OPINION: Fifty Shades of Summer is an essay series on the variations of love and romance. BRINDI JOY is a writer at the Christchurch Hagley Writers' Institue.
My first summer romance happened many, many summers ago (I'm talking decades) in my home town in Washington state.
It started with the ringing doorbell and the envelope on the welcome mat. It had a name on it. Mine.
I looked across the front lawn, beyond the hot-pink rose campion flowers and scanned the cul-de-sac. The deliverer had long since vanished.
I tore open the letter. ''Dear Brindi,'' it began in pencil. The large, angular letters sloped across the paper. ''You are the most beautiful fourth-grader in the whole world.''
I was ecstatic. (I may have squealed audibly.) My 7-year-old heart skipped.
I read the signature. Your secret admirer.
Something caught my eye. I looked closer and realised that my secret admirer had a change of heart about revealing his identity. Beneath ''Your secret admirer'' was a name, erased, but still legible. Jonathan.
I began to glimpse what love could be. Jonathan was my best friend.
As a kid, love seemed a simple idea. Disney movies made it seem so. As an adult, things got more complex.
For instance, love can be confusing when there are chickens involved. A brood of about 15. Those chickens ruined everything. Well, to be fair, I ruined everything by nearly killing them all.
About 10 years after my ''anonymous'' love letter from Jonathan, I spent one summer picking organic blueberries and spawning mushrooms on sodden logs with a guy who, with his straw hat and garden fork, enamoured me. I mean, he was the cream of the crop!
He knew everything about compost and double-dug raised beds and propagating lettuce in a greenhouse. Sigh.
One weekend he went away for an advanced permaculture workshop in the neighbouring town and left me in charge of the chickens.
He gave me clear instructions before he left: close the greenhouse windows in the evening if the temperatures are predicted to drop. ''We don't want the chickens freezing,'' he said.
So I did.
I can only imagine the look on his face when he returned the next afternoon (it was a scorcher) to find all of the chickens cooking to death in the greenhouse, lying on their backs with their legs in the air and breathing their next-to last breath.
Don't panic. He opened the windows and the chickens had a happy ever after.
I can't say the same for him and me. Oh well, at least I got a good tan that summer.
Ten years later I got another really good tan, this time in New Zealand. I spent that summer surfing with a guy who'd just moved to Christchurch.
We didn't actually spend the whole summer surfing. We also whiled away afternoons having picnics and playing Scrabble at Corsair Bay. I usually won. I'm kick-ass at getting triple-word scores.
We surfed Waikuku, North Beach, Scarborough, etc. I was stoked. This was someone I could spend my life hanging 10 with.
I even had one small stirring of what could only be love. We were lying on the beach after a surf. Brushing some hair from my face, I discovered the seawater had left salt crusting up my eyebrows.
''That's embarrassing,'' I said, feverishly rubbing away the crystals. He looked deep into my eyes and crooned, ''It doesn't detract from your beauty.'' Drowning!
When autumn approached, he dumped me. We were at the pier checking the surf (it was small and messy; no use to any surfer) and he said, ''You know, Brindi, life is like surfing.''
I turned to him, rapt. ''You go from surf break to surf break, looking for the best waves.''
That was true. We would often drive from Taylors Mistake to Scarborough to New Brighton, only to end up at Taylors in the end (always in my car; he was happy to let me do all of the driving).
''Then when you finally decide on a break and you're out there in the lineup, you can't help but wonder if it's still better somewhere else.''
My latest summer romance will go the distance. I'm sure of it. I've been spending a lot of time exploring Banks Peninsula.
Heading home from a day at Tumbledown Bay recently, I turned a corner and the landscape stunned me. Actually stunned me.
The setting sun fizzed over rows and rows of hills tumbling into the Canterbury distance. My heart had a physical reaction to that landscape. It was the same kind of stirring I felt with the surfer.
Maybe love is as simple as that. Just like I thought it was when I was as a kid. My only pet peeve is that this summer romance might throw a tantrum now and then.
But love is patient. So I can forgive a bit of shaking.
- The Press
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