Growing up, June was endless pool days, playing Marco Polo, Fish Out of Water, Colors. Swimming, splashing, screaming, squealing glee with breaks for popsicles and sun-brewed mint tea. It was Dad grilling, what seemed like every evening—still bright and burning out at seven o’clock. We stepped straight out of the pool and plopped into mesh chairs around the patio table, folding our towels into cushions and letting our bodies air dry. It was the month of birthdays—both me and my mom—and Father’s Day, too—that much more reason to grill hamburgers and slice up Carvel ice cream cake or Marie Calendar’s strawberry pie oozing with red gel that glommed the berries in a giant heap.
June was sun-bleached, chlorine-crisped hair and tan skin, beauty so natural and pure, as a kid, you don’t even register it yet, and the only thing to obsess over is winning the breath-holding contest at the bottom of the deep end. No need for clothes, maybe a single pair of jean shorts and a tank top, because we lived in our swimsuits. Flip flops for every occasion. Days long and delightfully pointless, with two more months to procrastinate on summer reading.
June. June. June. Warm. Sweet. Seemingly eternal when inside it. A string of celebrations and staying up late. Bare feet on chill, uneven tile. Gummy air from the Evap Cooler. Family-size bags of classic potato chips at the ready. Rainbow sherbet. Movie nights.
As I grew up, summers lost their irreverent zest. Sure, the teenage years boasted late nights gabbing with my bestie in the dewy grass of suburban parks, gazing across gentle slopes equipped with powerful, pivoting sprinklers that cast arches of hard water that soaked the green after relentlessly sunny days. We were still resilient then, with cares that instantly become trivial once adulthood sets in. For what now seems like a split second, summer was all about part-time jobs & loves & the freedom of being young, naïve and eager for everything and nothing all at once.
When things got dark and heavy in my twenties, saturated with alcohol and bad influences, the hopeful glint of hot, late nights vanished. There wasn’t much time for reverie between making a wage and getting wasted, always some devastation-threatening drama clinging to me like a cloud fitting to burst. I existed in air-conditioned spaces spliced with blaring hot bursts on the way to or from my Camry—head down as I shuffled from apartment to car to work to bar to apartment—never outside long enough to sponge the heat or relish an uncharacteristically cool evening, droning through life, numb. I didn’t have birthday parties or celebrate at all anymore.
And when I scrapped together just enough mojo to turn things around, I flung myself into trying to make it, attempting to recoup eight years of blur. I was too busy “building a brand” to live a life, let alone take note of my surroundings, the time of year, to pause for breath. I produced until I couldn’t anymore, and everything stopped.
I floated, awash in grief, heartbreak, low self-esteem and disillusionment. Long long long gone were the days of rainbow sherbet. Body shame looming too large to ever don a swimsuit. Birthdays became a comparison trap, one more marker to measure myself up against—failing.
For the past five, six, seven (?) years, summer has been dreaded heat. Languishing inside, drained. Or sweating out half my body weight while being trailed by a cluster of mosquitos as I relentlessly tend my garden to save my precious plants from sun-limp, or worse, shrivel. Last year, I knew I couldn’t withstand the emotional dip triggered by temps as high as 117. I didn’t want the once-adored June to be one more massive disappointment. I didn’t want to be exhausted for the six months that comprise Tucson summer. I didn’t want to spend one more birthday recalling all the ways I wasn’t enough.
After reading a book called The Emotional Calendar, I understood why summers, and June especially, had become such a drag. How could anything live up to endless pool days, free time galore and celebrations that didn’t cost me a penny? I wasn’t in elyse’s eight-year-old body anymore. My adult Self wilted under the heat, as did my plants. Not only had I been deeply craving the wonder of summer that my childhood possessed, I had been comparing every season since to an experience that was never meant to last forever.
For a million reasons, it wasn’t time to relocate but I still needed enough of a shift to weather what I’d now identified as a substantial, emotionally testing time. So I devised a Summer Self-Care Strategy that involved:
becoming an ice cube factory
taking Liquid IV
prepping herbal iced teas
stocking coconut water
running errands at night
and grouping outdoor plants to lessen watering time.
In the afternoons I instituted a siesta, and when the sun beat through the west-facing windows I drew the blinds and stripped off my clothes, retreating from the dogged heat, taking it easy for a chunk of hours before braving the outdoors for a second round of watering.
