Oh, sweet Bananarama with your 80’s one-hit wonder. Such a catchy little tune, isn’t it? Bum bum bum bum-bum bum bum. What is that? A xylophone? I’ve never been sure. Anyway, the lyrics say, “It’s a cruel, cruel summer. Leaving me here on my own. Now you’re gone.”
I was sitting by my pool yesterday, while my children tortured a poor blow-up shark by doing cannonballs on top of it, and I found myself humming that song. Of all the songs in the world, I was dipping my feet into the water and humming Bananarama.
I’ve never considered summer cruel. As a child, there was no greater feeling than throwing my back pack into the closet and hitting the neighborhood on my bike. Sleepovers, swimming, road trips, Kool-Aid by the trough.
As a teenager, I spent the nights riding around my small, southern town with friends and staying up late to write stories about young love. I grew tall and tan during the summers of my youth. I never wanted those warm nights to end.
I’ve never minded the heat, either. That can be relieved by a dip in the pool, a trip to the Gulf, a cute tank top and cold drink. Summer has always represented freedom, the unplugging of alarm clocks, cookouts, weekends at the river, air-conditioned rooms with balconies overlooking the beach, crickets singing, fireworks, laughter, memories. It’s always been my favorite time. Summer is my season.
It was my mother’s season, too.
It was our season. Together.
This is the first summer without her, and I’m struggling.
Last week I stood in my flower bed and cried because I couldn’t call her and ask what kind of fertilizer my azaleas need. Yeah, I could Google it, but that isn’t the same. She knew so much about plants and we spent hours working in flower beds together. I wanted to phone her and ask her to come over. I wanted to walk around my yard and hear her comment on how beautiful my hydrangeas look. I wanted to kneel down in the mulch with her and pull weeds and plant impatiens like we’ve done hundreds of times before. I can’t even look at my garden this season without being overcome with grief. Something that I once delighted in, a treasured summertime hobby, has become painful.
We spent the hot days together. She raced my children from the shallow end to the deep. She’d get out and lounge next to me, her blonde hair pulled into a pony tail and her tan toes shining with Silver City Pink polish. We’d talk about that last trip to Pensacola and those Po’ boys at Peg Leg Pete’s. She reminisced about the summers of her youth in Nashville.
My children would stay the night at her house often during the summer. They’d call the next afternoon and ask if they could stay another night. And another. Mammy was going to take them to the farmer’s market. She bought them a slip n’ slide. “Can we stay again tonight, Mama?” Of course I let them. I loved that they made so many summer memories with her.
I thought of all of that while humming Bananarama. It’s a cruel summer without her here. I’m left here on my own. She’s gone.
I’m angry she isn’t here. Most of my friends still have their parents, and I’m jealous of that. I’m jealous they are sharing a condo at Gulf Shores. I’m angry their mother is helping them in their flower beds. I feel cheated when I see grandparents at the ball field rooting for that kid in the batter’s box. I feel like I’m too young not to have any parents. No mother. No father. They should still be here. It’s summertime, a season for family, and my parents should be here.
For the first time in my life, I can barely stand the heat. The lounger next to me is empty- the lounger where we basked in the sun together and where she drank lemonade from her monogrammed tumbler. The lounger where we shared laughs and deep talks and she decided on a whim to get up and go to the kitchen to make a lemon meringue pie.
The days drag on, hot and humid, and the sun takes forever to set on another day of grief and longing. I don’t want to fill her old terracotta pots with flowers. Those are her pots. She should be planting them. I don’t want to tend to the garden. I find no real joy in that anymore. I don’t want to grill out. She won’t be there with her famous potato salad and baked beans and witty one-liners as she stands in the kitchen and slices the onion. I don’t want to do summer without her.
“You’ve got to press on and make memories for your own children. You’ve got to rejoin the land of the living. You’ll learn to love summer again.” That’s what they say, but I don’t want to hear it. Sometimes I just don’t want to hear that I’ve got a lifetime to get used to her not being here.
I just want my mother this summer. I want her all the time, but especially this summer.
Summer was our season.
I don’t think Bananarama was singing about dead mothers in “Cruel Summer”, but I am.