Summer, I Think I Heard Someone Calling You

canstockphoto6646539People scatter across the lawn, some sitting at tables under canopies, others wandering from group to group, all of us just a little older and fatter than the last time we were together. Conversations are echoes of conversations we’ve had before at some wedding or funeral or anniversary party. Children are now gangly teenagers, one of whom has graduated high school. That woman’s braying laugh, an unappetizer at every occasion, carries across to where I sit. I have four more of these large scale occasions this summer.

I find a chair near my family and hunker down for the duration. Since going vegan, I am unable to stuff down my rising anxiety with fluffy whip cream salads or bars loaded with two kinds of chocolate and butter that leaves grease stains on napkins. There’s beer at this party and I remember fondly the early days when I could wander about similar functions in a fuzzy, friendly haze. But I am driving and I love the people who are my passengers. And there would be no end to the drinking once I started.

Several days this week, I bathed with strangers in my underwear, or as normals like to call it, swimming at the public pool. I do it so that my daughter is not me, that she has a chance at living a normal life. I see hints of me in her and it feels like fear and pride all at once. She meets her friends there and I hang about at the shaded edges of the pool, not completely ready to let go. The heat leaves me breathing shallow and unwilling to move.

canstockphoto6872297The pool reminds me of growing up, the breastless days of trying desperately not to smack into people while swimming. It becomes a whole different experience when you need glasses. I swim over to a group of friends, bobbing there stupidly, once I realize that I didn’t know any of them. My actual friends fill out swimsuits in ways that always have one boy or another splashing them in a mating ritual. As the late-blooming sidekick, I get splashed as well and sometimes imagine it was intended for me.

The spinach in the garden went to seed this year while I wasn’t looking. The heat is starting to hit its stride and I hear the whispers of autumn in my ear. Just die already. July is too soon for those feelings. I know I must dig back in, water things, weed, try to look like a gardener who hasn’t gone to seed.

Soccer season has finally ended, except for the insistence that we have an end-of-season picnic. The last game was delayed, because our team’s home field was littered with fireworks and garbage. The other team refused to use the field. We spread out and groomed the field, picking up old sparklers and bits of glass. They played because a forfeit would mean they’d lose the #1 ranking in the league. We watch them unfold their players’ bench. Our kids squat on the ground, pretending to listen to the coach’s urgent whispers. You can hear a collective sigh from the parents. It’s going to be a long hour.

In the summer, I am rarely alone. It’s a dangerous time for me. My hostility and inner turmoil grow exponentially with each degree Fahrenheit. Eventually, I turn an accusatory eye towards myself. Why can’t I just relax? Why can’t I just agree? Why can’t I be okay wherever I’m at? I am, in so many ways, my mother’s daughter, my grandmother’s granddaughter. But I’m a lightweight version.

My social anxiety is not the rising tension of just being there. My anxiety is that at some point I’m not going to want to try. That someone will attempt to hug me and I will shriek at them “get the f*** off me!”. I will be listening to someone’s tale about their cabin or their kid’s college plans and just simply walk away because I am bored. Social conventions, like manners, are needed. There’s too many of us not to be polite or show an interest in one another. I am not special. I do not get a pass because I find it all tedious. I just wish it wouldn’t get harder, but it has. I am sometimes afraid of myself.

After the twentieth well-meaning hug from one of my husband’s cousins, the I know you don’t like hugs but I’m going to hug you anyway ritual is starting to wear on me. I joke wryly, trying to push down my revulsion at the cocktail of perfumes now clinging to me. “You people never learn”. Jovial laughs all around. My husband said there will be an asterisk by my name in the family history.

canstockphoto25034608I am getting weirder as each year passes. I would not know this except for the expressions on other people’s faces. For each step I take away from them, I step closer to my wild self. But my wild self is not a willing, kind creature. It’s a little bit mad. I know that I live in a world not well-suited for my version of quiet madness. Long periods of solitude marked by one-on-one conversation, connections that feel grounded in truth. I do not want to be fixed or transformed or cured. I just want to exist, like a surprising, unkempt garden you stumble upon. And when you come, we will talk, until you know it’s time to leave.

Take a hint, summer.

33 Comments on “Summer, I Think I Heard Someone Calling You

    • Huggers, or as I’ve come to think of them, Personal Space Invaders, can’t seem to imagine anyone else not wanting it. The final straw came when someone said to my daughter “Aw, come here, I’ll hug you”, as if I never hugged the poor child, which I do all the time. I said, “Oh, I like to hug HER.”(subtext: You’re an asshole).
      I’m going to assume that you can take a hint, Dave.

