Unfortunately, every summer has a tale. Unfortunately, no summer has been pain-free, and every time the sun begins shining, it burns your skin like a reminder that you aren’t wanted enough.
As time goes on, you reconcile that it’s your own damn fault for holding a poker face. But to all the boys you’ve loved before, you can’t help but sometimes put up a finger of fuck you for not caring enough.
Every summer, there is a tale. And it doesn’t end very prettily.
You fall for your friend, and up until then, boys were something to chase after but not take seriously.
You enjoyed the feeling of liking someone, but not the feeling of making time for them, to want to talk to them, until your best friend that summer starts to slow you down. Starts to level you with a gaze you didn’t realize you wanted to see you.
But he’s already been interested in you before, but you, being afraid, weren’t sure how to acknowledge it.
Dating? Well, you’d gone on a few before, but…. But this one… this one is different.
But maybe you’re too little too late to being honest with yourself. Because you start hearing rumors he wants other girls. You hear about him sleeping with someone after you confess your feelings, but he just wants to be friends.
You despair, but you start to wonder if he lied.
His roommate is nice, and his roommate notices you. You do with him what you wanted to do with the friend you fell for, but it’s the wrong man and it’s the wrong couch you’re naked on as you regret, regret things after a party one night.
This frays things, and somehow adds salt to the wound of rejection when your friend gets mad.
The tug of war ends before the next season begins — when you find out, after your friend screams he loves you at a bar, that you’d been the one duped by his dishonesty the whole time.
Suddenly, you’re in bed with him too, but it doesn’t matter, because by now, he’s done with his pursuit of a truth you never knew he wanted.
Now it’s too late. Now he’s with someone else.
Because you were too stupid to say, “I love you, and I don’t believe you don’t love me too.” You were too stupid to fight. You consider not fighting anymore, and moving on to another boy —
What a stupid summer’s tale.
You expect that half-Asian, half-white boy you saw staring at you, following you around the journalism school all semester, to stick around for a gap year like he keeps randomly telling you about. To do medical school applications, he said, maybe you can even help.
You expect more conversations to happen, the interesting ones that tell his perspective about growing up in Missouri an outsider, and you want more and more and more time together.
You’re getting excited about what could be, until he corners you one night at a party.
You’re suspicious, because you’ve heard rumors he can be a player by now. But you still want to build a friendship into something more. You ask him what he wants.
Yes, he slurs. He leans forward. He, while everyone watches, kisses you on the cheek for all to see. I know you care, he purrs, breaking character with his stoic demeanor.
Come home with me, he beckons, except you don’t realize it, because you’re 20 and no one that tall and handsome has ever given you attention that you actually wanted so bad you don’t know if you have it.
You say no out of fear. He smirks at you, and laughs. He leaves. He gets in a bar fight that night, you learn, and you’re not sure who the ‘girl he was upset about,’ was. You become upset. You’re too afraid to ask.
It becomes a lie anyway, after you corner him in the waking world. He glares at you. You don’t know why, but you demand he explain why he hit on you, shakily unsure of what he knows about how you feel.
He coldly says he wants to be just friends. He accuses you of being too intense, and says he was just drunk.
You don’t know if these words out of defense or out of pure spite, when the night he stared at you seemed so deliberate. So intentional.
You don’t know what to trust, so you pretend you want to be friends too. Because that’s what he wants. Who are you to change it all?
Yet he keeps being ‘friends,’ and yet he tells you he won’t say goodbye when he graduates that summer, because he plans on seeing you again the next fall.
You hope he means, seeing more of you, as he smiles and waves at you as you drive away from campus that last time.
That summer, you drive through the hills of North Dakota dreaming about him. You see him in every sunset, every wistful wish, every song, every dream.
He likes some of your posts on Facebook as you replay the conversations in your head. You start anticipating and envisioning going up to him, hugging him the way he hugged you the last time you said goodbye, and saying let’s try, please, because I care.
Then you watch him fall in love with someone else over Instagram pictures. You tell yourself they’re just friends even as they go on so many adventures together, that she doesn’t even live in your town, so it doesn’t matter.
