A Teenage Kid’s Start to Summer [Memoirs of June + July]
It's the end of July and I've still to write about June; the feeling of consumption has befallen me. "She's planning a wedding," I hear people say and I am reminded that what I'm doing does in fact take up a lot of time -- 65% emotional, 35% physical (my own estimation). I've also been planning a summer party for my office with the same budget. It's all very consuming.
When I picture June, I see my outstretched arm, my hand holding a cone filled with melted ice cream, a mess, waiting for the toddler to be settled enough to take it from me. I'm standing there staring at the ice cream, wondering how I'm going to clean it up without wasting any of the edible bits. I lick my hand. I think of my father, who rued a good mess.
When I picture July, I see a darkness-shaped cloud; hot days, hot nights. A feeling of restlessness befalls me. I have been waking up at 4am on the nose for weeks.
I think about writing my nibling letters that I could gift them later in life. Instead, I type this into my iPhone’s notepad:
Dear little one: you are two and a half years old. You like to point things out and tell us what they are. "Food truck, Bibi," is the first thing you said to my partner when we saw you last, My partner looked at me and smiled. We went sailing on the last Sunday of June. You made sure we all had our "boat coats" on and buckled. The water was soft like rolling glass, hot from the sun and shimmering like there lived magic in the depths below. Water scares me.
You wanted Bibi and I to play in your "little house", the kitchen below deck. "Come to my little house, Zizi," you yelled up from below deck. I was absorbing all the Vitamin D I could get. It felt like a blanket wrapping my warm body in its everywhere arms. Bibi and I took turns. You pretended to turn on the sink tap so we could wet our hands. SHHHH. You made water noises. "Wash your hands," you said, over and over.
I opened the latch door in the bow of the boat and sat outside, my feet dangling into the cabin. From below you grabbed my big toe and said, "I got it!" then walked away.
Later you came to sit with me and when you stayed for longer than a moment, I felt confused. This, I acknowledged, was my inherent reaction when I felt loved; somewhere inside me lives the belief that I cannot be. "Do you know what lives in the water?" I whispered into your ear. You didn't answer right away. I thought you were ignoring the question but you were thinking, looking around. "Boats," you said after more than a moment. I told you boats lived on the water, and that fish lived below. "Sometimes we can see them if they come close to the surface, or if we swim under the water," I said. "There are lots of fish. Funny fish," I said, alliterating. You laughed. I told you about whales and sharks and octopi and how amazing they all are. I told you I loved you. I told you there was a full moon a few days prior and that I thought of you. You looked at me in excitement, mouth agape. I said it was strawberry moon and you said, "a strawberry moon," before turning your eyes towards space, squinting fiercely, looking for it, and saying, "Too bright, Zizi."
It was a cloudless day. The sun ate the sky.
My favourite living creature turned 12 in June and I took her to see the vet on her birthday. The vet called her a "geriatric cat" and I immediately felt defensive. Geriatric. I realized that this word had not seeped into my daily life, an indication that change, age, evolution is inevitable. In theory I welcome it, because it revolutionizes us. In practice — in this moment — I wasn’t ready.
My grandmother is elderly but I've not spent enough time with her in care to hear this word. This word has assumptions in my mind. To be geriatric, one must be old. Older than I could see myself becoming at this point in my life; so distant from the idea of me. One must be cared for. Less independent. Or independent-less. More attention required. Maybe my cat is a geriatric cat. Maybe.
Lua turned 12 in June and then July came. I filled half of summer caring for geriatric dogs. Like Lua, these dogs trick everyone by appearing their usual adorable snuggly-ness when they are actually and often quite helpless. They don't complain. They just keep on as though they're capable and young, the way we know them. In caring for these dogs I wondered if I was a dog person, but caring for dogs who cannot see, are incontinent, and/or walk in circles instead of straight is not a great way to explore this. Caring for these dogs was not an especially enjoyable use of my time because of all the emotions that accompanied them. I wasn’t ready.
