The Innocent Summer This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 2, 2010
It was the Summer of Innocence; or that is how I choose to remember it. It was the summer that I fell in love with words. The summer that I learned of human mortality; it was the summer before I grew up; the summer that changed me.

It had been four years since my last trip to Belize, a coastal speck on the map of Central America. Four years had passed since I saw my Gran filled with gumption, my aunt Mel’s face luminous with life, my cousins. My home. I remembered the sound of the coconut trees dancing in the wind. I remembered the rivers made of jade; the taste of Gran's tamales; the radiating tropical sun kissing my face; the intoxicating smell of the ocean. I remembered the love. Will it be the same?

D-Day. After meandering our way through the labyrinth of DFW International Airport we boarded our plane. Excitement exuded from every orifice of my body. Four endless hours passed until we landed. My last innocent summer had officially begun. As soon as we were released from the clutches of airport security, the welcoming party flocked to our side: Gran, Aunt Mel, her son Nicholas, and my grandfather, Dadsie. Although graced with time, my family had not changed. In my fourteen year old mind they were forever to be frozen in time.

As the short car-ride progressed, the walls of green receded and scores of impermeable walls of tropical colored buildings emerged. Pot-hole ridden streets and brash cyclists replaced the emerald rivers and coconut trees. As it came to a close a mint green, two story house with red shutters and boisterous hibiscus flowers emerged from the concrete jungle around us. A whimsical sign teetered above the entrance gate. “Mrs. Emelda’s Boarding House. ROOMS AVAILABLE,” was written in an arthritic sprawl. A myriad of firsts came to the forefront of my mind: my first day of school; my first novel; dancing to the Spice Girls on the veranda with my aunt Mel. “Do you remember?” She asked as she squeezed my hand; her warm touch the final sign of familiarity.

I was to stay in the room next to Gran’s on the second floor. The first floor is where the boarding rooms are located, and the second is a private apartment for my grandparents and family. Two verandas occupy the sides of the house, the front leading to the kitchen, and the back to another private apartment. The front veranda was adorned by bleeding heart palms, and a washing machine. Aunt Mel is a permanent fixture in that house despite living next door. She would come by everyday religiously at eight in the morning, eat breakfast, and then start on the laundry. I was always glued to her side. With the shackles of time secured until the spin cycle, immersed ourselves in the lives of Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre, or discussed the latest gossip around town. That was our routine for three weeks, and upon the fourth, the wings of change swept us in a harrowing gale.

Aunt Mel’s son, Nicholas would drop in for lunch every day at noon before his next class at the University of Belize. Gran and Aunt Mel would cluck about overexerting himself, and he’d always make a quip about treating him like he had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. He was the only one bold enough to joke about what happened nine years ago. You see, when Nicky was twelve, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Although I was too young to remember his confrontation with the noxious cannibal, no one could forget. The end of my frozen time, my innocent summer began with a second helping. As Nick returned with a replenished plate, his countenance darkened. Worry spread like wildfire through the hills of his brow. “All endings are really beginnings. We just don’t know it yet.” he whispered. An ignorant lull blanketed itself upon the table cloth. “From Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom!” Aunt Mel exclaimed. “Good job mom, although I am surprised that you read anything that was written after 1817.”She sighed, “I’m still mourning the passing of my beloved Jane.” An ambiguous smile crossed his lips, and then he began convulsing. Time stood still. Protective hands lunged to stabilize him. Frantic fingers dialed for help. A small trickle of crimson escaped from his nose. Then, he became still. I had never witnessed death before. I could not comprehend the situation. Nicky can’t just vanish! He was in remission! How could it end like this? He must be joking, right? Surely he was going to wake up any minute now. Then, the chinks of realization began eroding our doubt. A wailing siren sounded in the street competing with the audible turmoil around us. A cold breeze shrouded the air. All has changed.

Despair and darkness crept into the crevices of my mind. A torrent of tears escaped from my wounded soul. Then I felt a warm familiar hand on mine. “Try to avoid looking forward of backward and try to keep looking upward,” Aunt Mel whispered. I could not help but smile at the familiar words. “Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, “I answered. IN my darkest hour, I found solace in words. The hands of these two fictitious women lifted me from the abyss of sorrow. My worst experience, and my last innocent summer has taught me the power of language. It has taught me how to be the person I am today. All endings are beginnings, I am aware of that now.

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