This essay was selected as the 3rd place submission from Street's Love Issue personal narrative contest. Read some of our other favorite pieces here and look out for new pieces as we publish them throughout the week!
I hate summer people.
Glistening skin, white laughter, frothy water, gritty sand that won’t wash off your legs. The sting of salt in your mouth, maybe from those dry–cured steaks or maybe from the sea, no one can tell. I look at you and want to crack a half–assed joke about being salty, but I won’t.
The truth is, I’ve actually never seen you on a beach, not in the flesh. Yet, that’s how I always think about you, or at least your quintessence. “Plato’s Theory of Forms,” you’d remark, with your dumb British accent. It’s been a while, and the incompetence of memory smudges the line between fact and fiction. I’m still not that clear on the truth of what happened, and you aren’t either, but the difference between us is that you never cared enough to figure it out. Classical philosophy was never your thing anyway.
Not generalizing people is an underratedly hard thing to do. The popularization of character tropes, horoscopes, and even all those "tag yourself" memes makes you wonder why the field of psychology isn’t obsolete, when there exists cut–and–dried solutions that box the 7.6 billion people on earth into one of sixteen types. Proudly display your INTJ laptop sticker, cross your fingers in solidarity, and hope that belonging to a cult of personality–clones makes you feel a little less cosmically lonely.
Even barring the usual pitfalls, you were always a tough nut to not idealize. The first time I met you, I couldn’t shake off my feeling of disbelief. I couldn’t shake off the feeling that you were too good for me. I pinched myself to double check that I wasn’t in a dream, or some state of hallucinogen–induced mania. Like the start of every awkward college flirtation, the sweaty walls, crumpled red solo cups, and erratically pulsating lights—hallmarks of the frat party—were far from glamorous. The sense of mystery in the room surrounded whatever mysterious substance happened to coat the sticky floors. I didn’t believe in the concept of "sad EDM" until that night. There was a kind of desperation in the room as the night waned and strangers began coupling off into sloppy, intoxicated courtships while the bass reverberated and entire bodies vibrated. People danced cathartically, jerkily embodying the music. It wasn’t necessarily a culture I wanted to subscribe to, but I was there, and I didn’t care.
The first thing I noticed about you was how hard you were. Your body, not the other thing, but probably that too. You were clearly one of those assholes who actually went to the gym and actually ate right, minus the beer and those sweet, sweet 3 a.m. UberEats orders. I scanned my word cloud of labels and jotted down “dumb frat boy.” “Gotcha,” I muttered, yet you bested me at every turn. Suavely, you described the buttery nuances of tone colour you were able to achieve in the Steinway piano shop, eyes shut as if you were reliving the scene, indulging in some kind of private kinesthetic pleasure. It’s like you had taken all the allures of fuckboydom and softboydom and amalgamated them into something frustratingly irresistible. Being a walking contradiction was your aesthetic. You smoked and drank nightly, even overslept your midterms, yet you landed the most lucrative internships and board positions year after year. You spun heart–wringing tales about being the lonely underdog in middle school, yet today, people cluster around you like flies. You were stinking rich, but emotionally impoverished.
Alas, here I am today, swaddled up in enough cloth it would put a mummy to shame, blasting “Loveless” on full volume. Deep, intellectual insights are raging in my mind—did you know that the statement “man's not hot” could be interpreted either as being disaffected by heat, or craving it, depending on whether the temperature outside was hot or cold? And indeed, as the wind bites at my skin and cuffing season draws to a close, it becomes obvious that it really is cold—just like you! Golden boy, you are the Hot Pocket who hasn’t been heated up long enough in the microwave: steamy and tantalizing exterior, but once someone takes a bite, their teeth are greeted with a nasty, frozen surprise.
I catch myself from making more of these petty and bitter analogies. You were the yang to my yin, not in a clichéd we–complete–each–other sense, but in the sense that I always felt like I was living in your shadow. It felt like regardless of how many LinkedIn connections I could rack up or how many different acquaintances I could rotationally grab lunch with, I could never ascend to your Ubermensch status. I was chasing your light asymptotically, yet I was neglecting my own. Superficial, morally unfounded success was always something I made a marked effort of not preoccupying myself with. Yet I was certain that my parents would love me more if I were like you. Regardless of how many smart–ass jokes I crack about you—teeth gritted, eyes stinging—I knew that in the end, the brunt of the joke was me. Hibernating in the Van Pelt basement, I live your life vicariously through a tiny cracked glass screen. You’re popping open a bottle of champagne, your eyes are twinkling, your face is illuminated by the rose–gold of the sunset.
Keep on laughing, summer boy.
Ella Bei is a sophomore from Calgary, Canada.