The Summer of Bittersweet Lemonade

Picture it. June 1985. Gainesville, Florida.

One hot summer. Sticky. Oppressive. Too humid to even be sultry.

And I was doing time in summer school. Working to get ahead on my credits.

Listening to a lot of music. Watching a lot of MTV.

Nursing a shattered heart -- the by-product of the end of a messy, complicated relationship that spring.

Kissing a lot of boys to try and at least numb the pain of relationship finality.

Living in an apartment with two other pals -- we were all subletters, having lived elsewhere during the main school year. Trying to dodge the landlord because the fourth regular roommate, who didn’t find a subletter, was late with her share of the rent and we kept having these horrible EVICTION FORTHCOMING notices plastered to our front door. (That chick finally did pay what she owed, but damn, did it take too much time and energy to get her to pony up.)

Drinking a lot of cheap beer. A lot. Sometimes spending my laundry quarters to do it, as my regular drinking haunt was right next to my regular Laundromat.

Having lawn chairs and beach loungers for apartment furniture because the regular dwellers took all their furniture with them when they left for the summer and it just wasn’t worth it to schlep sofas and chairs up from home for six weeks. Reading Rolling Stone religiously while burning a candle and listening to my Broken Hearts Club mix tape. Over and over and over.

Riding the bus back and forth to campus because I STILL didn’t have a car at school. Sweating like a hooer in church, even just walking to the bus stop. Damn, was it hot.

Watching the NBA Championship Finals from the hide-a-bed in our living room (why I remember that, I have no idea) and igniting love for my beloved Boston Celtics. Yeah, they lost but they earned a place in my sports-loving heart forever.

In other words, I was kind of pathetic. Well meaning. But pathetic.

In the midst of all that, I was taking two classes.

A Journalism Law classzzzzzzzz.

And an Oral Performance class. Which I adored.

Madly. Truly. Deeply.

I’m one of those rare beasts -- ok, weird people -- who, to be blunt, totally gets off on speaking in front of people. Love. It. It’s fun. It’s energizing. And it’s about as close as I get to being on stage in my regular, mundane life.

This oral performance course was tailor-made for me -- a frustrated theater girl who often regretted the decision (her father made) not to be a theater major. For class, we had to select different pieces -- prose, fiction, drama -- and not only read them aloud in an interpretive fashion, but provide a written narrative of our analysis and choices for the pieces.

I was in heaven.

Writing and performing. Bliss.

Which is what I needed in my hiding-from the-landlord-man, post-relationship ending funk.

Throwing myself into doing something I loved to get over a man. As only a broken hearted college girl could do.

I lived and breathed this class. I chose pieces that were challenging and smart and interesting: scenes from Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.” A Shakespearean sonnet (CXVI, to be exact) And the piece that tested me in more delicious ways than I can count -- a dramatic monologue -- one from Martha, natch -- from Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

There was one more piece that I remember. It was a poem, author unknown. I think I found it tucked within one of my dog-eared copies of Rolling Stone. I wish I’d written it. I could have. It perfectly described the very state of my being that long, hot summer.

Oh this roller coaster...

am I on forever?

It was screaming thrills

when I had the stomach

for it. And I told

everyone to try a

roller-coaster sort of

life. “The ups are

won-der-ful!” I yelled

from somewhere near the sky.

But now my guts

ache and my heart wobbles

dangerously at the downs

and I have to cling on

tightly, alone in my

seat. A couple on the

grass over there are

sitting quietly with

their arms around each

other, looking into each

other’s eyes and probably

thinking “the ups are

wonderful.” I’d hurl

myself off the roller

coaster if I had someone

to sit with on the calm

grass. But as there’s no one,

guess I’ll stay here and

try not to feel sick

sometimes. “Some people

envy me this ride” I tell

myself and with heaving

stomach I remind myself

the ups are wonderful.

I poured myself into the reading and interpretation of those words. My twenty-year-old self infused them with the sense of melodramatic weariness that seemed to envelop me. A release came with the sharing. Lemonade made from the bitter fruit I'd been toting around. And I got a GPA boost out of it as well -- Lord knows I needed it.

I’ve long since moved past my state of mind that summer -- the residue of that broken romance was washed away with the tears from other heartbreaks and the waves of new experiences. But the words of that poem are still part of me. They’ve been applicable more than once since the summer of ‘85. Each hurt a little different, yet the same.

Yeah, the ups are indeed wonderful. Not a bad idea to keep your hands in the car. But don't be afraid to let go, even if it's just for a little bit.


karin said...

What a fabulous find at a perfect time. I'm glad you made lemonade. :)

Jan(e) said...

The ups in life really are wonderful as is this post.

Stella said...

Ah Janey, Janey! I almost feel like I was there.
In another life as Josie I followed you religiously, then got all anal and decided I had to be anonymous and re-invented myself as Stella. And forgot where to find you.
Who could believe that? But it's true, and you're just about my favourite blogger around. Or at least I think you might be kindred spirit.
So now I've found you again please write more!
Stella x