Why is it sad to see an old animal? Why is it scary if they're your own pet? Is it because we are reminded that life is a finite contemplation? A reminder that while we can think and make choices now, we may one day be walking into doors and napping in our own urine? Pooping on the carpet and then looking wide-eyed at our caregivers to love us anyway because we’re still cute? When I’m there, I hope someone will sit on their front porch with me, sipping their coffee as I walk in circles on a leash while buses and cars go by. I hope this someone is patient, and loves me despite my age. This was the life of a dog we cared for in July.
Maybe when I’m old I’ll be lucky and live in the country like my grandmother; in a home where there's a stray cat that will find me and lay with me while I nap. Where my family will take me for walks in the summer, covered in blankets. I wonder if anyone’s walked my grandmother lately; sat outside with their coffee and let grandma talk in circles. I wish I lived closer to where I used to live.
I spent the weekend at a cottage with five people I admire deeply, and who are in my wedding party. When I think of this weekend I feel love and magic. I feel calm. I feel happy, looking out at my cousin sitting on the dock staring out at the lake; one of my future sisters slyly huddled in her room replaying a presentation she did for work, working to get better at activities she already excels at. I recall my friend smiling in a hammock in the shade, sitting on the couch across from me giving me the best advice as always, paddling in a kayak with my partner, making me laugh endlessly. I think of my other future sister swimming at very opportunity, jumping into the lake at night to cool down, fearless and brave; and my partner, who says yes more than no, and listens intently to every word that is spoke so that they may respond with depth and honesty. I wonder if I will remember all of this when life gets hard.
On Saturday night my cousin wanted to build a fire. We collected wood from the shed and piled it beside the pit. She knelt into the middle and began to pile each piece when a snake jumped out of the rocks at her, slithering off toward the water. We all jumped. What is it about reptiles? Is it that they are so different from us? When my cousin calmed her breath enough to try again, she leaned in as another snake emerged in the same spot. "Okay, I'm done," she said, as I stood buckled over with laughter while still scanning the grass for another snake.
My partner’s sister ended up building us an amazing upside down fire that didn't go out for hours. "Don't forget to look up," I said to everyone, as we sat around the fire in the dark. We tilted our heads back and stayed staring at the speckled, complicated sky as a shooting star, as bright and gold as all the love that raged through us, lit up space. "Did you see that?!" we said simultaneously. It was a pure, universal magic.
My partner and I biked to Cabbagetown to pick up our wedding bands. We had a coffee at Jet Fuel in wait for the shop to open. We had a wedding meeting, our weekly check-in about what we've done and what we're going to work on that week. My body was overloaded with caffeine, my arms into my neck and head twitching; my feet tapping, wiggling. This lack of composure does not offer much productivity.
When we saw the rings I thought both, "These are exactly what I thought they would be," and, "What am I doing in the middle of this tradition?" Seeing our rings together, side by side, reminded me of all the parts of traditional weddings that spark discomfort, rigidity, queasiness in my body. I took my ring out and turned my back on everyone and looked at it alone. I tried to feel its energy. I wanted to wear it.
I called the store a few days later to ask if they could tell me again how our rings manifested. They told me they travel directly to the mines and buy metal from the people who mine it. "This is not fair trade, it's direct trade," the voice reminded me. They pay the miners directly, so there are only two vendors in the production of our pieces. I thanked them. I despise profiteering in many industries, gold is one. I like to think that less than 10 sets of hands have held the gold I will wear, or that the gold is so old, so recycled, that it is haunted by many ghosts.
A couple weeks later I pulled the rings out to show my mother. "You got ripped off!" she snorted, indicating that the size of my ring was meager compared to my partners.
"These are exactly the way we want them," I said, tucking the rings away and walking into the other room. If I learned anything from A-Typical it's that neuro-typicals add meaning to almost every sentence that is spoken, in order to make sense of the emotions that come with communication. I didn't want to do that here.
