarette around a circle of friends, unconcerned with sharing spit or lipstick smudges. A pile of humans and dogs in a too-hot living room, singing Action Bronson and Purity Ring and Frank Ocean.
It was art only recognizable firsthand that I am trying to drag back into my home. Records with songs we sang in the car, in your room, on the street. Candles that smell like rain and smoke, like your shirt, like too much Chinese food. A shadow-box of every 3 a.m. I’ve ever seen: wet grass, ticket stubs, streetlight, bug bites shoved into a frame.
What I did, objectively speaking, was very standard. I went to the same coffee shop nearly every day. I spent too much money on brunch for the sheer nostalgic value. I made a shaky, nervous, giggly effort to flirt. I stayed up late. I watched fireworks from parking lots.
It was, for all intents and purposes, a very standard summer, so why did my heart feel fit to burst with light? I tried to talk myself down, but the warm, syrupy magic of it all never washed off my fingertips.
A misfit band of heartstrings tangled across the radius of downtown. We ran down brick roads. We shared hash browns. We split vodka sodas. We danced with strangers in dark bars. We dragged our un-showered bodies to McDonald’s in time for breakfast. We stood on chairs. We said goodbye.
Friday night, I went out with new friends. We raced down a highway at 11:30 p.m., hungry for beer and loud music and people we’ve never seen before. Or at least, I was. I wanted to tap back into my summer dream state. Less checking Glassdoor for average salaries, more moving through crowded dance floors. Less anxiety-induced shaking, more kissing cute people.
My CoMo summer sits apart from the tail-end of summer I’ve been living at home in Austin. It is a brewing thunderstorm I can’t tear my eyes away from. A beautiful bruise I can’t stop poking.
Andrea Gibson wrote a poem called “I Sing the Body Electric, Especially When My Power Is Out.” I can’t remember if they read it when I saw them perform at MU, but I don’t think I would have got it.
I started asking the sun about the Big Bang
the sun said, “it hurts to become.”
I carried that hurt on the tip of my tongue
and whisper “bless your heart” every chance I get
so my family tree can be sure I have not left
you do not have to leave to arrive, I am learning this slowly
Facing truth head-on is much less terrifying when your bones have been warmed by the radiator that is your old heart.
So here are my summer truths: Summer ends because winter must begin, just as winter will end to make way for warmth once more. Noses must be pressed to grindstones in order to afford to buy the next round of shots. You can lose a pair of kind eyes in a crowd as easily as an earring back. Love aches in the best possible way. Long-distance friendships are just as painful as you thought they’d be.
Life can’t always always be a yellow-saturated dream about the madness of youth. It doesn’t have to be a constant grind either.
It’s okay to write 1,000 words about not being able to write down how you fell in love with the simple magic of being.
You can’t always channel heat lightning into your writing.
There is no way to nail a luna moth to your notebook.
Here’s a video + transcript of the Gibson poem. Get your tissues ready.