The reason I love summer is because I grew up in a home with lots of yelling, cussing and fighting. Me and my two brothers, Sonny and Curtis, were so scared and nervous all the time, that we quickly developed coping habits…BAD habits like drugs, alcohol, sex, nail biting etc. The only time of year we ever got away from this terror was summer.
In the summers, my parents would ship us off to my Gran’s farm in East Texas. There were plenty of tall oak trees, fresh air and green grass. We’d run and play, laugh and just be regular kids. Those are my best memories of childhood. I would go out into the corn field and walk through warm sand barefooted.
One time, I sat down in the potato field and dug up potatoes with my bare feet and toes. We’d catch grasshoppers and go fishing. My little brother Sonny started running after a big frog. That frog was hopping in a hurry with a tousle-haired little boy running after him. Finally the frog hopped up under the wood floor boards of the shed and Sonny couldn’t reach him, so he sat down in the dirt and cried like a baby.
“Oh sonny,” I told him sitting down beside him, “You don’t need that frog. He’ll give you warts. Plus he has to stay out here around the pond. He has to be where he can swim and he can’t swim if you take him in the house.”
Finally, Sonny stopped crying. “Okay, I guess you’re right Carolee. I won’t chase him no more.” Then we’d go back to playing. Sonny had a bunch of those little metal cars. Some were tow trucks, others were police cars, one was a yellow taxi. We sat down in the dirt and scooped the dirt out to where we had roads. We’d make little villages out of rocks and sticks. Then our cars would zoom, zoom, zoom through the neighborhoods.
Sonny could literally play for hours. He never seemed to get tired of pushing those little cars along the dirt roads he built.
There was no screaming or cussing for the whole summer, just the sounds of hawks and dove, owls and crickets. At night, we’d sleep outside on a mattress in the front yard and tell ghost stories till we fell asleep. The sky above us was black and filled with billions of twinkling stars. Our world was full of wonder, quiet beauty, cool grasses and lush green trees. In the morning, granny would wake us up for breakfast, “Hey, you kids get in here and wash up. It’s time for breakfast.”
Rubbing our eyes, we’d wander into the house and wash our faces using water from an old porcelain bowl. The water was cold, having just been drawn from the well. Breakfast was good. Grampa would help out in the kitchen. He and Grandma made scrambled eggs, sausage, sliced tomatoes fresh from the garden, and toast with coffee. This is still one of my favorite meals today.
But then summer would draw to a close and we’d have to go home and get ready for school to restart. The yelling started up again.
Summer was the time when we could get far away from all that yelling and drama. At Gran’s farm, there were cows, pigs, horses and chickens. We could go out every day and help gramma feed the chickens and gather eggs. “Be real careful, honey,” granny would say on our way to the chicken house. “You reach your little hand in there real careful, because sometimes you’ll find a chicken snake resting in that nest.”
“Okay, gramma, I’ll be careful…I promise.” But I never was. I was the type of person who went through life at a careless pace, always sitting my cup on the edge of the counter so that it teetered between safety and crashing to the floor. That was my life too. It teetered between being happy and meaningful to being chaotic. It never was solid, full and blissful. It always felt like I was born to do something important but never did quite achieve that.
Us kids grew up. Sonny moved away from all of us. He tried to have a happy normal life. He married a widow woman in Poetry Texas and helped her raise 3 young-uns. His old ghosts and demons from childhood never left him though. He finally drank and smoked himself into an early grave. He had a heart attack and died 2 years before mama died.
Curtis became a drifter and a gambler. He got pretty good at it and could con anybody out of anything. His drug use led him to a life of never really having a home or family. He lived out on the streets and died in some unknown town.
Me? I like to think I’m the one who made it, although looking at my life, you might feel sorry for me. I have a place of my own and a good job but I’ve closed my life off to people, love, feelings, emotions…anything real. Right after the divorce, I dated for a few years, but I always chose men that I knew weren't right for me.
I traveled for 8 years working for FEMA doing disaster relief. In every city, even New Orleans, I’d find some guy. We’d have a meaningless relationship and I’d move on to the next city. The last guy in my life? We saw each other for about 3 years and I never learned his last name.
I KNOW the danger of caring, of loving, of being invested in any type of relationship. I can’t bring myself to risk it again. I’d rather go to my grave alone.
But I still love summer! It’s my favorite time of year. I sit out on the porch, close my eyes and dream I’m a little girl again with curly locks of hair hiding sad, dark eyes. I’m wearing that little white dress with pink flowers. I’m sitting in warm sand, my bare feet pushed down into the dirt, toes searching for baby potatoes.
Grandma steps out onto the back porch just at dusk and yells, “Carolyn Lee! Get in this house right now! Night’s coming and the wolves will be on the prowl.” So I get up, dust off my dress and go inside. Grandma has made a chocolate pie and I get a slice and go to sit on her old hard couch.
My life didn’t turn out like I wanted it to, but life never makes any promises. It just is. You live it trying to make your best decisions and then deal with the consequences. You dream things will be better tomorrow but you wake up in the same lousy world every single day.
For me, writing about it all has helped a great deal. It’s been better than therapy, really. Plus, I try to look around me and see what others are going through. It seems like everyone has a really sad story to tell and your heart breaks for them because you understand their pain, having gone through something similar.
Perhaps that’s one of the major objectives for our journey here on earth. It’s simply to learn empathy for others and make a meaningful difference in someone else’s life. I’ve been there and done that. I know the pain of losing everything. I know what it’s like to be rejected and unwanted. But I also know how to survive.
When everyone left me, including beloved family members, God gave me the courage to get up and go on. After losing everything I loved and cherished, I learned how to start over from scratch and build a new life.
I’m still a work-in-progress. I have a feeling that we’re all meant to be that way until the end of our lives. Humans are never meant to get to a place where they no longer need to learn anything, where they no longer need others. We’re all on this epic journey together that takes us to new and uncharted territory every day.
The lessons are hard sometimes. The journey almost killed me but I learned that I don’t need anyone but Jesus in order to make it. I can live fine without a family, home, money or even my health.
When I look back on my life, it feels like a very personal, but greatly extended version of the TV show, Survivor. I came to this “island” with nothing. I will leave with nothing. Along the way, I learned to feed and care for myself. I made a few alliances, but they all fizzled out at various points and I was left alone to figure it out or die trying.
Many of my teammates died along the way. I was puzzled by this because I knew they were stronger and smarter than me. But it’s not always the big, fierce guy with muscles who wins the game. Sometimes, it’s the frail girl with frizzy hair who manages to outwit, outlast and outplay everyone. I hope that will be my epitaph.
Life … the epic game of Survivor!