Then you see the relationship status. Then you mysteriously get blocked on Facebook. And you find out that day you got blocked was their anniversary now, and also he moved away, and you never even got a coffee date to talk and talk some more.
This would hurt less, if you didn’t keep having dreams, having a strange playback of everything, until one day you scream and beg the universe to take the intuition away.
You still cringe when someone says his name on the street. You still feel mysteriously shattered, but maybe that’s just how it’s supposed to be.
What a stupid mystery, you seethe.
What a stupid summer’s tale.
You’re not going to live in one place for a while, so you decide, now is the time to fool around.
So much for that.
For the second time since freshman year, you try to try your hand at Tinder during an internship in Indianapolis. It backfires within a week, when your boredom just hits you in the face, where you realize you don’t like any of these basic people trying to just have someone to fuck and lounge around with.
Every ‘date’ you go on becomes an existential bemoaning of contemporary dating culture, and each date ends with a handshake and a promise to be friends.
Any person you want around has to be exciting enough for you to endlessly talk to, you realize, but want also must entertain you beyond an existential conversation of once.
So you delete those stupid dating apps, and realize you can pick from the pool of people you know already or just meet on the street.
So you give in to having ‘standards,’ or whatever people call it. You don’t care, suddenly, who shares your bed as much as you used to. Now you don’t put up physical boundaries. Instead, emotional ones take their place.
So it goes that one night when you’ve flown home to Portland, you’ve meandered into your high school acquaintance’s house for a wine and bitch session about the current state of affairs. His parents are out of town, and he tells you the booze you bought is too cheap. He’s just finished his undergrad; you’re about to embark on an adventure to D.C., so there’s plenty to talk about.
But now talk is too cheap too.
You decide to be bold when you notice him eyeing you up and down, and decide, it’s time for a fucking different tale.
Why not have a little fun, you tease, putting on the brazen confidence you’ve learned to fake so well and sticking your chest out a little further. He picks up the signal sometime around the time you reenter his house and he pins you against the wall to enter your body.
You embark on the adventure you always dreamt of. You lose your virginity laying down sideways on his childhood bed, then on top afterward, losing momentum as you accidentally unravel the shelves that hold a slew of boyish decorations.
Oops, you slur, pretending to be more drunk than you are in the hopes of being extra seductive. You hate to admit it, but maybe you’re even a little bored. The most excitement you muster is when you fall asleep on accident, and bolt awake at 5 a.m. to run home before his parents do.
You drive home. You feel nothing. You’re disappointed that, unfortunately, losing your virginity lasted all of five seconds, and the enjoyment maybe 10.
You moodily realize that if even sex is devoid of pleasure, how the fuck is dating going to ever work?
You start having more of it. You start noticing you’re choosing people that intellectually challenged you to a duel. Your spite is access to their pleasure, and after you’ve won their brains over, you end up winning over their euphoria. They usually come faster than you like, and you’re left pasting on fake smiles, again and again, feeling used and unsexy.
Before you know it, you’re too jaded to have casual sex one more time just to be bored out of your mind, so you avoid it like the plague, even passing it up in a place like Las Vegas, because you’re sick of being disappointed by virtually everyone.
That’s the tale of that summer.
You don’t notice the months bleed into the cold later, until one man you feared would disappoint you does anything but that winter, in the City of Stars.
Until you take a chance and respond to your body, uncharacteristically turned on, and you’re shocked. You’re shocked you were not only not disappointed, but fucking delighted.
Because one man wins over your euphoria, accidentally steps into your emotions by touch only, and makes you feel things you didn’t know you wanted to feel anymore without even full bodily contact needed.
The same feeling you got when you two talked about everything, and you shared more than you have ever with anyone with a kindred spirit.
Feelings you have creep in — Like pursued. Like cherished. Like terror at actually feeling desired. As he strokes your hair, you feel longing hit you — you feel inspired to make things less casual — and now you’re at a loss because circumstantially, this man is supposed to be a one night stand. But emotionally, you can’t handle only “one.” You stand in the shower clinging to him, trying to make sense of all of the neurosis, all of the overwhelming affection you feel, of how much you don’t want to leave without a “two,” or “three,” or god however many he’d want.
