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Summer Postcards 2016

Remembering Summer

By Emily Zhao

At their worst, semesters on campus can feel like hallucinogenic, backlit film blips, the same underdeveloped frames scratching back and forth. By May, though, we remember summer again. The sunlight’s smell, a warm patchouli of every place it has ever touched. Things begin to move and expand, and there’s a special sensation of change, as if my consciousness is some astonishing fruit—perhaps a mango—growing in an oblique, unexpected direction, right out of my imagination’s range. Or as if the edges of my vision are constantly about to come apart, revealing sudden newness beneath, glowing golden-buttered.

Tomorrow, I return to Cambridge after five weeks in St. Louis. I didn’t realize I even had the heart to miss a place as much as I’ve missed Harvard until the taxi carried me past Johnston Gate on my way home. My friend T., who is also on campus for the summer, emailed to tell me about a boy she’d met, the first one she’s ever really liked. I read and reread. It felt like seeing a field of sunflowers, burnt yellow against a stark blue sky. I thought back to when I met T. last August over platters of curry and rice in the Garage. She’d picked up an empty water cup, peeled its thin cylindrical sides into even strips, and folded them down into flower petals. The rest of us all attacked our cups, too, waving our plastic flowers, to the consternation of a restaurant worker, droplets of leftover water flecking our noses and brows.

I was going to write about human misconceptions for this postcard, the self-congratulating and delusional nature of our views about so many things. I was going to write about the inevitable physical and psychological decay of Home. I couldn’t bring myself to send those drafts. (Jonathan Franzen, the inspiration for the latter, has already captured the experience better than I ever could in “Meet Me in St. Louis.”) Not so long ago I sneered at sentimentality, thinking it killed the present; I still usually react to outright cheesiness by swinging my eyeballs as far back into my head as they will go.

These past 10 months, though, at their very best and worst, through people like and unlike T., have made my heart so much bigger. Sometimes we relinquish our myopic happiness, but this week is not the week for that. I can’t wait to walk my old footprints. I’m thinking about all the friends I’m going to see, the people I’m going to meet; I’m thinking about the palette of a sunset filtered down chutes of red brick buildings and streets. Next week, perhaps, I will self-scrutinize, berate, awaken and reset myself in a cold shower of existential unease. For now, I want to stumble around in this city’s summer, melting and reshaping like a Dalí creature; a mango-headed fool, slipping and sliding on all the sidewalks’ potential.


Emily Zhao '19 is an Applied Math concentrator living in Cabot House.

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Summer Postcards 2016