I am way past the time when there was such a thing as summer love. I mean, that’s for a girl between, say thirteen and sixteen, give or take a year on either side. When I say way past. I mean WAAAAYYYY past. However, the cause of that is not just the fact that I have added a few more years on the sixteen side.
First, allow me to ruin the story by saying I don’t believe in love, at least the flowers and chocolate kind. Oh, I used to, but life has made me a whole lot smarter. It took me a while, but I finally learned my lesson. I got the message. Love is not for me, at least not human love and not the chocolate kind. (I actually do not like chocolate, so no loss there.) The truth be told, I used to be the biggest romantic in the world and thought all I had to do was wait and it would come.
That was a really dumb thing to think, considering I was told that I was an intelligent young woman. I guess intelligence had nothing to do with it. Oh, yes, I recall very well the sweaty palms and other parts of the body, the heart with hope that sometimes hurt with trying to make love happen, the two seconds love existed, then skipped off to nest somewhere else. I recall a lot of other things, but this isn’t the place to describe them and, frankly, they are both embarrassing and boring to me now.
Please don’t think I’m bitter, because nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of good writing has been produced with love as its theme, and that may be the best part of the feeling - reading about it. However, romantic love is just about the least interesting thing in the world - if it exists, that is. Simply put, I don’t need it. People just aren’t that interesting when you’ve got something better. Which I do.
All of the above was necessary in order to help you understand why having a summer love, or needing one, in times of quarantine, just rolls off my back, like water off a duck’s feathers. My love isn’t affected by prohibitions of contact. It doesn’t need a mask, because it has no fear of contagion. (I am SOOOO glad not to be fifteen any more.) Still, there are some nice memories. Take, for instance, the old song, “My Summer Love,” by Ruby & the Romantics. So full of platitudes, hope, sap:
You're the one I've been waiting for
Take me down to the sandy shore
Summer love would be good for me
If you would be my summer love.
One assumes the “I” is female. Guys never really fell in love, even at fifteen. That should have been the first clue. I ignored it and allowed the programming to continue. It took years to deprogram myself, and not a few bumps and bruises. Oh, I was happy when I got good grades and the subsequent pats on the back, but I still kept listening to the songs. I should have smashed that 45 record and banned Ruby from my record collection. Try as I might, my summers weren’t at all like the one she sang about:
It's the start of my happiness
And the end of my loneliness
Summer love could be paradise
Or twice as nice, my summer love
I was neither happy nor lonely, now that I look back. I was just a simple searcher for the place to sit with the music, close my eyes, and sense the way life should be. Even though life was never even remotely like the songs said.
The tides roll by and waves of love
Will sweep into your heart
If that's the way it's meant to be
We'll never, never part
No fifteen-year-old should be exposed to thoughts of that sort. They are in danger of going through life trying to make them come true. Fortunately, I was smart enough to learn - after many years - that music lies. It’s just about what the writer thinks life should be. I like the next verse because I like what happens to the leaves:
By the time that the leaves turn brown
Other loves may come tumbling down
Ours will last through eternity
If you will be my summer love.
Summer, no matter what the composer tries to foist off on us, ends. Eternity? It doesn’t exist. This situation just seems stagnant, suspended in time. Boring, as I’ve already said.
Our day will come
And we'll have everything.
We'll share the joy
Falling in love can bring.
Is there really nothing else to life? When I hum this song now, I see nothing. No reason given for falling in love except the myth that it’s great. Did the lovers in the story just sit around and stare at each other? Didn’t they ever get hungry or sleepy? Didn’t they ever go anywhere or do anything? I’d feel trapped.
No one can tell me
That I'm too young to know (young to know)
I love you so (love you so)
And you love me.
This verse was the real give-away. To believe in love, one has to be naïve, has to be very, very young. You cannot simply take that big emotion and hang it out there in public like freshly-washed sheets and expect happiness to sashay in. Not happening, but if you’re humming along to the song, you probably don’t realize how inane the message is. You’re not supposed to think, just feel. Well, that can get you into a lot of trouble. Into a world of hurt. Not very smart.
Our day will come
If we just wait a while.
No tears for us -
Think love and wear a smile.
For one thing, what does it mean to say our day will come? If love has arrived, then there’s nothing to wait for, right? Also, by now it should be clear that the summer love has morphed into the day that the lovers will be sharing, the day with no tears. Except it doesn’t sound like much fun. Wait, smile on the outside, don’t cry? What can possibly be worth just putting life on hold while thinking of sharing a life? That spells a whole lot of emptiness the way I look at it.
Our dreams have magic
Because we'll always stay
In love this way
Our day will come.
(Our day will come; our day will come.)
Last comment about this human type of love: it holds pretty much nothing. Dreams built on air. Dreams of what? In love, why? Plus, in times of quarantine, what good is all of this? You’re not supposed to get close, not supposed to share germs, just hope, and be in love. I am sure glad not to be afflicted by this. However, I am still intelligent enough to know what love is. It’s just that it has nothing to do with sloshy lyrics.
My summer love is not limited to any season of the year, first of all.
My summer love, like the one I had in late winter and expect to have in fall and winter, does not require a mask. Nobody will accuse us of violating the protocol of social distancing (a phrase that will hopefully never be used again after this is all over). My love is year-round and pops up whenever it is required. Quite obedient, it is, and a whole lot more interesting.
