Summer’s not as long as it used to be— Frank Ocean
I once was someone who hated summer: humidity turning my skin sticky & slick, the air hanging heavy in every room. Hours stretched thin & long. I was constantly uncomfortable, not only in the season but in my own body. Summer made me burn.
Growing up, summer meant the end of my routine & the start of waiting. Waiting for friends to call & invite me to sleepovers or trips to air-conditioned movie theatres. Waiting for the calendar to flip to July, then August, & finally September. Waiting for the temperature to decrease. I secretly sought the first signs of fall, looking for the brave leaf that would turn yellow before the others. Summer made me restless because I couldn’t fill my days. Mountains don’t make for much excitement when you are sixteen & everyone you know lives miles away.
In adulthood, the borders of summer function like a mirage. The season appears endless, shimmering suspended somewhere emails & spreadsheets don’t exist. There is always the promise of the next Summer Friday, the next train, the next month. Until we run out. We claim an early start to the season after Memorial Day & pack away the swimsuits & white denim after Labor Day.
Summer means nostalgia, a longing for the past. It’s tied to tradition & at times a routine of leisure. Coming-of-age stories take place in summer for a reason—everything seems new. Bodies are exposed, skin is everywhere. Even my misplaced summer angst from my youth makes me long for the days I sulked around the house. In being so eager to grow up & manage our lives, we forget to enjoy living them.
Some summer memories, in non-chronological order: elevated trains rushing to beat sunsets, my first trip to Governors Island, Girl Scout camp & a daddy longlegs attached to my sock, swimming lessons at the SUNY pool, the night I was roofied, the sweaty day I spent at Warped Tour, a week in August at my grandparent’s house & the thrill of finally being able to run after the ice cream truck. The summer I moved in with a partner & the summer my grandfather passed away. My first martini & the shots of tequila that fueled the dance parties that healed my heart.
This current version of summer has been marked by the virus that has marked us all, & the looming thought of what it will bring when summer ends. People have emerged from their homes, remembering what it was like to be unafraid of strangers, recalling the sensation of a breeze in the middle of a heatwave. New York is empty yet alive—bars & restaurants turned inside out onto sidewalks & parking spaces, the office buildings in Midtown collecting dust.
In this version of summer, I’m wearing a mask as I walk through my neighborhood to meet a friend at a bar that has been closed since March. Black Lives Matter signs dot windows along the twenty-minute walk, something that now feels so familiar & yet is a new development, a show of support for the movement & the continuing protests throughout the city. The same city that saw death in spring, when summer felt too beyond to reach for. The same city that used to target Black & brown bodies, & in many ways still does.
The only thing familiar is the music playing as I walk: “Did you call me from a seance?” Blonde has been the soundtrack to my last four summers—playing during the hot pink sunrise highs, faintly in the background during the in-the-gutter lows. When the opening notes of “Nikes” warble in, I am transported to backyards & string lights, the backseat of a cab coming over the Brooklyn Bridge, the back of a dark loud room containing bodies moving & breathing freely. Blonde has been the soundtrack to summer because in a way it is a musical portrait of the season—a series of moments that become memories almost as soon as they are lived, a record of failed relationships that were tender in their making.
The first time I heard it playing in public, it was the end of August in 2016 & we had no idea how things would change. I was on my way to a bi-level Bushwick establishment with a friend. Earlier that summer, I left the keys to my apartment in the interior door handle of a rideshare car. Earlier than that, I was caught between grieving for my grandmother, who had passed away in May, & grieving for myself after being rejected by two men who filtered in & out of my life as it suited them. I upended my purse at the top of my stoop, begging my keys to appear. I would be reunited with them (my keys) the following weekend. I spent the rest of that summer longing, & a good portion of the summers after doing the same. But instead of longing for the end of summer, I found myself wishing for time to extend itself, to stay a little longer.
The beat switch that occurs in the middle of “Nights” marks not only the second half of the album, but also the halfway point of summer, the first sign that this season will one day have to end. Like that yellow leaf I used to seek, summer announces the coming of its end through small milestones: the first chill in the night air, the sun setting seconds earlier each day. You are left with an empty stoop, sunkissed skin, & the promise that next year will be different, that next summer will erase the disappointments of this one. What does the future look like when we can’t reckon with the past, or even the present?
Blonde is nostalgia, the longing & the unfilled hours. It’s the hindsight that comes a year later, when you realize that the thing that once hurt so much doesn’t even register now. I dislike the term “new normal” because what is considered normal changes, but in the present moment I’m begging summer to stay. To sit idle, to let us have a moment of joy. “It’s hell on Earth & the city’s on fire, inhale in hell there’s heaven,” Frank sings, & this time I’m at the Rockaways, watching the water inch close, the horizon beyond reach. I want to hold on to this moment, this piece of summer that belongs to me.
— Chanice Hughes-Greenberg
Brooklyn, day 163