This is a post for my friend Summer. Naturally, I’m going to use a season-metaphorical opener and a season-metaphorical theme throughout…
Summer is both the brightest season of the year, the most relaxed, and the one you look most forward to during the coldest months.
I think this perfectly describes my friend Summer. She’s a ball of sunshine in any room she’s in. She’s chill AF. And during any cold (i.e. wintry) moments, she’s a great person to have by your side. I can tell you first hand.
One of the coldest (better yet, most embarrassing) moments of my life happened my junior year of high school with Summer right by my side.
Disclaimer: This is not a story I tell to everyone. In fact, I’ve never told this story to anyone. I’m getting shivers just thinking about it.
Summer and I decided to run for Junior Homecoming Court. We both made it and were chosen to walk with each other at the school pep rally. We decided that for the rally she would rock my football jersey and I would wear her soccer shirt. Cutesy. Unique. Why not, right?
On the day of the pep rally, I rocked Summer’s shirt. I noticed throughout the day that it was a tight fit for me (these were the peak years of my high school football-playing days, and my body played the part). As I went throughout the day, I noticed drips of sweat appearing under my pits. Just drips, but oh no, right? They disappeared as quickly as they came, but they were an omen of what was to come.
The day went on and we inched closer to the pep rally. I got my jersey from the football facility (#25) and gave it to Summer. Fit her perfectly. We were going to crush the pep rally. It started and all the opening acts took place. The cheerleaders performed. Our male teachers dressed like women and had a fashion show. And then it was time for the Homecoming Court to walk out in front of everyone.
They gathered all of us in the hallway to prep us on when we were supposed to walk out and what we were supposed to do. My friend Lance stood near me. He looked at me and said, “Hoop. You sweating like a motherfucker.” And then he laughed.
I looked down. He was right. It was Revenge of the Pits. The drips had come back with a vengeance and turned into floods. I don’t know if it was nerves, the tightness of the shirt, the humidity in the hallway, or a combination of it all, but the antiperspirant particles in my deodorant had let me down. It was the worst I had ever seen it, and in seconds everyone else in the school would.
There was nothing I could do. No extra shirts around. No jackets to throw on. The couples ahead of us walked out, and then it was time. The teacher waved us on and then I walked out… with Summer right by my side.
I made my walk of atonement as all of Armwood High School looked on. We did a lap around our gym and then stood in front of our classmates until the “Whose got the most spirit?” competition began.
I’d show you pictures, but either my friends thought it was too embarrassing to commemorate or they keep hidden away to one day use as blackmail.
I’ve blacked out most of this memory, but one thing I remember vividly is Summer standing next to me the whole time. She didn’t refuse to go. She walked out with me. She never ran away. She may have internally wished she had been paired with another person to walk with, but externally she was a good friend.
She was the summer in my wintry moment.
The next year (as Seniors), Summer and I decided to run for Homecoming Court again. I figured there was no way she would want to be paired with me for a second year in a row, but before I could finish the thought, she said, “Let’s be paired up again!”
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know if she had forgotten about the last year or had blocked it out of her mind the same as me, but we found ourselves running for court and hoping to be paired together. Me wanting her because I couldn’t think of anyone else who would walk with me. Her wanting me because… I don’t know… And she let everyone know what was up the day before election day.
We both made Court, and I don’t know if either luck or Mrs. (insert the teacher who was in charge of Homecoming’s last name because I can’t remember it) was on our side, but we were then paired once again to walk with each other.
You can’t make this stuff up. With the titles of Homecoming King and Homecoming Queen on the line we linked up to make flyers and banners, began a social media campaign before social media campaigns were a thing, and told everyone we were the go-to pair to vote for.
During the pep rally, I made sure to rock a loose white t-shirt (that sweat has a harder time appearing on) and I made up for the atonement walk from the year before. We even took pictures!
Neither of us won Homecoming King or Queen (#DylanAndCayla), but I’m convinced that no one had a better time that night than us. We macarina’d to the stage and watched our friends get crowned. No sweat involved.
Throughout my two years of Homecoming adventures, I don’t think there’s another person I would rather have as my companion. Even though we never won official crowns, she was always the true queen in my eyes.
There’s a part of me who wants to end this post right there. It’s good. It ties everything up nicely. So if you’re rushed for time, by all means, feel free to stop reading here.
But I’d personally feel incomplete if I didn’t continue with the story, so I’ll go on…
After graduation, I went up to Tallahassee to attend Florida State as Summer stayed back home to pursue her degree. Via Facebook posts, reunions when I came back home, and the all-powerful snapchat, we remained close.
Four years after graduating high school we both were on pace to graduate college in the Spring of 2015. As the days ticked closer to walking, I was loss in the whirlwind that was thoughts about my future, was on the verge of failing French III, and couldn’t land my dream job at Disney, all still while going out like I was a freshman. I wasn’t ready to graduate and decided to stay another Fall.
On the other side, Summer graduated that Spring, got engaged to her firefighter boyfriend, was weeks away from a post graduation cruise, and got a job teaching at an elementary school. I was kind of low key jealous, but still very happy for her. She had it all figured out, and I think that was true for all of a week.
In seemingly overnight, her social media went from being overran with good news to asking people to wear tie-dye on a special day for her younger sister. Something was up.
It wasn’t before long that I learned (and I’m trying to be delicate as I can with my wording here) that Summer’s younger sister had been suffering from mental illness and had taken her own life.
Her sister was finishing up her junior year, the same year that Summer and I had first been a part of Homecoming Court.
This is when I would love to say, that I stopped whatever I was doing, rushed back down to Tampa and stood next to Summer the same as she stood next to me in high school.
But I honestly can’t say that. The event was so real and so visceral, and as someone with a younger sister who was going into eighth grade at the time, I was immobile. I was shocked to say the least, but I couldn’t imagine what Summer was going through and I didn’t allow myself to. All I could muster up were some likes on her social media posts and some vague texts about how sorry I was. For the first time in my life, I had few words.
But as time has gone on, and the more I see my own sister getting ready for high school, the more Summer shines as an inspiration for myself and anyone with a younger sibling or who has ever loss someone. Whether she’s intended to or not, she’s taught me a couple lessons that I think everyone can learn.
Lesson 1: Your friends are important
I was blessed to have friends like Summer in high school who were there for me during the lows of junior year Homecoming Court and highs of senior year. I can only hope that my sister’s friends turn out to be as great.
Lesson 2: Love your siblings
Despite the tragedy, one thing that can never be questioned is how much love Summer had for her sister. One scroll through her social media and it shines brighter than any other relationship she has. She inspires me to be a better brother for my sister (and even my not-too-younger of a brother) because you never truly know how long you have with one another.
In the future, I hope to do a better job of standing with Summer as she continues honoring her sister’s life and raising awareness about mental health. She has been both one of my closest friends, an inspiration to me, and one of the few people I look up to through the years.
But the most important lesson that Summer has taught me might be the final one.
Lesson 3: Even during the dark coldest wintry moments (and despite what a Stark would have you think), a bright and warm summer is always coming.
Love you Summer!