I go to the big river just down the street and sit close to the shore. Light bounces and ripples along the surface, then is carried in the direction of the Atlantic. I wonder how long it would take to walk with the ripples and know it doesn’t matter, because it would take as long as required. I don’t need to plaster a smile on my face to be happy about that. The shoreline offers up a few blond curves that are backdrop to minnowy creatures who flick their bodies to one another and move off as well. I love watching the dexterity of fish, who never seem to drown no matter how long they’re in the water.
I leave the river’s quiet, sloping bank and gaze at the old fort that has more history than it can hold, but not more than it can tell. I go there sometimes, to study the antiques that have survived the years of oblivion and the flea market that sells oblivion for a very reasonable price. I love old red bricks. Sometimes I want them to tell me who made them and where. Sometimes they do.
Now I’m meandering, like a river, down Maine Street. I love the brick sidewalks, which are made from a different shape and color than the ones in the old fort. They are looking more warped this summer and I wonder if they will be abandoned for concrete, but hope not. Their bumps and curves are so full of words that are meant to be heard. In some places, people have added illustrations, peace signs, flowers, the usual. I’m not fond of those adornments, but am prepared to live with them.
The street’s current keeps me walking and I look into the windows of shops: the quilt shop, the book store, the souvenir store with lots of moose, puffins, and other Maine symbols. Here in Maine we are resigned to the fact that people from away want to come and buy caps with animals and pine trees on them. I keep walking, because there’s a long way to go before I’m home and then I have to keep going.
Past the village green where the tallest pine is lit up during the holiday season. Past the second-hand book shop run by volunteers, with profits going to the town library. Past the church where Harriet got her inspiration for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, past the statue of Joshua Chamberlain. Past Joshua’s house and the college. Past the neighborhood store that sells good subs and pizzas.
Past and past and yet still walking, because I have brought something with me: a pair of eyes and a brain that keeps asking questions, but not ones about empty love or the future. It’s summer now, and clenchingly hot, so this must be my summer love. In a few more minutes, maybe half an hour, I will have completed the embrace of my town, from river to ocean. I admit that I was incapable of walking atop the current to get to the point where Androscoggin meets Atlantic, but I have done the next best thing.
Along the way, day lilies and echinaceas have sprung up to ensure their colors are noticed, but I confess to being partial to big blue balls of hydrangea. Rudbeckias and coreopsis also are thinking love, and this time I believe them, because strongly yellow blossoms are always sincere, year after year. In the winter, they hug their roots and display nothing, but I am allowed to dream of their return. This year my yellows have reached so far skyward I think they might burn.
The other shore is near now. Seagulls lead me to it, although it pays to be cautious because sometimes they congregate in parking lots and that can be confusing. I always wonder if they prefer the big river or the big ocean, then think it doesn’t matter as long as they’re happy. I love the birds in Maine, on the Midcoast where I live. What I have in my pocket also loves them, and so the birds sometimes dive right into my right back pocket where I usually stuff both my small journal and my iPhone.
Once in a while a clover or a small fern creeps into the journal, looking to be caressed by its pages. And the other day an impossibly bright purple petunia looked up from a crack between two sidewalk bricks to proclaim its presence. I went back to make sure nobody had purloined it, but no, it was still there, cocky and happy.
Finally! Maquoit Bay, paved with mica and scattered with birds I’m not smart enough to identify. I hope they are plovers, but am uncertain. They bob and bustle, duck and dive. It is my dream to come here one evening each season, to hug the stones and share the joy. No need to limit this joy to one faceless, disembodied love object who is waiting to hold me, because I know how to reach out and touch. Which I do. I also steal. Words. Pictures. Mental notes. Songs and poetry. I must go down to the sea again, wrote Masefield. So I do. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, because love of water knows no time.
Knowing I can’t live forever on the beach, I move off, in the direction of home. It is going to be a warm, warm night, one especially right for watching the raccoon family I would love to hug and kiss but know I can’t. The five babies are always jostling for first position by the plates of food set out for them. Fruit - especially watermelon - seeds, cat food, and whatever the refrigerator has decided to relinquish for the evening. A squirmy, flowing ocean of masked beings with teeny hands and fingers, better than any sit-com. With luck, an owl or a bat will flicker across the indigo.
With any luck, tonight I will not hear a fox capturing a squirrel or chipmunk for late snack. With luck, there will be a gentle rain drifting onto lawn and dripping from the eaves outside my bedroom window. I’m in bed, in my pajamas with no pockets, so phone and journal are sitting on my night stand. Still I write, because I love night words. Why limit them to summer? I love all the seasons, even if one of them, when leaves turn brown, brings subtle sadness.
Then it is time to look at the limbs, the arms of the maples and oaks, the cones of the pines, written on the air and sketching their love for me. I need nothing else, because even if I don’t believe in teenagers’ love ramblings and sappy songs, I love this coastal world with its animals and plants, its water on both ends of town that hugs and holds tightly to me, the huge moon and transformers that blow up at the slightest threat of a storm. I challenge Ruby to convince me that her song’s paradise is better, or even to prove it’s paradise.
Moral of the story? You don’t need traditional love to be happy. You don’t need to be true to one person, or even be true to a person. That’s so limiting, so boring. I suggest a cold glass of vinho verde on the back steps, the silence of moving water, and the ‘look of love’ you can find when you have a kind present, when you are not sitting around waiting for your day to come. Sorry, Ruby. Great voice, good intentions, but I will always stay in love my way.
No mask needed.