Last summer of freedom and captivity

News Tribune reader columnist Manola Secaira. Photo by
News Tribune reader columnist Manola Secaira. Photo by The News Tribune

The last summer sneaks up on you. I always knew it would, like a much less dire version of Cassandra’s prophecy from the Greek tragedy “Agamemnon.” Cassandra knew something was coming, but nobody believed her until it was too late. In this case, I was aware of the idea of the last summer, but I didn’t believe in it either. Not really.

The last summer is the one before your future begins. The last one before you’re spending a summer in classes or working at an internship that’ll turn into small jobs, then bigger jobs, and so on.

After the last summer, summers aren’t something you notice quite as much as before. You’re working in the summers, and breaks from life aren’t quite as clearcut as they used to be.

It was strange when it was over. I’ve lived with easy summers, the kind handed to you on a silver platter, for most of my life. Sometimes, I’ll sit with friends in a restaraunt and speak the names of high school peers like a Lazarus spell, summoning people back into existence, people we used to think were so important, people that we’d completely forgotten about until stumbling upon their names again.

My last summer was spent as a retail associate in the Tacoma Mall, following my high school graduation. The days were hot enough to make you sweat standing still, but the mall was cold, so I usually stuffed one of those crocheted sweaters that don’t match with anything in my purse before clipping on my nametag and heading to work.

That summer, like many before it, felt sort of wonderful and sort of like a prison. On the one hand, I could do the things I always wanted to do in my free time. On the other, I didn’t have a lot of money or the autonomy to do those things.

So instead, I ate more mall sushi than my paycheck really supported. I was bad at budgeting. I bought clothes because they were on sale. I swallowed the thought of a future like a lump in my throat.

August chilled and came to an end. I became vaguely aware of the fragile space in which my life was subsisting. Maybe it would be the last summer I’d see some of my friends from high school, I thought. This was true. It was. But at the time, I didn’t know it, and the uncertainty made me feel uneasy.

On my last day at the mall, my college already chosen and my next four years seemingly laid out, I stayed late folding clothes and closing up shop. It’d been a long day. I had become an expert clothes-folder by then and I vaguely noted that this would be a good skill when I had to do all my clothes folding and washing by myself.

The thought sat on my mind for a little while, the phrase “by myself” a little foreign. (After all, I have seven siblings). The store slowly darkened as the lights were turned off and the employees made their slow procession up the stilled escalator steps. I took a last, sweeping look around.

I thought about college. I thought about friends. I thought about saying goodbye to my first job, which was sort of taxing and tiring but also made me proud of doing something lucrative with my spare time.

And right then, I realized that for the first time in my life that I didn’t know exactly what would happen next. I’d be leaving the routine of my Tacoma life, and all the summers spent here, for something else. I couldn’t go back to the same kind of summers again.

This was a good thing. I knew that there was much, much more ahead of me. I just had to learn to be OK with saying goodbye.

So I did.

Manola Secaira of Tacoma is a journalism and English major studying at Seattle Pacific University. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Contact her at manolasecairas@gmail.com.