I got real with myself about the inevitability of emotional dips—I anticipated the summer dragging on, being swallowed by the illusion that it was never-ending. I wouldn’t take as many walks or play tennis with The P.I.C., instead putting my workout apps to good use, utilizing our exercise space and cranking the AC when engaging in sweat-inducing movement. I’d get down about it sometimes which may teeter into often at the thickest point of summer, pre-monsoons, post- a full month of extreme heat warnings and drought. I’d feel stifled, stripped of joyous outdoor life, burdened by yard work, hounded by every sort of insect . . . and when the monsoons came and the sky dumped buckets, I would appreciate the nurture the heavenly water gave my plants that perked up, noticeably refreshed in a way the hose could never provide. I’d breathe in the short-lived temperature drop when the clouds blew in, the sky stewed dark and the rain fell, wriggling into that relief for a pocket of time before the sun rose again, stronger than ever, and the heat zipped itself back up, enveloping me again with the additional cloak of humidity that turned the air to soup. I’d question why I chose to live in this desert wasteland that baked for half the year. I’d feel trapped because summer meant maintenance mode, consisting of career work, and the work of dedicated self-care in efforts of keeping my sanity and not plummeting into heat-induced depression, plus the work of keeping my plants alive—often two hours of watering every, single, day. And that was my life. Summer equated to work in every way.
Now aware of this, seeing it, facing it and living through it, I could be patient, understanding, and kind to myself, present for my own crabbiness, not pushing anything away. Acknowledging I was doing my best while experiencing an extended, repeating, non-ideal circumstance. Gawwd, so much room for improvement. But hope resided in the experience of just a bit better.
In the first week of June, I sat on the patio one morning and the air felt uncharacteristically cool. I watched a few sneaky squirrels scurry into a gathering of foraging mourning doves, scattering the bunch in an outburst of coos and feathers. Lizards scampered across the wood chips and light-reflecting tile paths. Hummingbirds zoomed every which way, guarding their territory with sharp zigs and zaps. I opened a letter from a friend and sipped my tea, then jotted a few observations in correspondence to another pen pal. The 24-hour heat hadn’t set in yet, the morning still felt like morning, and I thought, Maybe this summer won’t be so bad.
By the end of June, I was struggling, and my Summer Self-Care Strategy had crumbled under the weight of todo’s. Now we’re three weeks into August and I’m regrouping. Pine cones and mesquite pods are strewn across the gravel landscape of the front yard, amassed in haphazard clumps from evacuated raking. Two hail storms shredded a number of my treasured plants and, little by little, I’ve composted what’s lost, pruned what will put off new growth and moved the more sensitive shrubs out of harm’s way. In the wake of the fast and unexpected destruction, everything is a mess and I haven’t had the energy to whip it all into shape again. I’ve gone dormant, retreated into writing, and stopped working so hard to keep the basic life stuff perfectly together. There have been days where dishes pile up and the fan tumbles cat hair clusters across dusty floors. The sheets are in serious need of washing. This too shall pass.
On a walk last week, the breeze actually felt coolish. My body relaxed in response to the temperature circling around 100—that 10-degree drop was the difference between intolerable and bearable. I could doably breathe without feeling like I was drowning. It was the only moment since that first week in June that hinted at change, a divine reminder that summer will not actually last forever. That’s what I have to remember:
We exist in an external state of change.
My life will expand, doors will open, opportunities will reveal themselves. I will have options. Summer will redefine itself in different seasons of my life, perhaps due to a future change in geography, being able to afford travel, or for reasons I’m not meant to know yet. June may regain its old glory but instead of a pool, the entire ocean will lap out in front of me, reflecting a million shimmering confirmations that life can improve, dreams do come true. In the day-to-day, I doubt I can weather it. Hope is pallid at best. I have a lot to be thankful for but can’t quite muster excitement for what’s to come. I know my participation is required, there will be magic plus a whole lot of mundane life-upkeep crap. It’s not all bad and I Have Joy. Nothing lives up to idyllic memory—I’ve abandoned any attempt at recreating the past. What I want most for my present and future self is the continued delivery of relief, however it appears, and like that miraculous spring of a day the first week of June, I welcome it with my entire being.