This summer hurts
Sometimes summer's not all it's made out to be

This summer hurts
Kirbie Bennett - 08/03/2023

I keep dreaming about car crashes. Not the kind where I’m in the driver’s seat. But the kind where I’m witnessing it. In some dreams, I’m at an in-door gathering with family and friends, and everything is joyous. But then a car comes crashing through. I wake up before I find out who survived and who didn’t.

In waking life, an actual car crash could happen. Or it could take the shape of a gunman out in public, which seems far more likely nowadays. For me, these dreams are reminders that protecting the people I love can be out of my control. The car crash doesn’t have to be literal and visceral. It can be gradual and emotional. It can feel like a heavy heart, weighed down by trauma that you carry until one day you go missing. You end up unhoused and have no choice but to walk with your heart through the city. By the time your family finds you, it’s too late. We have to identify your body and return you home with unanswered questions. 

My aunt Jennifer went through a yearslong struggle like that, with a heartbreaking outcome that my family’s still processing. The day after the Fourth of July, I was a pallbearer for her funeral service. It felt disorienting to walk through a town full of red, white and blue celebrations, knowing the next day I’d have to bury my aunt, whose life was haunted by historical trauma; whose fate became that of many other missing and murdered Indigenous relatives. On July 4, I walked along the Animas River Trail and thought, “America, I’ve given you all and you just keep taking.”

It’s an understatement to say this summer hurts. 

As a band-aid of sorts, I’ve been taking comfort in the music of Laura Stevenson. Her songwriting can sound sparkly and whimsical, but the music is only velvet covering barbed wire lyrics about sadness and loss. And there’s a nervous honesty in the way she approaches heavy topics. In Stevenson’s music, the dark and tense human sadness crystallizes into something beautiful and wondrous.

A few years ago, Stevenson wrote a song called “Runner.” In various interviews, she’s talked about how that song is her way of working through a depression that sets in during the summer. It’s a state of mind she has to brace for every year. In a Spotify interview about the track, Stevenson said, “I was exploring what’s real and what’s not real, whether there’s a god. I was asking, ‘What’s the thing that makes you want to live?’”

The chorus to “Runner” has one line: “This summer hurts.” It’s a line imprinted in my mind forever now. 

For me, dread and anxiety comes with embracing summer. This summer, I’m grieving and begging to not lose anyone else I love for the rest of the year. Along with that, the boiling hot temperatures all around us lately have added another layer of despair. I think to myself, “Is the plural for ‘apocalypse’ pronounced as ‘The New Normal?’” 

But sitting with a song like “Runner” is comforting. The song’s comforting because it reminds me that if I can sing with a smile the words, “This summer hurts” or if I can say out loud: “Everything is terrible and maybe we’re all doomed, because actually, we’re all in a tiny submersible led by mindless rich men with death-drive on autopilot, searching for the Titanic’s corpse, and one day this whole thing will implode.” If I can say that, then it means I can also recognize and say, “Things don’t have to be this way.” 

With Stevenson’s music, there’s something else about the upbeat tone that subverts the writing. The opening lyrics for “Runner” contain the lines, “To give yourself a little bit of hope’s a lie / We’re just spinning where we stand.” It’s disenchanting, and yet, the guitars and drums are in joyous motion, moving the dejected narrator forward to see the sunrise around the corner. Maybe it’s because of the way her diamond voice constantly shines, but you can hear the smile in Stevenson’s singing when she reaches that chorus of defeat. I hear that smile through speakers, and a smile forms on my own face. 

Today clouds are taking over the sky, and I know car crash dreams will continue to haunt me, but I play the song again. The day darkens, and I know these unanswered questions will linger, but my aunt has been returned home and that provides some peace. I play the song again, and I know the flowers on her grave will grow. I play the song one more time, and I know rain is on the way.

– Kirbie Bennett

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