The summer I was 19 I lived alone, after 10 months in a university co-op with 50 other women. I hated living in a crowded house, or thought I did, so I moved into the College Inn, a big efficiency apartment complex for students, by myself. It was my first summer in Corvallis and I didn’t know how college towns empty out in the summer. I took summer classes and worked two jobs and wrote e-mails to my friends, almost all of whom were somewhere else: at their parents’ houses in other towns, or working at summer camps.
I didn’t have a kitchen in my room, or even a minifridge and microwave (I could have rented these from the university, but I was cheap). I either ate in the dining hall downstairs or took the elevator up four floors to one of the kitchenettes and cooked baked potatoes or Korean bowl noodles (I also didn’t have dishes, though I stole some flatware from the dining hall).
Sometimes my friend Birch would throw rocks at my window late at night and we’d go for long bike rides, or stomp around muddy fields outside of town. Sometimes my friend Nick and I would go to Lyons or Shari’s, the two 24-hour cafes on Ninth Street, which were right next to each other and one of the only entertainment options for people under 21. (I didn’t drink back then, anyway.) But mostly, I went to work, went to class, and then went home and was alone and tried to ignore the silence.
The summer started out bad, I mean. And it got worse. I slept with a man I really, really, really shouldn’t have slept with; the proof that our dalliance was a Terrible Idea was that the man in question got not just weird (they do that) but hostile. Nick took it upon himself to give me advice on the subject. The advice backfired horribly — and his spending a lot of time with me one on one, talking about my poor sexual judgment ad nauseum, didn’t improve his or my relationship with his girlfriend. The one female friend who was still in town just belittled me for having been so stupid.
In August I had my appendix out, and when the nurses at the student health center told me to call a friend to take me to the hospital, the only person I could get hold of was The Asshole. He obliged, irritated, and didn’t so much as write or call to check that I was OK.
I tried to dig it, though. Tried to put an appreciative spin on how lonely and miserable I felt. After summer class session ended, and my jobs wound down, I had an interval of a couple of weeks with nothing to do. The last thing I needed was an idle mind, but I took long walks and said to myself, You are as free now as you will ever be in your life. I picked flowers and pressed them in my journal. And I listened to music.
At the beginning of the summer I had bought a copy of The Breeders’ Last Splash from the bargain bin at a local record store. The album was several years old at that point, but I had only heard the singles. That summer I listened to it daily. There were two beds in my room (double rooms were cheaper to rent than singles, even if you were the only occupant) and I jumped on them while listening to “Divine Hammer,” sometimes putting the song on repeat, pleased for those minutes to be old enough that no one was around to tell me not to jump on the bed, and young enough that I didn’t actually own the beds myself, so I did not care if I broke it.
I’ve listened to Last Splash enough times to have pretty much solely positive associations with it instead of weird and bittersweet ones. Now it just sounds like summer to me. Now I own a bed I am pretty damn disinterested in breaking, and I live with three people and two cats I love, and I rarely leave the house without running into someone I know, by chance. The bed I’ve no interest in breaking is a little emptier than I’d like it to be these days, but I rarely feel lonely.
Still. Perhaps to balance the surprisingly beautiful, sunny, mild winter we had in Portland this year, the last six weeks or so of Portland weather have been just hideously gray and wet and cold and, weirdly, torrentially rainy (contrast with the usual Portland mist). For the last week or so I’ve responded to the weather by listening to a lot of sad music and crying, and posting the saddest songs I could find to my Blip account. Because I’m a sadist who demands that all my social media contacts get weepy right along with me. Once or twice during this bout of lousiness, we’ve had one nice day, making me think, Hey, maybe this shit’s over! Only to be greeted the next day by torrential rain and wind. I vowed that I would post a happy song once we had two nice days in a row.
Yesterday I forgot to slather my pasty Irish self in sunscreen, and turned slightly pink; today I rode my bike in the sun. When casting about for happy, summery music to keep my promise with, I was initially at a bit of a loss. When you’re depressed you lose perspective. You get resigned. You forget what life was like when you weren’t dodging hailstones or sitting in your bathrobe crying over “Seasons in the Sun.” And then you remember how miserable and terrified you were 10 years ago, even with the sun out, your first summer in the valley you’ve come to call home, and how for a few minutes a day, you were lifted, you were ecstatic, and you thought you might end up OK.