Part of what I love about San Francisco is the fact it exists in a goldilocks zone of perpetual ‘just right’ weather. I have enough to cope with without my environment trying to boil me alive or freeze me. The heat is my enemy. I am not built to withstand hot weather. I am made for fog and rain, and misty mornings. I am put together to take the drizzle and the cold. I would rather feel scarily cold than terrifyingly hot. For someone who is pale and sallow, the heat and light is downright dangerous. I turn tan in the sun, but not without some painful burns. I live in sunglasses, even in the San Francisco fog. I am a cold weather-lover forever in the heat and longing for the fall, and by the time the winter comes around, I am longing for the springtime again, and a little sun on my bones. Still, I do not enjoy being too hot, and right now, once again, I am far far too overheated. The sun is burning down outside, the fog has burnt off and the world feels as if it is going to simply burn to a crisp. I feel as if I could go outside and run and run and run until I outrun the heat and break through into some icy bliss, but that is just the panic talking. There is no relief. Summer is just beginning.
Tokyo was an exercise in battling heat. My weapons were gel cool pads that stick on foreheads or the back of the neck, and an icy cool spray to try and take the sting out of the heat. Bamboo jungles paved over and concrete imposed where shade should grow make for a fever dream environment. The glass amplifies the horror of days which are naturally above a hundred degrees, but are then ramped up to ever hotter puddles of heat that collect in apartment rooms and fail to abate in the night time. Tokyo nights are full of mosquitos and humidity, and every bit as hot as when the sun is beating down, the heat trapped in a bubble until the typhoon rainy season comes and the heat is broken with drenching rainstorms. Rain in Tokyo is less droplets more buckets, sheets, entire pools being emptied all at once over the landscape turning what is still green, greener, and bubbling in sheets and droplets off glass, soaking the concrete and running into storm drains. Tokyo is a constant battle against the heat. Summer is fireworks and tanabata streamers, street festivals with carts of okonomiyaki
Sometimes you can try and outrun the heat, heading for the coast or the seaside, but it catches up with you. Even here, living on the Bay, sometimes the heat breaks through all the marine layer defenses and leaves me gasping like a fish out of water.
I was caught up in the Summer of 2020 nightmare where the west coast decided to burn for months at a time, and I got trapped in a tiny camp on the coast with fire to all sides of me, just far enough away for me not to panic too much, but close enough to hear the sirens, and be suffocated by the smoke and the fumes and the night in the day horror show. The wet and miserable coastline, constantly damp and flooded and swampy, with those cool sea-air summers seemed like a safe bet for a quiet, fire-free summer. I was wrong. The weather turned weird, real fire weather. The air dries out, and the heat turns up, then the strong winds start to blow. It felt ominous at the time, even if I had no idea what was about to happen, or that we were in any danger at all. I had gone shopping at some big box store.
We were living outside in campgrounds at the time, travelling up and down that west coast shoreline looking for somewhere with summer camping places that we could live by the day. In the summer it is a case of living by the day, putting together a puzzle of camping spaces, moving from this location to that, as tourists block book the entire summer and push out all the homeless people from the spaces which they live in during the rest of the year. Certain loops get reputations, and are taken over, en masse, but roving bands of invading dune buggy and ATV riders and off roaders. They turn up with their toy haulers and expensive gear, and go racing in the sand, a constant buzzing fills the air and the atmosphere turns frantic and full of a brutal mixture of money, speed and beer. Everything is done at full tilt.
The drone of the engines becomes a constant back drop to life. Small children drive themselves on ATVs across the campgrounds, somewhat illegally, I presume. Dogs bark and fuss and getting a space amongst this circus, a space to live and exist with this particularly toxic scene of privileged high octane movers and shakers of the earth is an exercise in luck, futility and perseverance. There was no such problem in 2020. The bane of my summers was much reduced thanks to covid, instead all the campgrounds were closed and instead the same people that come to camp and play in the sand dunes and fill up all the campgrounds, were visiting for the day, buying up all the toilet paper in the small town stores and dragging it back, like loot, to their homes inland. The heat was on. I stood in the store, in the middle of the aisle, not knowing what was going to happen, only that the campgrounds and bathrooms and other public facilities that made my life possible were all closing rapidly, and I had nowhere left to go. Heat and pressure don’t always make diamonds, sometimes it makes nervous breakdowns. Sometimes it just forces an implosion. Sometimes it brings everything crashing down.
It is still hot outside. I usually live in my hoodie or my old worn cardigan, but instead I am sitting here in a teeshirt and shorts, the curtains all drawn, and the windows wide open. In the camper Billy used to swear blind it would be cooler in the worst of the heat, to not let the hot air in. It was ridiculous. We would swelter until the night air came and then he threw everything open, letting in mosquitos and insects, mice and cold air, freezing our over heated bodies to the bone. I would lay down upon the bed in the back, my worn blue sleeping bag underneath my boiled octopus body, limp and too hot and lay back, my eyes closed, wondering if I could overheat so much in the little tin can that I would kick the bucket. After everything I had survived it was not an option. I would force myself up and out and find a tree to sit under, or a shaded spot by a river or a lake, and plant myself on the grass.
Watching the mink hunt in the summer afternoon, the fish jumping in the river, the biggest tree I had ever seen, having fallen goodness knows how long ago and lay there, studded into the mud, moss covering its huge mass, the occasional friendly dog running up to me, wondering if I could jump into the water to cool off, but never having the guts to risk the current, chipmunks in the trees making me laugh, big birds up ahead in the sky, the children running around me throwing balls and frisbees, and my best friend, standing there, his big walking stick in his hand, face worn with time and bad behavior, and the sun, the sun beating down on me, sometimes burning me to a crisp, sending me running for the bottle of aloe, sometimes not winning against the ridiculous zinc-white sun screen, the children turning brown as berries, their gentle faces smiling, catching the breezes they created in their running, I thought that perhaps, just maybe, I didn’t hate summer so much after all.
The heat here in San Francisco didn’t ease off much last night. Instead the entire city decided to drink outside my window, yelping and yowling in beer-induced wildness. The heat and the noise sent me half insane. I peeked out the window to see who was causing the uproar. It turned out to be a weenie crew of underage drinkers. I scowled out the window. The spotted me and moved a few doors up, but their screaming still kept me awake. I gave up and looked at old photos of summer. The end came much faster than anyone ever wanted. Perhaps that isn’t quite fair. The end came when it had to come, and living a life of beginning after beginning, I know I have to cope with a life of ending after ending, and not all of them are happy.
Make no mistake, I am happy. I am happy despite the heat and the drunks. I am happy despite the vast losses and the ptsd. I am happy despite everything. I am happy because I am alive and there are plants on the window seat. I am happy because of my son. I am happy because, despite the pain I am in right now, it tells me I am living. It is mine. I own it. My garden loves the heat, things are growing and stirring. I don’t know why stopping and resting and trying to recover feels like stagnation, but it does, despite the fact that I know to have the energy to keep on moving forward I need to recoup some of the deficit that I spent and used up past my ability to do so.
Still in the back of my mind I can smell the smoke of my past burning up into cinders. I just hope it is not a pheonix on the horizon, burnt wholly and coming back to get me.