It feels real to only you, this bond, so much that you barely hear him tell you he feels it too, and you can’t help but turn back as you kiss him goodbye the next day, to wonder if he wants you too. You try, for once, to ask for again, what would be to you too good to be true — to be wanted back. After so long of one night stands — now you ask for a two night stand.
You try for it to sound like a casual request, shrouding it around an innocent New Year’s ritual, your heart pounding that the same magic might be recreated.
Of course, as luck might have it, the magic is over. And you overreact, and you’re devastated, and now the winter’s tale is too cold for your liking, as you feel frosty rejection settle in your veins and you turn your back as 2017 begins.
It was too good to be true, you seethe on your way home. So what if there’s a chance you’ll end up in that city again? It means nothing. It doesn’t even bear telling, does it?
You go back to fucking for no reason, fucking with no meaning, and it’s not even fucking often, because it doesn’t even happen again until you’re bored after graduation.
Even those connections are a step above your cold, cold apparently constricted heart being so unimpressed with most people that you begin wondering if you’ll ever feel enough for any of this stupid, stupid game to matter.
Your tale looks bleak every time it resets.
Stupid, stupid tale.
You’re confronted again, with the possibility of Round 2. That maybe this time, you might not be wrong. That this person wants you, as you fly to the East Coast that late July 2017 to find answers you’ve been waiting for for months.
But instead, with that first man that you’ve wanted for multiple summers — turns out he doesn’t want you back. You choke on your salad from the way he accusatorially defends himself, against you for being upset you never heard from him again.
Or does he want you? You were so sure before, but aren’t now, because he seems appalled you’re entertaining thoughts of being more than friends, so appalled you have to sputter a defense, that you only brought up being more than friends because he avoided you for being crazy for thinking that.
For some reason, he sputters back that you need to set boundaries. And yes, you think sadly, maybe you should.
You hold back the sensation in your body when you look at him at the club, cheerfully going along with the ruse that, oh, that night, yeah it was fun enough, haha, I’m being so casual about it when you feel nothing close to casualty. You’re getting better at the poker face of cheerfulness, and you wonder how fooled he is.
Now, you think, you can just go back to praying maybe the sky will drop you another man who you’ll be as attracted to as him.
Another, another summer’s tale.
And yet, fucking again, another sad summer. You haven’t had sex in a year because, seriously, no one has been intellectually, emotionally or spiritually available. You aren’t even horny or sad. You’re resigned, and you’re also barely looking anymore.. You no longer want to take a chance, because every new man you meet from work or friends or school, old, young, friendly, mean, independent, clingy thinks your workaholic ways of life are ‘fascinating,’ but not appealing.
So what? You seethe some more from being not ‘feminine enough,’ too independent, for literally anyone to want. You throw yourself into your political reporting and your astrology listicle writing. You make friends, fast ones, all female, and notice with dismay the continued pattern that the men who may encroach in your life only seem to want you to be a rebound from their last girlfriend. You sometimes dream about the one you really want, but are sad doesn’t need you.
And you seethe, and you pine, and you watch some other blonde girl take the place of the beach trips, magic shows, jungle rock climbing adventures with the feelings you wanted, and you’re about to lose it and cry from the rejection you’ve been nursing.
And then, and then you feel more rejected, walking down the stairs of a vacation home glaring at his sleeping body every morning before it wakes, feeling the pain of rejection seep into you again and again. What a ruse, what a tease the universe has set up, you seethe as you watch him talk to everyone but you, as you sit next to him watching TV and feeling your body cry out for him but telling it to shut up! Shut up! with the smile still burning and pasted on your lips.
There is no respite but writing about it all.
And you come home after crying out in pain, on accident, breaking your poker face —
And you start to get more and more sad that, every summer’s tale has been a painful one. And you tell yourself at least you’re happy in one solid place, and you tell yourself connection is always possible
You wait for respite.
And you know that, all you want is for someone to put you in one of their tales.
But ha, who’s going to do that? You are losing faith.
After such a string of summer’s tales that meant nothing, you despair — when is a real one going to come around?