Summer, Amanda thought as she looked out the window at hot metallic Manhattan spread out so far below her it looked like a big board game, used to be fun.
Actually, it had been more than fun. It had been everything. When you’re an adult, she thought, summer isn’t really any different than its three seasonal counterparts. Maybe it was to truck drivers, to whom icy roads and soaring temperatures were important daily factors. Maybe it was to construction workers and road maintenance guys and gardeners. Amanda felt an unfamiliar longing wrap itself around her throat and squeeze until she was overwhelmed with the desire to run her Harvard MBA through the shredder and go ask one of those beautiful, blissfully free people for a job.
Summer didn’t matter up here, in her office on the 98th floor of the Empire State Building. The climate was controlled, her hours were controlled, her every movement was controlled, choreographed.
“Work-life balance is vital to your well-being and success,” the HR rep droned with mechanical, practiced enthusiasm at the quarterly staff meeting. He’d apparently never been given the script that explained how exactly to do that, or at any rate it never came up, and Amanda would go back to her office to find that her work had multiplied during the hour she’d been gone. Her boss always seemed to use that time to slip her ludicrous revisions to projects she’d nearly finished, and sent “Where’re we at on this?” email about projects she hadn’t had time to even look at yet. Work-life balance had become a punch line. She’d be happy enough just to balance work.
Amanda had reached the age when thinking back on her childhood was a luxury her mental health could ill afford, at least not the happy parts. The parts her parents had meticulously and doggedly destroyed through years of the subtlest form of child abuse – making her doubt herself – those years had been dragged out and inspected in soothingly-lit therapists’ offices so many times over the years that Amanda now tended to remember them with the vague distaste one feels when recalling a movie they saw once and didn’t like. The happy parts were what hurt to remember now. Especially summer.
Summer is like parole to a kid. That last day of school in June, the weather already hot and waiting impatiently just outside the building’s double doors, watching the clock that definitely must be broken, fidgeting, not making any attempt to concentrate, and the teacher, used to this, expecting this, had planned nothing more for that last afternoon than popcorn and a movie, and even those rare-in-school treats couldn’t keep the kids focused. Some thirty years later and the smell of popcorn when she wasn’t expecting it still gave Amanda a quick, excited jump of anticipation in her belly. The last minutes had always been the longest, stretching out agonizingly while she sat, every muscle on taut alert like a sprinter waiting for the crack of the starter pistol, so that by the time the dismissal bell rang, she almost screamed, grabbing her backpack and bolting out the door of the classroom and streaming down the hall with the other kids in a flood of eager, sweaty puppybodies, until they burst through the doors and sucked in great, hot breaths of sweet, sweet freedom.
Summer always carried with it a bit of mystery to Amanda. She would sometimes see kids from school at the pool, or at the townwide Fourth of July fireworks and watermelon festival, but for the most part they splintered apart during the summer, going off to camp or on family vacations, living their own little private lives for those few months, and when fall came and they all went back to school – a slower stream this time, weighed down by stiff new jeans and backpacks full of school supplies that had traitorously appeared in the stores in early August – they were familiar strangers to each other. Bodies had grown a little taller, faces had slimmed down, sun-darkened freckles and lightened hair bore testament to themselves and each other that it really had been summer, and that probably it would be again, but not for so long it was best not to think about it too much.
Grace, whose office was next to Amanda’s, stuck her head in just in time to keep Amanda from going into a full-on summer-related midlife crisis.
“Hey, that client meeting on Monday has been pushed to 3:00,” Grace said. “Do you want me to send it to your Outlook?”
“No, thanks. I got it,” Amanda said. “Hey, Grace, doesn’t it seem messed up to you that we don’t get summers off anymore, now that we’re adults and could really use it?”
“Totally. If you can sell that to HR, I will be right behind you.”
Yes, Amanda thought, watching Grace’s figure retreating down the hall. Yes, be right behind me, Grace. Let’s run out of here and go to my house and change into our swimming suits and fill my new plastic pool with shockingly cold water from the hose, and later we can have ice pops and run through the whole neighborhood and find new shortcuts to nowhere, which is exactly where we were headed. Let’s get grass stains on our feet and sunburns on our noses and mosquito bites on our arms.
From far down the hallway, she heard the elevator doors chime as they arrived for Grace, and she pictured them waiting for five seconds before sliding shut again.
Amanda slipped into the heels she didn’t realize she’d taken off, pulled her purse out of the bottom drawer, got into the elevator and made her way down the 98 floors and out onto the sidewalk, melting slowly into the vast, anonymous population of New York in the summer.