It was dark when I drove home the other day. Not all that unusual, but I could swear that it was still light at that same time just a few days prior to that. And a week or two before that, the sun still blazed as I drove home. The sky was not fringed in purple and rose-gold; rather, the coming night only slowly leached the sky of color, turning the pale blue into pearl grey and white. Now it was a study in blue and black, with just the barest hint of scarlet at the very edge of the west.
It is amazing to me how much I measure the turning of the year by the stream of light. The year, of course, begins to die at the height of summer. Leave it to me to find a nugget of doom even amid the hazy, lazy, hot and humid ease of summer.
As a kid, summer was endless. It stretched before us like a river, wide and deep, glinting in sunlight, pockets of green shade and never-silent, a burbling chatter that fills up all the empty space. We wheeled and floated through time, all sticky with sweat and watermelon juice and neighborhood grit. It was glorious and forever. Friendships grew thick and fast as weeds, a promise of permanence to outlast the heat of summer, to withstand the coming of crisp air and shortened days.
Summer was long days of heat that built slowly and inexorably, until it felt as if your lungs would spontaneously combust. Summer was fireworks and fireflies, a cacophony of light and sound. It was crickets and grasshoppers and tar that stuck to your shoes, gooey strands of black that formed a tenuous bridge between the road and the soles of your shoes. It was the gathering heaviness of ozone just before a thunderstorm, when the air is alive with static and wind and the heavens open with a whoosh and a rush of rain, when the temperature drops in an instant, from stifling to a delicious cool.
We were invincible then, in those eternal days of summer – invincible, untouchable. Immortal. We were lords of summer, lords of earth and air, of backyards and hidden creeks and fields of weeds and cracked concrete. Time was measured in light and sound in those days – out of the house when the sky was still pale and liquid blue, and the dew bent the grass and caught the sun in rainbow crystals, returning only when we heard the clarion call of some mom or sibling calling us in for dinner.
And as soon as we had inhaled that meal – of meat and potatoes, certainly, and salad was iceberg lettuce with tomatoes and cucumbers and home-made Thousand Island dressing – red-fringed pink stuff made from ketchup and Miracle Whip – never mayo, thank you very much – after dinner was Kick the Can or Hounds and Hares or Elimination Frisbee, some game that brought the entire cadre of neighborhood kids together in a burst of competition and speed, and we would run and hide and throw and sweat and yell until it was too dark to see, until the crickets and mosquitoes and frogs and kids created a symphony of noise, and someone – some mom, some dad, someone left behind the glory of summer, would call us in that one final time. And we came – reluctant, dragging, tired and spent, begging for just a few more minutes, a little bit longer, a little more time, pleasepleaseplease, just five minutes more, pleeeeease! We never did get a reprieve. We never got that extra five minutes. But we never stopped asking either. Every night was the first night, the first time and possibilities were endless and hope tangible.
Even so, even in that summery land of forever, days end, night comes. Like a thief, darkness steals the light in unnoticeable snatches and a curtain of silvery moonlight fills the sky where once the sun king reigned. We drive home in darkness. In the morning, dew-laden fields become mist-shrouded, God’s breath lightly blanketing the dry gold reeds that turn slowly to deep russet and then dull brown. And suddenly, where once we leapt from sleep-tangled sheets to escape into the summer sun, we hunker down under blankets to steal five more minutes of sleep, of warmth, before school, before work, before growing up.
When did summer become finite? When did night linger in my window just long enough for me to wake in darkness? When did driving with headlights ablaze take precedence over running madly and with stealth, under cover of darkness, to free my captive teammates from their prison in some neighborhood garage? What day, what time, what moment? I remember that hope of five minutes more, that mental stretch to claim eternity, that I-almost-have-it, I-can-almost-touch-it thing. I remember it lasting forever, but I cannot pinpoint when it was gone, and I wait impatiently for December 22, for when the light begins to linger a little longer, arrive a little sooner every day.
In the meantime, I pull the blankets over my head while my windows frame a purple sky, claiming my five minutes more before turning on a light.