      Liked by 3 people

        • I figured that. I am humorless when it comes to hugs. Although it was funny backing away as each relative tried to lay one on me. I could pretend I was luring them towards a trapdoor or an eject catapult. Because really, I’m likely the asshole.

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      • My brother’s ex-mother-in-law – in other words, someone with whom I had NO direct relation at all – is a billowing, sweaty Greek woman who hugs. (Well, actually I billow more than she does, and for all I know sweat more too, but – and here is the key difference – I don’t attempt to share it.) For years, at every family function I’d go from alert to HIGH alert until she arrived, and then I’d duck behind a couch and sort of wiggle my fingers at her and do the “how ARE yous?” while we did this sort of dance around the room – me ducking behind succeeding items of furniture while she stalked me.

        It probably looked quite funny to anyone with the wit to observe.

        Eventually she figured it out … and I think her feelings were hurt. She’s a kind woman, really, and I felt bad about that. But not enough to hug her.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I try not to hurt people’s feelings and am usually direct. I tell them that I don’t really like hugging. The irony being that they are not as considerate, by respecting my wishes. I wrote a whole post on how I feel about hugging, so I won’t repeat it all here, but I feel fairly reasonable in my position. It is always amazing to me when people decide that I “need a hug” when really, it’s all about them.
          Thanks for sharing your story. It reminds me of the frequent dances I’ve done to avoid hugs and/or pictures.

          Liked by 1 person

        • You know … if you (not you, obviously, but whoever) thinks someone “needs a hug”, you make a sympathetic face, open your arms, and say, “Need a hug?” But you DO NOT MOVE IN AND GRAB until the huggee says yes. How hard is it? I don’t like having hugs forced upon me, but sometimes they ARE comforting – from the right person, at the right time, when nobody is sweaty. But, you know … sometimes I need to get laid … That doesn’t mean I want to be flung down and ravished by the first person to happen by!

          I looked at the video link about the teen who hugged his teacher (on your previous post) … and really, I think a year’s suspension was harsh. I don’t mean to say his behavior was okay – it is NOT okay to barge into someone’s space without warning and wrap your arms around them. Even if the teacher hadn’t previously warned him not to, her body language from the first moment he touched her, before he even closed in on the hug, was a loud, clear no. Kids need to learn to read and respect body language! But on the other hand, sounds like this is a kid who has received very different training at home, and to threaten his entire school career because of his mother’s foolishness seems a pity.

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  1. That’s awful they still persist even though they’re fully aware you don’t want them to. I also can’t wait for summer to go. I prefer the Spring and the Fall myself, when the temperatures are milder and there isn’t so much focus on crowded pools and beaches.

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    • What’s unfortunate is that they’ve made a joke of it, so now not only do I have to constantly disentangle myself, but I get mocked for my preference. They’re genuinely nice people who just seem oblivious to the idea of personal space.

      I am with you on the milder temperatures. Spring brings energy and productivity and Fall makes me deliriously happy. I don’t even mind the winter for a few months. Summer seems to combine all sorts of activities I loathe into one season, but the socializing is the toughest bit for me. The temps are a close second. I think I need to move farther north. I moved from Iowa to Minnesota. The next stop is Canada. And nobody has ever hugged me in Canada.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So if you’re like me, Fall is the good month. I’ve started looking forward to that already, which feels wrong in many ways. But mentioned it to my friend yesterday, with everything so dried up and dying here already, I could imagine twinges of fall – and all the brooding and good/weird feelings that come with that, honestly can’t wait. How about a hug? Let me lean in there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fall is my favorite season – it’s when melancholy feels comforting and rich, after all the overheated activity of summer.
      Keep on leaning, friend. I’ll be over there watching the birds and waiting until you settle down a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Carrying a large carving knife in your hand is an excellent way to discourage hugs.
    I’m not a big fan of large get togethers, seems more forced than voluntary most of the time.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I don’t like large occasions either or hugging strangers. The latter feels just weird and dishonest, and luckily I’m spared of the former. Here in FL we say we’re punished in the summer for the nice weather we have for the rest of the year…so I hope summer takes your hint.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I negotiate with myself on events. Some things, my husband and daughter go to on their own. I try to hit a few high profile occasions – where I see most of my husband’s family at one event and then skip smaller ones. I won’t go on about the hugging since I’ve written on this blog before about how much I don’t like it.
      As for weather, it is a social requirement in Minnesota to complain about the weather, no matter the time of year. It is a state of extremes, though, with tiny blips of spring and fall in between. While I like each season for its unique changes in nature, winter and summer seem to overstay their welcomes!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think that you’ve captured many peoples experiences….I often think that the hug is offered as a gift when in actual fact its a request for something. The hugger needs the hug!