My partner slipped a book called "Essentialism" onto my lap as they left the bedroom where I was curled up writing for the past hour. I was peeved about the interruption. Jarred. It was early morning, day two of us being on the same schedule since last summer, and we’d just started a conversation with very different needs. We were not on the same page, and my partner's nudge to read a book about doing what is most important irked me. "Go away!" I yelled through the already closed door. I felt like a teenager with the urge to throw a stuffed animal at the wall.
I've been filling my mind with infuriating, inspiring stories. I watched Hannah Gadsby's Nanette. Am re-reading the Harry Potter books. I've spent two months contemplating the reasons why I went to see Infinity Mirrors at the AGO knowing Kusama wrote about black people as animals. I’m still waiting for her book from the library. I’ve been thinking of Bukowski - the womanizing, poetic drunk - and his purpose. The speeches in books by Virginia Woolf, Susan Sontag, Gloria Steinem. Letters from Rainer Maria Rilke. All the news about US border patrol separating children from their families, the abortion "debate," the young man who severely suffered from mental health troubles who shot at and killed Torontonians, children, on Sunday night. I started to read the book I thought was stupid just because it was pushed on me; "Essentialism."
But ask yourself this:
What is the most essential choice I can make in life right now?
What do I want more than anything in the world?
Images flood my body. The near and far of my activism. The scope. The danger. The importance. I come back to the bed in the room where I sleep and live. What is it that allows me to push my partner away because I believe I have a more essential task at hand in those early morning moments before we leave our apartment and spend nine hours working for other people?
My essential need is twofold: I want to spend all my time writing about life and love, and I want to spend all my time living a life full of love.
The book says priority is only one thing at a time. We can't have both, together.
My consumption of media this summer is varied. I've been living with Harry Potter, Kayla Jo, and Phia Rilke inside my head. Harry, a fictional young male wizard from the magical world of J.K. Rowling's mind. Kayla Jo, a tall, humbled, blonde woman the MTV Floribama Beach reality show actors found at a bar in Panama City Beach; she called herself Wiccan and aptly responded to questions like, "So doesn't that mean you're a witch or something?" And Phia Rilke, the woman whose name was mentioned by Mark Harman in his introduction to his translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet" as Rilke "having learned French at the prompting of his mother." I am overwhelmed with history and presence and the rush of interpretation.
Despite how helpless and lazy I feel at times, I like to believe I am a proactive person. I am solution-oriented. I am someone who, if I'm not daydreaming, cycling through stories behind my eyes, can recognize a need and take immediate steps to help, solve, or rectify that need.
I often bike East on Barton from Ossington. When I get to Bathurst Street, I see four individuals standing on each corner waiting to cross the street. Not one of them have pressed the pedestrian button that will trigger the lights to change. I bike over to the pole and press it. I do it obviously and theatrically in order to attract all eyes to my actions. Sometimes I am rude about it. In my frustration I tell myself that this is helping them. I am helping them. I think I am being an example to everyone waiting for the light to change at an intersection but who are doing nothing about it.
Complacency. It’s a battle.
Since we are all bound by laws, one or more of these pedestrians is more likely to feel liberated in their stagnant frustration by jaywalking impatiently, instead of realizing that if they had simply pressed the button upon approaching the corner, they would be on their way already. The Barton and Bathurst intersection is a trivial example of a larger problem. We (general) do nothing but expect something, and when our expectations aren't fulfilled, we make choices that may cause harm to ourselves or others. In the example above, jaywalking in frustration, lead by impatience (heightened if the individual is glued to their cell screen) is not a mindful movement.
Moments like these — and all their offshoots — fuel my irritation with the developed world. Moments like these challenge my ability to cage my silence (so much so that it is seeping into even the most trivial and leisurely of activities).
