When I was obligated to wear button-down shirts on a regular basis in the middle of a July day? When I could no longer spend my summers at the New Britain YMCA learning how to play pool and swim in the deep end and do a butterfly stitch with blue and green gimp? When, while working at my college’s library, I took my morning bus past the aftermath of a bank robbery and then on the return trip had to negotiate cars filled with vigilantes armed to patrol their neighborhoods in the wake of the failure of police to do the same?
I know at some point summer became a season of boiled blood, and to look back on my summers now is to read a history of violence.
Tamir Rice was wearing a jacket in the last November of his life. Trayvon Martin was wearing a hoodie in last February of his life. So was Laquan McDonald in the last October of his life. But whenever I think of them, individually and collectively, the image that comes to mind is of Michael Brown’s body lying in the sun for hours, strange fruit overripe.
I hate summer because it feels more and more like punishment. It’s not open windows; it’s the mosquitoes that come through. It’s not warmer temperature; it’s what warmer temperature pushes the trash on the street to smell like. It’s not quickness to joy; it’s quickness to anger. To rage.
Alton Sterling was wearing a t-shirt in the last July of his life. So was Philando Castile. We know this because circumstances have made amateur journalists out of all of us. While her partner bled to death beside her and while the officer who had fired gunshots into the car holding her baby daughter screamed at her and continued aiming, Diamond Reynolds became the voice of reason and recorded the last seconds in the last July of her partner’s life because maybe us knowing would be her only recourse.
And now Dallas.
Summer grows heavy. Its wetness is an assumed fact, like the blueness of the sky, like the inevitability of black death, and, now, like the thermodynamic inevitability of the reaction to it.
When I was younger, violence in summer was localized. A stabbing at the Hartford Puerto Rican Day parade. Gunshots and fireworks in New Haven or in Bedstuy becoming indistinguishable. But now violent summers in Falcon Heights are our summers and violent summers in Baton Rouge are our summers. Violent summers in Ferguson are our summers.
I hate summer, in large part, because you can’t protect yourself from it. You can only hide for so long in air-conditioned rooms, should you be fortunate enough to have access. Winter, as I’ve known it, you can bundle up. You can assume layers. They won’t stop a bullet or even slow it, but they will cage your restlessness, your irritability, your discontent. At least they have with mine. In the fall, at least in New England, I’ve been too besotted with how on fire the trees lining I-84 are to believe the season inherently violent. And in spring, we are digging ourselves out from under snowbanks. The rain forces us under shelter. We are too busy protecting ourselves to hurt each other. But summer...
It feels irresponsible to be hopeless in public. To be past surprise can be expected, perhaps is expected at this point. But to be past hope? To fall into the ultimate understanding that none of us knows how to change this? That there is no ‘better’ there is only ‘worse’? It feels so, so irresponsible to believe that summer, this summer, is eternal.
One way or another, a body has been left to ripen in the sun, punished by nature. It hangs from a tree in Piedmont Park. It reclines in the driver’s seat of a car in Falcon Heights. It scatters a crowd near Belo Garden in Dallas. It hugs the pavement on a street in Ferguson.
As much as this country’s character can be said to constitute anything else, it carries the image of the slave sweating in the fields. The image of the inmate with no ventilation in a 3.5m x 2.5m cell. Punishment. Summer.
Maybe I started hating summer when, in 2013, Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted. And with each new injustice, passing like a parade down the street, whose arrival we could never know or prepare ourselves for and whose march we were obligated to track every single time, summer and inevitability became synonymous. Interchangeable. Coincident. The same.
I no longer know that this will.