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All-beef ballpark hot dogs, free-range eggs, and organic avocados from Mexico. Busy Sunday shoppers were stocking up for the week at my local grocery store. Seattle Waterfront Sourdough bread, Friskie's Seafood Sensations cat food. Everyone was focusing on getting the freshest produce and best deals. Highlife beer and Kingford Match Light Instant Charcoal Briquets are on sale, even though the summer grilling season is at least a week away. I had already checked off most items on my shopping list but still needed to hunt down a few more things my wife asked me to get when a terribly familiar song started playing over the grocery store's loudspeakers.

As soon as its melody started to play, I froze like everyone else old enough to remember. We were all thinking the same thing; you could see it on our faces, the glassy eyes, blank stares, and mouths hanging open. Someone dropped a jar of dill pickles, the glass shattered loudly, but no one seemed to care. A child cries, baffled by the apparent mass hypnosis caused by the upbeat tune. Its poppy beat, smooth female vocals, and playful lyrics screeched over the store's blown-out speakers as we all stood there unprepared for the chorus and what would come next.

Mark in May and James in June.
Come July, and I'll be with you.
But when I'm gone, don't say I'm untrue.
The boys of summer will have fun too.

On a long highway; full of twists, turns, and tunnels on its way to the Oregon coast, my then-girlfriend would sing the lyrics to this song in perfect harmony. It was the summer before everything went to shit, but back then, all I could think about was how she would tap my shoulder and bat her eyes at me every time the singer would sing the word "you." Was she really my girlfriend? Was I really her boyfriend? I don't know the answer to these questions. What I do know is this. One, we had a wonderful time together, full of the wildest sex I'd ever had, and would go on road trips and other adventures on a whim. Two, You couldn't go anywhere without hearing this song. It was infectious. It was on every girl's playlist, radio station, and social media feed. And three, no one has ever felt this fortunate and carefree since.

I never cared for the song. I had always preferred jazz. Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley. Music my then-girlfriend called "music for old folks." This current earworm borrowing its way into the minds of so many was a mediocre pop concoction cooked up by some executive with the help of producers and some no-talent teen. They probably did market research before releasing this garbage to the masses. What was the name of this no-talent teen singer anyway? Was she one of the lucky ones like me? I had no clue. While I didn't care for the tune then, here it is now, all these years later, blasting over the loudspeakers of my grocery store as I hunt down stoneground mustard, and it stops me and everyone else dead in our tracks like it's the national anthem.

Mark in May and James in June.
Come July, and I'll be with you.
But when I'm gone, don't say I'm untrue.
The boys of summer will have fun too.

It's fall now. The wild sex and road trips with my then-girlfriend are now a thing of the past. Those tender moments now replaced with watching every newscast and scrolling through social media for the latest updates on what was once considered unthinkable. We work on memorizing acronyms crafted by experts in their field. LSE, Large Scale Event. PNR, Point of No Return. They all seem to dehumanize the crisis unfolding around us daily. A crisis that uprooted our daily routine as if every catastrophe before was child's play. Like so many, my then-girlfriend and I lost our jobs. Baristas and yoga instructors were not considered essential in the eyes of the government as marital law took effect. There was nothing to do except stay home and watch the systems that had propped up our society crumble around us. At night we cried and held each other until we fell asleep, hoping what we were now experiencing was just a nightmare we would forget in the morning.

Halfway through the song, I realized I couldn't stop crying like many others in the store. Deep sobbing cries fill the air as the playful pop song pumps through the store's speakers. A woman a few years older than me collapsed in a heap in front of me, dropping her basket of vegetables as she wailed so violently I thought she would vomit. Each sob, each cry, made everyone weep with even more force. A writhing cacophony is now overpowering the upbeat bass line. We all had been through so much loss and hardship we thought we could take on anything. Still, this top 40 bubblegum pop tune was literally bringing us to our knees, and no amount of artisan cheese, non-fat Greek yogurt, or Beyond Burger Plant-Based Patties could make us forget what we had all overcome and what we had lost in the process.

Mark in May and James in June.
Come July, and I'll be with you.
But when I'm gone, don't say I'm untrue.
The boys of summer will have fun too.

It's spring now, and like so many, last winter was cruel to my then-girlfriend and me. We both had to say goodbye to loved ones for the last time over government-monitored intranet video chats. Their lifeless bodies, sprayed with chemicals, then promptly burned in a pile with the rest of the day's dead. While we slept in the same bed every night, My then-girlfriend and I might as well have been miles apart. We hardly ever spoke or even looked each other in the eye. How could we? We had nothing to say. The events unfolding around us left everything we once knew and loved in ruins. Joy, laughter, and even those tiny, fleeting moments that once put smiles on our faces seemed to have joined the ever-growing casualty list. She left sooner after without a word and without notice. I had gone out to get food from the distribution center, and when I returned, she was gone. Not a trace of her was left. Her clothes were gone, along with her share of the books and movies. It was as if she even took her scent with her. I was all alone with her memory. Memories tainted by the horrors of what we had experienced in the last months of our time together.

Couples were holding on to each other for dear life; others had run out of tears and were now dry-heaving terrible sobs. I was in the fetal position, covered in marinara sauce after my jar of spaghetti sauce broke when I dropped my shopping basket. Years of anguish and grief I had buried deep in my mind washed over me like a tidal wave. I felt powerless as a flood of suppressed feelings assaulted me all at once. Should I have gone after my then-girlfriend after she left? Is there anything I could have done to stop her from leaving? Why didn't I do more to help prevent all the suffering? I don't know the answers to these questions. What I do know is this. One, each heartbreak, death, and god-awful thing I had to do to survive is hitting me with the unrelenting force of a runaway freight train. Two, My then-girlfriend is lost to me forever. And three, I'm covered in spaghetti sauce and I can’t stop crying as some teenybopper sings about the boys of summer.

Mark in May and James in June.
Come July, and I'll be with y-.

But then, the music abruptly stopped. The teen singer's once soothing voice cut off mid-chorus. And just like the bright sun burning off the morning fog, I and everyone else snapped out of the traumatic haze.

"I'm sorry everyone," a raspy voice, sore from all the crying, crackled over the loudspeakers. "We didn't know this song was still on the rotation."

People started cheering, clapping, hooting, and hollering for the brave soul who managed to get themselves off the floor and turn the song off. They treated him like some airplane pilot who made a successful emergency landing on a busy interstate. I wouldn't have been surprised if someone recommended him for a medal.

"As a token of our apology, everything in the deli will be 10% off for the next hour," the voice said again. More cheers erupted.

I crawled up off the floor, brushing away the tears from my eyes while smearing marina sauce on my face. An older man with tears frozen on his face from breaking down in the frozen food aisle hurried past me on his way towards the deli. I wasn't hungry anymore, and 10% off day-old fried chicken and stale mashed potatoes was not enough for me to continue shopping. I wanted a drink, to hold my wife and kids, and call my brother.

I never did find out what happened to my then-girlfriend. Her name doesn't appear in any official records of those who lost their lives during those dark times. Perhaps she also managed to pull through; hopefully, like so many of us, she was able to block out everything that happened and start anew. To not think about the past, let others with more willpower analyze our failures that almost lead to our downfall. To live in this placid ignorance is the only way to survive. Those who face the unfiltered truth are doomed to be consumed by it. The truth opens up a void inside you. An endless, bottomless void that refuses to be filled. Once you start to seek the truth, only new questions present themselves. As I walked towards the exit, the raspy voice made another announcement.

"Clean up on aisle 6."

Clean Up On Aisle 6.
2022