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    • I think you are right about the hugger putting their needs over that of the recipient’s. I’ve mentioned this post in the above comments, but I’ll mention it again since hugging seems to be an issue with a lot of people. I have a bevy of reasons for not liking hugging, which I wrote about in “Boundaries and the Huggy Sunshine People”. I don’t remember this being an issue growing up, so I suppose it varies from family culture to geographic to social areas.

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  6. “Long periods of solitude marked by one-on-one conversation, connections that feel grounded in truth.” This! I can’t say I hate the big gatherings but I make no effort, and find that people come to me in an organic way and conversation flows. Or not. In which case I make the bathroom excuse.
    But summer! Oh no. Some of our travel is designed to make summer last as long as possible.
    Beautifully expressed as usual. You are such a good writer.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your reference to traveling made me think about how large gatherings on the magnitude that we experience today, would not have been the norm before all the types of transportation were developed. I would have done very well in the days when one had to wait for the Pony Express to pick up letters and extended families and friends wouldn’t see each other in person for years. And even then, they would only hug in heartfelt joy and not as a matter of greeting.
      I hope that you continue to find summer as you travel. I’ll send you some of ours!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Michelle,

    Your piece is as beautifully written as ever.

    I come from this part of Canada where you kiss your friends on each cheek when you meet and leave. We don’t hug, but kiss. The important word here is “friend”. Not acquaintance. Friends. The others, you shake hands. Well, at least, that was my understanding. Like you, preferring my own personal space rather on the large size, I tend to shake hands a lot. Being a friend is not something I grant easily. So, imagine this picture. A tall and large woman extending a hand (with the long arm extended also) and the protogonist pulling the hand to an embrace so she can kiss the tower. Pisa personified!

    And don’t rush to Canada. 34C (92F) yesterday. Too many BBQs!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words on the writing and for sharing your experience of the hugging issue. Hugs feel like an intimate act to me, but also the sensory issues make it an unpleasant experience – all those various perfumes, hair sprays, etc. stay with me long after the hugger has left.

      It seems like hugs, as a standard form of greeting, is a relatively new practice. I don’t remember a lot of that growing up – usually adults shook hands while children nodded “hey” at each other. I suppose much depends on the family and culture.

      Yikes, Canada was even hotter than Minnesota – talk about messing with our common knowledge (north = colder)!

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  8. Hot, sticky Minnesota summers are a gift. They make you yearn for autumn.

    As for gatherings, the social life rises and falls in the shape of a wave. Lucky for me, I have slid down into the trough of a certain age where I am required to attend little. I spend my days writing, walking Scooter and puttering about the farm. It is the thing in life I always hoped I would have – and that it would be as I had hoped.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The gift has been received. I’m ready to move on to the appreciation of fall portion of the program.

      Part of me recognizes that a day will come without invitations and obligations. It’s one of the reasons that many seniors begin to feel irrelevant and some, depressed. My nature dictates that it will be a sigh of relief. Your life sounds lovely.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You feel about summer the way I feel about winter. It is like a guest who has overstayed his or her welcome–in the first few hours of arrival.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. If it makes any difference, you don’t suffer alone. The joke about my reluctance to participate in the ritual and meaningless relative hug is so tediously boring yet continues to bring smiles to the others. It does get harder with time. And just for the record, I’ve been wishing for this wretched heat wave to turn into fall for about two weeks already. Please!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure what pleasure others gain by running roughshod over personal preferences and mocking people on top of it, but it must do something for them. Needless to say, I feel like I am going to have to be more brusque during these events, because they’re not getting the message.

      I feel like I was able to deal with heat better when I was younger, but these days, anything above 75F/24C seems too hot.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I have a love/hate relationship with summer. I NEED it to pull me out of the winter SAD form of my bipolar disorder, but my schedule and routine get so disrupted the benefits get gobbled up. I have a lot of friends who are teachers, and they seem to think since they have the summer off, I should be able to accommodate their flexibility. I’m sorry. You can’t make up for 9 months of neglect with a flurry of social stampeding that makes me hide in my closet.
    Sorry. Got off on a rant there.
    Oh. And they’re huggers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the changes of seasons to shake off the long effects of winter, but as you say, it becomes a season of diminishing returns due to the uneven schedule. Summer means something entirely different when there’s a kid involved. My chaperone/chauffeur duties seem to rule the day.

      This post was a bit of my rant – there’s so much more where that came from! There’s narcissistic brides and social conventions used to maximize gift receiving, picnics planned as far away from restrooms and running water as possible….oh, I better not get started.

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