The 4th of July used to be such a depressing landmark in the schoolboy days of summer. After the liberation June and relief from school obligations during elementary or middle or high school or college, it was a shock to realize what July 4th actually meant. Summer was more than half over.
For athletes, summer seemed to shrink the further one got along in a career. Cross country practice might start up the second week of August. Granted it was fun to rejoin teammates for long runs on August mornings. We’d be all tanned and blonde-haired from the summer sun. Tales of summer romance and drunken nights and parental fights.
Hot precursor to fall
But that meant August was commodified. It became something other than summer. More like a hot precursor to fall. Gone were the swimming pools and girls and sights of summer skin showing goose bumps from the cool water on bare skin. I’ve always loved goose bumps on girls and erect nipples under thin swimsuits. Smuggling raisins, we called it.
There is actually more room for all that now that life is not confined to a school year. August doesn’t have to be eclipsed. Instead, there are actual races to do. Racing in the summer heat is a perverse treat. You’re so loose and yet so soaked with sweat the body feels like it has been turned inside. But goddamnit, you’re alive.
Late to summer
A few summers ago, before I was swimming for triathlon purposes and spent time in pools and lakes, I neglected to visit the Quarry pool before it was almost too late in the season. In fact, I arrived late in the day on the final afternoon the pool was open.Everything from the sand to the beach toys looked tired. The tanned lifeguards looked worn out. Yet they would soon be departing for college with those perfect tan lines ready to reveal on that first autumn hookup. Or if chaste, those tans would just fade on their own time. But that seems a waste. It really does.
Schoolboy summers from the earliest age held a bit of perverse fascination like that. Summer does strange and fun things to your body. That white skin next to dark skin is such a tantalizing taboo. The moles on my skin would turn dark as chocolate. There were no words of fear or knowledge of cancer back then. You tanned and you faded with the season. Skin peeled after a sun burn, or got wryly wrinkled from long days in the chlorine and wetness.
Surely all those miles I ran in tiny shorts during the late 70s have had their cost on the skin of my legs and arms. Aging is the process of sagging, as if the world has been holding us together all along, and is just now relaxing its grip. I used to play a game with my children where I’d put my arms around their bodies and then slowly release them from a bear hug. If they giggled at any point along the way, I’d hug them tight all over again. Fits of laughter ensued. That is life itself, it seems. It is full of laughs in that middle zone where the happy tension lies. It is only when we’re either too tense or too free that life seems unhinged. Thus the secret to loving life until the end is learning to hug the world back as you laugh at the notion of letting go too soon.
Sweet arms of summer
I’m looking for the sweet arms of summer to hug me now, and embrace these summer miles that somehow suddenly feel so good. The running is smoother. The cycling is strong. Even my swimming is coming around. Pulling it all together for a race in mid-July. Because summer doesn’t end on the 4th of July. In fact, it’s just beginning.
The Tour de France will be broadcast with all its strange and glorious conflict and controversy. I’ve come to believe those boys are no different than high-schoolers playing with drugs under the summer sun. Who’s to say that it’s not normal to pump yourself up with substances while riding 2,000 miles in the heat and mountains? They’re defying death just like the rest of us.
Now you’ll excuse me while I go looking for a few goose bumps to admire. I love them on the skin of my wife, and the look of her in that sleek swimsuit, and her beautiful curly hair when it dries, and her flashing eyes. I want to steal her into a tent and make love on an air mattress in that light where the sun through the tent canvas looks so romantic it makes you want to cry. This is no longer some schoolboy summer. This is life. And I love it. And her. And the whole goddamned world, faults and all.