The hazy light and warmth of a Southern California summer causes me to have multiple Proustian experiences, of which about half are pleasant. It’s evocative of the last day of school in June, running happily over the grass to an endless vacation. It makes me remember going to Europe in the summer as a kid, with that happy expectant feeling of Going on a Big Trip.
There’s a lot about summer that I’d like to forget, though. I spent an inordinate amount of time fighting with my mother about whether I’d done various chores well enough to be allowed to enjoy myself, and the fallout from that piece of family psychosis is still causing problems for me in early middle age. A good chunk of my childhood was spent refusing to clean up my room and therefore being confined to it as the sun shone on the neighborhood’s happier children. This is at once traumatic and pathetic to remember, and unfortunately the dynamic situation of those long nasty Saturdays is still haunting me.
Summers later on got worse. Perhaps the low point of my life was the summer I was the summer of 1986, when I was in college. I lived at the bizarre and filthy UCLA Coop with an angry Iranian Communist room mate who didn’t let me use the phone. Most of my friends were gone for the summer. I couldn’t or wouldn’t find a summer job, so I was poor and fighting with my parents constantly about the money and job issues. I was deeply depressed, undiagnosed and unaware of it, and constantly either anxious or dysphoric. I took on a nocturnal existence in which I walked down to the Dolores coffee shop and read bad mysteries all night and then walked back up in the early morning light to sleep until 4 pm or so.
This state was interrupted by a brief love affair followed by a total nervous breakdown.
Finally, it was on a bright pretty summer day in 1993 that my father suddenly died. The shock and horror of that experience is still peeking around the edges of every pretty July day.
The experiences above are all tied together with the memories of sailing. We had several boats when I was a kid, including a 28-foot sailboat in which we sailed out to Catalina Island or down to Ensenada. There are a lot of great memories there of the beauty of the sea, the excitement of diving or hiking on Catalina, strange sights out on the water. But at the same time I disappointed my father terribly by not being as interested in sailing when I grew older, and I regret not being able to share that with him in my teens. I still enjoy sailboats, and I’d like to sail again some time, but like the other summer memories, it has become a mixture of sunny freedom, family expectation, guilt, and regret.