Summers: If you get 75 of them in a lifetime, my mom used to say, you’re a fortunate soul.
What she meant is that summer is what you live for. Summer is how you calculate your life’s continuum: by that joyous stretch of June, July, August. String those words together, you get “bliss.” (You might have to squint to make it out, but you do.)
Summer is being young no matter your age. Summer is that white beam of light from the magnifying glass you used as a kid to fry ants on an Arvada sidewalk while teenagers up the street lit fireworks in prelude to Independence Day.
Nothing happens all year and then everything happens. Summer is when you French-kissed for the first time. It’s when you rode your bicycle everywhere, no GPS coordinates to share, no agenda, no nothing, you just rode it.
You smoked a Pall Mall cigarette by the high school one summer. Lingered late into the sweet evening air, walking through a field of dry grass and dirt mounds and spent beer cans with a friend, feeling something that was probably love.
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Summer is when you went to sleep late with a Mad magazine drooping over the edge of your nightstand, and then woke up early, and stretched a bit, and poured a bowl of Count Chocula cereal and slathered it with milk, then relived the same day all over again.
Summer smelled like chlorine and Coppertone and blonde hair and beads of cold sweat on a half-drunk can of classic Coors. Summer was one of those all-day outdoor music festivals at the old Mile High Stadium with three meh bands and one killer act and you just went, not worried in the least about whether you’d get sunburned and when and how you’d get home. A polished red guitar far away on the stage glistened and rang out, sending electric trills straight to your soul.
That was summer.
Except, summer might not happen this year, they say, and that seems like the worst affliction of all right now. Not like dying, I suppose, but close enough.
A girl who will be 16 this summer, which is the ultimate summer age, was supposed to be working at a summer camp after school got out. Unpack that: Summer camp, 16. Things were going to happen. Now they won’t.
The girl lives in New York City somewhere and her name is LaToya. “Summer is what you work for, you work for it the whole year,” she tells the New York Times in today’s edition. Indeed it is and indeed you do.
Colorado will be weird without summer for everybody, but I feel acutely for young people, high school juniors in Arapahoe County, ‘tweens down in Alamosa, where schoolkids run miles along lonely county roads in June to blow off steam.
What is the point of life, if not to put away your school clothes and put on your cut-off jeans and wear them for three months straight? What did you endure the entire school year for anyway?
A few weeks from now, the high-schoolers down the street by all rights should be blasting that da-da-DA/da-da-DA progression of power chords from that familiar Alice Cooper chestnut through opened windows, but no, doing so now would just be a cruel joke.
They are taking summer out of the mix, like that concept with the string in the fantasy novel “A Wrinkle in Time.” May will become September and there won’t be an in-between. You might play video games online if you’re a kid, but that’s not summer; that’s what you’re already doing anyway. And then summer will be gone, except not really, because it never happened in the first place.
What we’ll all risk missing out on, teens and adults and kids alike, are the signature tics of a Colorado summer, the throwaway signposts we loved, but didn’t know we loved. A breeze licks a twirl of hair on the forehead of a friend as she lunges to catch a frisbee over by the volleyball setups at Washington Park and right there, for a nano-second: that’s summer.
Around 4 o’clock or so you catch the first whiff of a hamburger that has just now started to sizzle, and you glance over and see your buddy maneuvering things around on the grill, armed with his trusty glinting spatula reclaimed from winter storage, beverage at his side, and people are sitting around in lawn chairs talking and gesturing and nodding and mostly not being terribly serious with one another and that, too, is summer.
Or the inescapable American glory of a swimming pool, shouts and splashes and whistles around a blue oasis. That’s especially summer.
We’ll vow to get through. We’ll use language as an instrument to try to bend the outcome, rejigger the odds. We’ll talk about “the other side” and “when this is all over” and a “return to normal” using our best hopeful voices.
We will hold out for the idea of a summer; even just a few weeks of it. The empty ballfields and forgotten farmer’s markets and quiet parks and abandoned campgrounds will one day reconstitute, we insist to ourselves.
And if summer fails us, we’ll look forward still. We’ll watch the calendar, be mindful of the change in weather, count down the days in synchronization with the steady timetable of that great American distraction, football.
Training camp, if training camp happens, will be the reliable reminder of a beginning, a new season, our true New Year’s Day. If we’re lucky, really lucky, there will be that perfect Sunday afternoon, a home game in the sunshine, tens of thousands of people reunited in orange in the closest thing we still have to real live religion.
The anthem will play loud and damn, there won’t be a dry eye. Or so we hope. In April and May, we hold out hope. Somewhere out there is a Colorado summer and somewhere beyond it a Colorado fall.
We just have to find it. Have to.
Stewart Schley is a writer and market research analyst who lives in Denver.