The almost-summer has descended upon us like that onceuponatime almost summer did, that one where the Seventeen Year Cicadas came, like locusts.
Great, bug-eyed, blind locusts.
I remember it well, because it was suffocatingly hot; and there was no spring that year; and things were different, then.
That was the last year that I spent any significant time in California–the year that I was a summer associate, and left for Los Angeles just as the bugs descended and the heat blanketed the east coast like a therapist trying to stage a rebirth with a wool comforter and an overbearing mother.
There was nothing special about that summer, really, except that it rolled in suddenly, unexpectedly…like a flash flood of damp heat and thumb-sized bugs, and nothing has ever been the same since.
That summer without a spring was prefaced by the doctors fileting my father open on a table, took his heart out of his body, and put in artificial parts. My mother said…stay, stay, stay where you are, it makes us feel more normal!
And I remember sitting in my Law As Social Science class in the basement of McDonough Hall, listening but not listening because I could only hear a heart beating in my own head…just wondering what might happen.
I had never felt that kind of helpless before. That kind of helpless where I didn’t know what to do with my hands–they were just ragdolls on my keyboard–and I lifted them and they fell, useless as forgotten toys.
By the time I got to the hospital, the following week, my father was fine. And I remember every detail of that visit in overexposed technicolor: the stone khaki of my preppy skirts; to the spring green and the vivid pinks on the bushes bordering the UCLA Hospital parking decks; the brick of the old hospital, the aluminum door frames of the sliding glass doors leading in to the atrium; the careworn beiges and greys of the lounge naugahydes.
When the summer did abruptly arrive, I went back to California for a job. It was a forgettable summer, a forgettable job. But it changed me; changed my perception of myself–as a woman, a professional. It was the last step in a terrible transformation that had been slowly taking place for many years. Like the Seventeen Year Cicadas that were coming out of the ground as I left Washington for California…something ugly was emerging in me, and I let my helpless hands take over my whole body.
The next thing I knew, I was a ragdoll.
There was one day, that summer, after a lunch that consisted primarily of white wine and dinner rolls, and I was just learning to use my then-new iPod, I created a gym mix of mostly Dan Fogelberg and covers of “House at Pooh Corner.”
That summer, I ran. Ran, ran, ran. Ran from conflict; ran from controversy; ran from the bugs and the heat and the anger. Ran because I was helpless…and I just kept running for years and years and years to come. I tried to run away from the voice of notgoodenoughnotsmartenoughnostayaway. I tried to run out the helpless feeling; to steel myself against the ragdoll feeling. But it didn’t work. I just wound up trying to pound out the miles to “Leader of the Band” and working against a seemingly endless white wine hangover.
That negative, rejected, wounded, helpless voice in my head…I couldn’t outrun it. It lapped me; outpaced me.
(I think that thing must be Kenyan.)
The almost summer is upon us again. And things were different then, but I am different now.
Because, while I have my days, I have learned to pace myself…and I don’t think I care how fast or how far that negative voice goes anymore.
And these hands…they are not ragdoll hands. They know where the keys are. And they know what they want to say. And these legs…they are not forgotten toys. They are wound up; found; and know exactly where they are going.
With this wall of heat and bugs at my back, I am not running away.