There is a kind of summer evening, just after the sun starts to go down. Children run around looking for fireflies. Neighbors slowly move away from their airconditioned houses, eager to feel the air while they can. They sit on their porches and in their yards chatting about nothing. “Honey, five minutes until bedtime,” they yell to the youngest children, without moving. They don’t mean “five minutes” they really mean “Can someone get me another beer?” and usually someone does. The children know this and do not argue or pretend to come inside.
“Have another beer?”
It goes on for an hour, or two, if everyone is lucky.
The teenagers begin to move back to the playgrounds and schoolyards of their childhood. They use the playground equipment ironically now. “In second grade, I broke my arm on here” a boy tells no one in particular. They all know, they were there.
They remember both the excitement and the fear when the ambulance came to take the boy away. What if he died? Only one of them had ever been to a funeral and it was for an older relative that he barely knew. What if their friend died? Would they get out of school for the rest of the year? Then, a few days later, when he returned to school, they greeted him with a small sliver of disappointment and a little more unnamed guilt. For a week or two, they vied to sign his cast, to carry his books, to sit with him during recess. They became a little jealous of the attention and a little bored with sitting at recess and life went back to normal so thoroughly that no one even noticed when his cast came off.
The boy remembers that time fondly. He does not remember the pain, or being afraid in the ambulance. He does not remember the persistent itch under the cast, or the boredom when his friends grew tired of sitting with him at recess. He remembers the feeling that he was special. He remembers the soft way his mother looked at him and getting all of his favorite foods. Earlier that year he told his mother not to tuck him in anymore and instantly regretted it. But he remembers that after he broke his arm his mother would come into his room when she thought he was asleep and smooth his hair off of his forehead and he would pretend to sleep.
Now the boy walks on the ground and lifts his arm very slightly to touch the bars where he once fell.
As the night goes on some of the boys will go home to video games and TV. Still others will come bringing beer, cigarettes and pot. Girls will come and they will divide into couples and find shady spots to make out. One couple sits on the baseball field. The boy kisses the girl and says loudly “Looks like I’m getting to home base tonight boys.” She slaps him lightly on the arm and with the pressure to perform, to go farther, to do more removed, they both sit quietly and look at the stars.
As soon as I stepped outside last night, I knew. I knew when I passed the first group of neighbors gathered on lawn chairs, before I even saw the first firefly. I knew that I’d dream of you.
I always think of you in the summer.
Once you had the idea to bring a kiddie pool up to the roof of your apartment building. Your apartment was small and we slept on a mattress on the floor. Before you thought of the pool on the roof, sometimes we sat in the bathtub to drink. We filled the pool with ice, then put the beer and our feet in the ice. “We’re going to do this every night this summer. I’m going to make a mix-tape just for the roof,” you said. “Yes,” I said, because I always said yes. Because that summer there was nothing I wanted more than to sit with you, drinking beer, and listening to your music. I said yes, because at that age I still believed that the more often you said yes to someone, the more they would love you.
But then there was a night where you, several beers ahead of me, almost fell off the roof. The next night I found an excuse for us not to go on the roof. Maybe I talked you into a movie, or we went over to your friends’ nicer apartment to play cards. Every night I had a new excuse, and you never noticed. One night, when you were asleep, I got rid of the pool. We bought a window unit and drank beer in front of it. When we blew a fuse, we moved back to the bathtub.
I always think of you in the summer. Especially in the beginning of the summer, when the air feels like anything is possible.
Even though your children are grown, in the dream you had a baby. I was mad, because I knew who the mother was. But still, when you asked me to take her, I did. Because I always said yes.
I took your baby and went to a coffee shop and, in the way of dreams, the waiter was another boy I used to love. He asked me what the baby needed and I said “I don’t know, it’s been so long since I’ve had a baby.” “What are you going to do?” He asked me. “I don’t know,” I said.
In the dream I imagined raising your baby. I imagined being eager to put her to bed on hot summer evenings, so that we could get outside and breathe fresh air. Watching her catch fireflies, telling her not to stay out too late, wondering if she was sitting on a roof drinking beer with a boy.
Even in my dream, I knew it wouldn’t work. I knew I would keep saying yes and you would keep trying to fall off the roof. In the dream it made me sad. But not in real life. In real life, we are still friends. We know each other’s spouses and children. In real life, we pretend. We pretend that we have always been friends just like this. We pretend that we were never the people drinking beer in a bathtub. Mainly, we pretend that it was all so long ago. We pretend that on a summer night, we never wish we were back in that apartment. We pretend that none of it mattered.
But I always think of you in the summer.