I try to explain to my friends and family up north, what it’s like to live in Florida. They chirp, “It must be so great, summer year round!” Not exactly, I reply. It is summer half the year and literal hell the other half. Picture it being so hot your car reads 110 degrees, daily. No relief at night, the only escape the whirr of the air-conditioning. The constant thrum as it turns on and off. You are sweating, and freezing, and sweating agan. Growing up in Indiana, we rarely used our central AC. It was a special treat, once or twice a year, and Dad would yell up from the musty basement steps, “I’m turning her on, batten the hatches!” We would all scramble; trying to slam the sticky windows down, the paint often sealed from the heat. Then the house smelled funny, not fresh, it had a special chemical scent you only noticed when you ran the AC that rarely. I remember, before I left Chicago, how important the seasons were to me. I could smell the changes. My little old apartment on Potomac had hardwood floors that were a hundred years old, and they fluctuated with temperature. In the summer, without air conditioning, it was musty. Then lots of people in old apartments didn’t have air conditioning. Instead we went outside. We looked forward to leaving our windows open and lying on the dark, damp floors for relief. It was just part of life. I write this now, trapped inside my ivory tower of air conditioning. In Florida, the air is on from April through October, if you are lucky, sometimes even longer. Is that better than the heat being on from October through April? You tell me. Now, I feel so disconnected and isolated from the concept of summer.
Summer used to mean that school was out. Then I graduated college and stopped going to school. Then summer meant parties and rooftop grilling. Then I moved to Florida and summer meant being trapped inside in the air conditioning because the heat index is over a hundred for the fifth week in a row. I watch my northern counterparts buying summer dresses and getting tickets for outdoor concerts. Instead I am signing up for as many summer Mommy and Me classes in the mornings, so that the afternoons everyone can sleep.
I miss the fall. Fall in Chicago is my favorite season. You bring out your boots and sweaters. Jackets and scarfs. You get cooled off after the summer heat. You say goodbye to the beach at North Ave. and say hello to Wednesday night wine nights at the Blue Line. You switch from white wine to red and enjoy it sitting in front of a fire, reading, listening to the wind whistling outside your window. It smells clean, fresh, the wood in the apartment is getting colder, but isn’t so cold yet that your heating bills are outrageous.
Then comes winter. It sneaks in on you. The air gets a little bit sharper. You switch to your winter coat; it's wool and lined. And you occasionally wear long underwear under your jeans. But even still, it feels refreshing to walk around the Kris Kringle Village in December, awaiting the first few flakes. The first few times it snows it is magical, like you are a kid again. You want to just sit and watch it, or make snow angels. Or stand and stare at the dogs running wild in the dog park at Wicker Park. They are so happy.
Then winter really hits, and everyone hibernates for January, February, and part of March. Some years St. Patricks Day feels like the first day of spring, other years, it snows. But right around April, the air begins to change again. You are giddy walking home from the subway, “Can I really leave my windows open?” You ask yourself, like a sugar deprived kindergartner.
None of these changes exist when you have constant summer. Instead there are no markers to watch the time float by. I have dreams about the north. It’s like that time that I tried to do the diet where you don’t eat any carbs, and by day two I was dreaming about muffins. I wake up every night, dreaming of falling into the snow, of walking down Southport when it’s fall. The leaves are yellowing and crunching. I get a hot scone and see its steam rising into the air. I pull my yellow coat tighter. Then I realize I have thrown off my covers, and that chill is the familiar manufactured chill of the air conditioner and I am covered in sweat.