Vacation Aspirations, Swimming Pool Schemes, and the Last Gifts of Summer

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

We got married! At the end of the day, at the end of the summer, on the edge of a mountainside, everything held still at the precipitous edge of fall. To begin the ceremony, my witch, Amanda Yates Garcia, called forth the four elements from the four corners of the earth, and when she called to the spirits of the air in the east, a wind blew in, right on cue. Later Amanda texted to say that the east is the place of new beginnings, where the sun rises.

This year we made the mistake of scheduling all our day camps and road trips for the first few weeks of summer break, and so by the time August came around, there was nothing left to look forward to. At the beginning of summer break I had asked each kid to set one or two goals for their vacation: Beatrice wanted to write a long-form graphic novel and learn to use the loom she got for Christmas; Arthur wanted to design and sew a jacket, and to learn to do card tricks; William wanted to learn to swim and to read. It all started very idyllically. Beatrice took up horseback riding; William joined a club of neighborhood children who waged regular water gun battles in the park. We took the kids to see Twelfth Night in Griffith Park, Arthur proclaimed it “exquisite,” he came home with a new love of Shakespeare and began memorizing monologues. We went to the public pool almost every day and William made slow but steady progress on swimming.

It all came apart. Or rather, it unspooled, as summer does, it came to nothing. An older girl called William a baby for wearing water wings and he refused to get back in the pool for the rest of the summer. Beatrice began picking pointless arguments with me, culminating in her adamant refusal to wear a sun shirt over her swimsuit and my adamant refusal to let her swim without one. Beatrice and William lost interest in Arthur’s monologues and card tricks. and he started to whine about missing his school friends, a new audience; like a comic who had worn through the same set too many times at the same bars, he longed to take his show on the road.

My nostalgia for summers past is largely a nostalgia for boredom, and the sort of endless afternoons that ticked over brown-carpet bedrooms and apartment complex swimming pools. (In fact, most of our summers were spent scheming about swimming pools. My best friend’s grandfather had a pool we could sometimes use, when we could get a ride there; another friend had a friend who would buzz us in to her apartment pool. We weren’t above sneaking into apartment pools if there was no other option; we imagined ourselves as very daring, gliding through security doors all explanations about our aunt’s missing keys, but more likely no one really cared that much if a few teenage white girls spent a long Tuesday afternoon sitting beside an unruffled pool re-applying Sun-In.)

Most of my memories of summer vacation are of being bored. The boredom could be inspiring — I picked up some good books and a few improving hobbies during the lingering last days of lost Julys — but it was usually only dull and dulling.

As a little girl, summer play dates were always just a little too long, dragging on until the game could no longer sustain itself and devolved into squabbling or silence. Sometimes we would have a backyard camp-out in my friend Stephanie’s backyard (she had both a tire swing and a playhouse, the undisputed best backyard) and we would wait for the sun to go down so we could roast marshmallows but the sun stayed up forever, the night would never come.

By the time we were teenagers we recognized that boundless leisure was one thing that separated us from adults and so we wore it proudly. One summer another friend’s mother was dating a man who was fixing up a sailboat docked at Ventura Harbor and she’d give us rides up there when she’d visit him. The long drive up was all anticipation. Her mom would pack Smart Food popcorn and Snackwells to eat in the car. Once we arrived, we would be free to do whatever we’d like all afternoon, usually some combination of gossiping and quarreling and spending our money on those old-fashioned lollipops*, as big as golf balls, they sold in front of the carousel. No one wanted to be the first to admit they were bored, it worked against the magic of the day, and so we’d circle endlessly the tethered bobbing boats and the slow-revolving carousel, the seashell wind chimes suspended noiselessly in windless gift shop windows.

Our summers then were largely aspirational. We worked on having the right body, the right tan, the right kind of fun. We embarked on self-improvement projects that would have us better by back to school. There was always a sense that someone somewhere was having a better time.

To borrow a line from Kafka, the meaning of summer is that it ends. Every season is the same length, but summer is the only one that’s always leaving, summer vacations and summer romances, the song of the summer that dominates the charts and then disappears. August arrived and the children were already sick of one another, sick of themselves. That sickness of surfeit is one of the gifts summer gives us, to help ease its passing.

The day before school started, my friend Amy threw an end-of-summer pool party at her house, for ten kids ages 11 months to 11 years. William was coaxed into swimming with his water wings and then later, without them, and in one afternoon made more progress than he had all summer. It finally got dark enough to roast marshmallows and then a few minutes later it was too dark to play outside anymore. We waited all summer for the fun to begin, and just as you think it will never come, it’s already gone.

When we first decided to have a wedding, I knew it had to be at the end of August, at the point where the summer is most itself and already almost gone. This was partly in fulfillment of a dream I had once about our wedding many years ago (when I was around the same age that would have found me sneaking into apartment complex swimming pools) but also because I associate our relationship very strongly with the golden glow of late summer: the last days, the long light, the end that’s also a beginning.

Writer for Catapult, Longreads, The Awl, The Toast, The Rumpus, McSweeney’s, and so on. Owner of After-Party Taxidermy. Working on a book about Halloween.

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