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Summer Lull MAG
If I could preserve this night as my memory of childhood, I would be able to look back satisfied. It is a sultry July evening. Outside, my golden retriever is enjoying the breeze stirring the humid air. The wall clock in the dining room is ticking even measurements of the hours I spend with my family in the living room. Though I cannot see it, I know there must be a moon and that later it will leave shafts of light on my floor, enhancing the shape of my skylights and moving across my sleeping face as the Earth turns.
I am sitting in the living room, surrounded by soft yellow light and ceiling-high shelves of books. This is a room that bombards the senses. There are novels of every color covering two of the walls, and under the slow whirring fan is a billiards table; three striped and two solid balls are remnants of an unfinished match. The musty smell of the books merges with the aroma of a kitchen full of broccoli quiche and chocolate shortbread. This is familiarity for me. It is comfort.
Chamber music plays on the record player, a sad, slow melody perfect for a warm summer’s night. I close my eyes and hear the violin and sitar play together, separating, harmonizing, the sound waves blending like rings of raindrops on a lake. I am reading a book about the celebrated ballet pair Nureyev and Fonteyn, and am absorbed in the world of grace and elegance, of black and white pictures. My hair, long enough to reach my waist, is still wet from a shower. I have curled my legs up into my chair like a small child, perching sideways, my head resting on my knees.
My mother sits in a chair near the south-facing window with brown reading glasses at the tip of her nose. There is a glass of iced tea on the coffee table, forgotten now in the third chapter of a southwestern fiction/mystery paperback. I watch and wonder if she is aware of the world around her, of the cat weaving about her feet, or if the book has consumed all her attention. This is sometimes how it is with books. On the window a swarm of insects is trying to reach the light above her shoulder. There is a hum, a tapping, as they fly in figure eights on a ceaseless quest for the lamp.
My father is near the record player, looking at the back of “The White Album” and checking off titles on a continuous list of music in our collection. We have hundreds of albums, from Mike Oldfield to Chicago, Donovan to Beethoven, and I have heard them all. My father has spent his life collecting our literary and musical library. We have a record of the century without numbers, the poetry, accounts and songs of different eras.
No one is speaking tonight. The world has a hush about it, as if there were an unwritten rule not to break the summertime spell. The notes of Sonata No. 3 in A Minor, the rustle of pages turning, the trill of the crickets and tremors of the spruce trees – these sounds combine to make a cacophony that rises, fills the room and finally neutralizes into a lull.
I look up from my finished book, and slowly the room forms before my eyes. For a minute I sit and watch all this, taking in the music and colors. The tone in this room is like a crackling fire, something in the background that I know is there but my mind has tuned out. If this evening had been six months ago or the summer before, I could have stayed for hours in that peaceful room.
Something has stirred, though, and I am not content to sit still here. This atmosphere, like the rest of my peaceful childhood days, has to end. Somebody will shut the damper and interrupt everything.
As quickly as possible, as if to lessen the tension of breaking our quiet summer lull, I stand and begin to walk out of the room. I speak, and the sound waves splash against the air.
“I’m going to bed.”
My parents look up, and as I leave the room I hear my mother say, “Don’t stay up too late, please.”
I leave this request unanswered and tread up the stairs. I am still quiet.
That summer evening was the last time I experienced such a connection with my family and the world around me. I don’t sit with them in the living room anymore. Times have changed, and I have taken on the role of traditional teenager – listening to loud music, talking on the phone and on the computer. I am isolated from the rest of the household. It is a missing piece of me. It is the negative side of growing up.
My Hans Christian Andersen and Madeline L’Engle books have changed to Ayn Rand and George Orwell; my long hair has been cut to conventional length. My wrist watch and calendar say I have aged less than a year, but my own sense of time passing has experienced eons. I have lived and changed by several years since I sat in peace in the living room, since that kind of night was enough.
I can barely hear the music downstairs, but I know everyone is there, together. Perhaps in a few years my clock will slow back to normal and everything won’t happen in such a blur. I will be able to appreciate the time of books and music, family and familiarities, calm and comfort. As it is, these teenage years seem to be the very lonely “best years” of my life.