The heat comes on thick and fast. In the Midwest, sometimes winter moves right into summer without leaving much room for spring besides a week of rain and gloom. Then the sun heats the ground up fast, dissolving the snow overnight, and before you know it the temperatures are climbing and you don’t remember the horror of winter at all. Suddenly it’s summer.
When you’re young and broke and living month-to-month in some rental close to your friends, you give up the central air conditioning of your childhood. You forget what it felt like to step through your front door into the sweet relief, the chilly shock, of a house with an AC that cooled down the whole house. But you can’t afford that, and even if you had central air nobody would turn it on and pay those insane electric bills.
Maybe you spend the summer with the windows open and a fan propped precariously in the ledge, hoping and praying for the cool-down of nighttime, wishing for a breeze. You remember what it felt like as a child sitting in the dusty backseat of a farm vehicle with no AC, the windows open and whipping the air, still warm but at least it was moving, back to you and mingling with the hot dust inside the car. You used to draw pictures in that dust and come out gritty, dirty bare feet and dust under your fingernails. But that kind of heat, the windows-open driving too fast kind, felt like freedom.
We buy baby pools, fill them up with the hose and sit in lawn chairs in the ice-cold water. We melt down on porches. We drink too much so we can pass out quickly; it’s too hot to sleep. We haul bedding to the cold, dank basement and fall asleep there when the humidity descends like a big, sticky beast. You adjust to sleeping arrangements, staying far, far away from your bedmate unless you’re fucking near the fan. Your bodies leave imprints of sweat on the sheets. Or you close the windows, pull the blinds, keep the lights off and the doors shut; live like mushrooms and moles in the darkness. You can hide away all day in the shade of welcoming trees or packed lakes or pay $100 to spend the night in a hotel room, humming with cold air and keeping you awake because that chill feels so foreign, when you get really desperate.
The summer coats everyone in its steamy glisten; you step outside and in two minutes your whole body starts to shine, sweat runs in rivers from your neck down your back and into the hollows of your collarbones, where lovers lean their heads to drink. Dogs pant to stay cool and men do too, sundress season sending them into a frenzy of skin. You choose dresses that don’t touch your body but instead float free-form and catch the wind. Everyone looks flushed, a little hazy around their edges and infinitely prettier, skin glowing golden and pink and tawny brown. You keep water bottles in the freezer and roll them down your arms, let them defrost and drip chills all over your body. You hang on and wait for rain to roll in and throw the trees around and pour hard and scatter leaves, but with those big summer tantrum storms is a little respite from the heat. The rain and thunder breaks it up for a night or two.
We haul big, unwieldily AC units, $98 at Walmart when you can find them and Craigslist when you can’t – don’t look in the worst part of July, good luck – and we nail them into the windows and breathe easy at the first icy blast. But the AC unit, with all the peace and sleep it brings to a room, kills the romance of the heat, washes away the tossing and turning and sweat of the summer and with it, that steamy, easy feeling.