In preparation for my upcoming honeymoon which includes a tour of the Harry Potter studios, I am spending the summer rereading the Harry Potter series. When Harry is anonymously gifted a Firebolt that is immediately confiscated for fear of hexes that could harm him, he refuses to purchase a new broom so he can train for Quidditch finals. He goes paragraphs and paragraphs with people telling him to "just buy a new broom" but he doesn't. He's emphatically stubborn about it. Does he really think he's so good at Quidditch that he doesn't need to practice? He wants the Firebolt that was gifted to him that is possible hexed to kill him, not a Firebolt from a store that is likely much safer. “Just buy a new broom!” I yelled. “You have a huge pile of gold in the vault!” I had to put the book down.
I thought about Harry Potter as I waited for the light to change at Bathurst and Barton. I understand so clearly now when seniors jabber, shaking their hands at people. It’s a build up of complacency (my interpretation). I do jaywalk, but I don't sit at a corner scrolling through instagram waiting to obey the law until I don't want to anymore. I either obey, or I keep moving. I don't want to live a stagnant life.
I woke up on the couch after a night of impulsively signing up for a writing course and crossfit. Bewildered at the buzzing sound muffled beneath my bed pillow which was on the couch for some reason, I felt like my dream was ongoing even though my eyes were open. This happens almost everyday. A quick google links me to articles on sleep paralysis. Sounds scary.
In my dream I am in a parking lot with my partner. I notice a funnel cloud in the sky as we pack our purchases into the back seat. A snake slithers from under the car. It doesn't bother me; this confidence, odd. I open the driver's side door when my peripheral catches the site: a massive, grounded tornado coming for us. "Tornado," I say, pointing. "Tornado!" I yell. We run into the store through an emergency exit, an opaque door in the back. We’re at Staples.
"Tornado!" I yell once inside the store. People turn and look at me like I've interrupted their shopping. "We need to get to the basement!" The humans are bewildered, annoyed, holding iPad cases and computer mouses. We decided to ditch them and to save ourselves. We run out of the same door we came in. As it swing open, a customer sees the tornado. "Tornado!" the customer yells.
"Yeah. No shit,” I mutter.
We're in the basement. I see another snake. It's a long hallway. "We need to get under a table," I say, and begin frantically searching for one. My partner starts opening doors and finds a secret room with limited edition boxes of something. They grab four. "What are you doing?" I ask. My partner mumbles that these things are really valuable. "We need to find a table," I say again, but at this point I can't remember if the table is for earthquakes. I stand there thinking about tornados and earthquakes. My partner doesn't care about the table. "We're in a basemen,” they tell me. “We'll be okay."
I spot one of those cheap, grey, fold out tables. I run and slide under it, thinking the tornado must be close, listening for sounds. Strangers are around us, somewhere. My partner sits on the floor with me, but not under the table, checking out the limited edition boxes. The ring of the intercom sounds and a dopey male voice says: "Well it looks like the tornado narrowly missed the store."
Outside, my partner is putting the boxes into our car. I am watching someone that I know run. I am waiting for them. A woman approaches me. "Can I tweet about this?" she asks. I don’t answer.
Instead, I devise a plan because I don't want her to tweet about this. "How abouts we take you for a coffee and you can ask any questions you want, and in exchange you keep this quiet." She agrees, and we make a plan to meet at a cafe nearby.
The person running makes their way over to me. As they get closer, their face becomes clear. It's Liam Hemsworth. I tell him the plan, and we turn to head back to the car where my partner is waiting in the back seat. “Did I hear we’re going for coffee?” my partner asks. Liam and I look back at him, and then I wake up. I grab my phone and furiously search for tornadoes, snakes, and Liam Hemsworth in an online dream dictionary. Nothing good, I’m afraid. Nothing good.
I turn my phone off moments before it lights up again, my alarm to wake up and begin the day. Underneath the time are the small words: August 1. I stretch and think: new month, new me. ∎
Image of Floribama Shore from Perez Hilton