I stopped to get gas downtown the other night after my brother's graduation party, and as I got out of the car I was hit with the one smell that means summer in Loudonville, campfire smoke. I know I've written about this smell being summer's tell-tale sign in Ohio's canoeing capital, and I also know I've mentioned the connection between scent and memory. So I'm not going to go into that right now.
But as I thought of that smell and what the coming of summer means to me, I found myself thinking that this time of year is not one of my favorites by any means. I'm sure at one point in time there was no better period of two or three weeks: the last few days of school are always enjoyable, the beginning of summer is always the most rewarding and refreshing part, and by the end of May the anticipation of my birthday is in full-gear. But after I graduated from high school two years ago (two years ago today, actually), I have looked at the beginning of summer as a sort of time to just get through, not necessarily enjoy.
I'm not even sure where to start, but I know that if I can just get this story off my chest I will feel much better about it. As a senior, I got out of school three days before everyone else. And my mom told me to go visit my grandma and make sure she was ok, because she had seemed tired the day before. But I didn't. I slept in, took lunch to my then-boyfriend at school, visited with friends there for awhile, and then left to go to an out-of-town graduation party. I could have made time, but I didn't. And that night my grandma had a stroke, and two days later, before I could even go see her at the hospital, she died. It was the day before my graduation.
I don't recall the rest of that weekend very well. I remember that I did not cry while I gave my valedictorian speech and I remember that my extended family was there to see me give it in my high school's tiny, crowded gym. I remember leaving almost immediately after the ceremony and going home, and I remember feeling guilty for the few moments I celebrated at my party as I watched my family sit together and mourn my grandmother. I remember finding the e-mail she'd sent my mom a few days before in which she'd told my mom she'd make me a Boston Cream Pie because it was always my favorite. I vaguely remember sitting through calling hours and the funeral. I do remember crying.
I also remember the rather painful break-up that came several weeks later, after I came back from a trip to Florida and he finished Boys State and basketball camp. These three losses--my high school identity, my grandma, and my first love--are all meshed together into a sort of one big loss, because I lost them all at the same time. There was no easing into a change of lifestyle for me; I was thrown in and forced to handle it myself. It was even hard to turn to my parents and siblings, because they were all still dealing with the loss of the woman who had centered my mom's side of the family.
So here I am today. I'm sure I've made bad decisions in the way I handled it all, and I'm certain I never even handled some of it. I think that's why I hate coming home so much: because there, I can't avoid what was so easy to avoid when I left for Miami in the fall of 2003. What is still easy to avoid as a college student in a college town, as opposed to an LHS alumni in her hometown. I find that there are places I'd rather not visit, people I'd rather not talk to, and things I'd rather not take part in. All because they are such blatant reminders of that great loss I faced as I left high school.
I don't know if that's normal. I don't think it is and I have to admit, I pretty much hate myself for being so sensitive and melodramatic about the whole ordeal. I apologize if you were on the receiving end of one of my freak-outs about any one of these situations, because I think the magnitude of all three together was sometimes taken on by one individually, because of the sub-conscious link they share.
So that, for me, is the beginning of summer. It's always a part I'm glad to have over, because it gives way to memories like sunscreen, flip-flops, chlorine, and movie theaters. And those are some of my most cherished memories from any season or year. I'm sure at some point, I'll be able to come home and enjoy the not-too-hot-yet afternoons and be contented by the 21-odd days between now and my birthday. But you know, I'm just not ready yet. And you'll have to forgive me, because I'm doing the best I can.