Finite summer

There’s been a timelessness to every summer that I can remember. For most years of my life, summer has been equivalent to vacation: a fact that certainly influences some of the impressions it has left on me. The summer after seventh grade is particularly clear in memory. Having not yet started high school, I still hung around constantly with the two girls who were my neighbors and my best friends. We lived in a suburban cul-de-sac and spent the warm hours outside, taking walks or playing basketball or (I hate to admit this) practicing the Macarena. One afternoon, we returned from a walk to the grocery store with a half-gallon tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream and promised each other to eat the whole thing that night. I remember us sitting on the driveway of my house, nothing between us and the concrete and no reason standing between us and that ice cream carton. Music played from my boombox, its power cord stretching from an outlet in the garage, as we scraped at the ice cream with our spoons until none was left. Who cares about the indigestion that came later?

It’s not those kind of experiences I get nostalgic for when a new summer arrives; in fact, nostalgia is not the concept I’m reaching for here. I’ve had plenty of significant summer moments spent with friends or family. Like the night of mint chocolate chip ice cream, they always seem to happen at sunset. What I’m thinking about is a sort of daytime melancholia. This seems antithetical to the spirit of summertime, and so I wonder why it occurs. Maybe it’s because, in my subconscious, I mark the passing of each year by its summer instead of its decrepit winter or jovial December celebrations. Every year contains at least one warm day that is so still, clear, and flawless that it’s heartbreaking. Last year, at some point in August, this happened as I stood on a quaint street in North Portland and looked up at the afternoon sun. The sky was intensely blue at its apex and faded to white around the edges, as though the deep blue would soon disappear along with the season. I was just a wanderer then, free of deep attachments and infatuated with these urban neighborhoods that seemed to be from a different time. I called somebody from my cell phone to try to share the feeling that had come upon me suddenly. He said that he knew what I meant, but I didn’t (and don’t) believe that was true.

I was familiar enough with that emotional mix to put it into words, even if the words sounded strange: This was a perfect sort of day that I felt could never be replicated, not because I was doing anything particularly fun, but because it was beautiful and I felt alive. Of course there would be more days of cloudless and mild weather, but never with the same surroundings and rarely with that shade of blue in the sky. By necessity, each year offers only a small number of days when it is okay to wander and play without meeting obligations. And for all of us, there is an unknown limit on the number of such warm, peaceful days we’ll be allowed to see in a lifetime. When I encounter one I try to savor it as much as I’m able to, but sometimes its enormity—that deep sensation of being alive—is overwhelming.

It’s the middle of August now, and I’ve been waiting for that moment of beauty and unaccountable regret to sneak up on me. Maybe it has already passed me by; maybe it won’t happen this year. Perhaps it won’t occur until next month, when 85- and 90-degree days have left us for good, when I’ll know that summer is slipping away and taking with it my chances to finish whatever adventures I had put on my to-do list. My summer calendar has been pleasantly full, though. I’ve also been fortunate to have several evenings of warm contentment with a person I care about. We have watched the sky turn to dusk from backyard lawn chairs, emptying our wine glasses, quietly sharing the flawless passage of hours without yearning for something beyond. This is what makes me wonder if there is room left in my heart, this year, for strange longing and regret. I don’t doubt that they will return at some unexpected time; but perhaps, since I am less alone, they will feel lighter.

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