For weeks the heat has built, with the sky a permanent pale wash of blue. It’s as if the earth is storing all of its energy and taking in one long, deep breath before it rages. Today this long summer seems to rest on the edge of a precipice and, as the sun crawls lethargically across the sky, the trees begin to stir faster and the wind pulls and pushes the cooling air. There is an energy that can almost be grasped. The storm is coming.
I step outside, breathing in the moment. I’ve always loved days like these. Memories of running barefoot into the street, arms aloft under heavy August showers. Spinning wildly, becoming increasingly dizzy with ecstasy as soaking clothes cling to my skin. Before I had even begun understand it, this summer rain had always held a promise of new possibilities. Today is no exception.
I turn a corner and stand still, breathing in deep. The street I stare down is such a familiar sight to me yet in this moment, it seems to take on a new life, a new meaning transcendent to anything else. The road is a dead end adorned by a wire fence that holds behind it endless miles of corn field, country paths and hours of memories. What is it about being home? After several sporadic visits to the place I’d grown up, I had expected the constant nostalgia to end, yet it returns with the same intensity with each and every visit. Am I the only one that experiences this with such force? Perhaps I’ve just been wired in such a way that my memory is inclined to constantly recount the endless halcyon days of youth. I’m addicted to the melancholia of it all.
Reaching the end of the street I press down on the barbed wire, strategically placing my fingers between the barbs before swinging each leg over in turn. This ‘leap’ into the field was once so much more of an effort during countless days spent bounding over into the long grass below. I would spend hours here with my childhood friend, Sarah, diving into the thick mass with green-stained knees, drunk on its unique earthy scent. Even now I can feel her soft breath on my cheek as we lay in hiding and that electric sensation between our hands as they rest just beyond touching – the air thick with possibility.
Almost two decades since, I look out onto anaemic, arid earth. Stepping into the field, the brittle needles scratch at my bare ankles before snapping under my weight. A shadow edges its way across the field. I look up to see a light wisp of cloud beginning to form above. A breeze rattles through the field before falling silent again. Those days in the lush field suddenly seem long ago. As I look down at the barren dirt, the present becomes a graveyard to the past – longing for what has been and dreading what is to come.
I carry on. The field is wrapped over a gentle slope that creeps down to a narrow footpath. I would walk here so often with Sarah as we grew older into our late teens. It became synonymous with the evenings and weekends we’d spend together. I could’ve walked this path a thousand times with her and it wouldn’t have been enough. When nothing stands in the way of perfection, its fragility remains protected and those wrapped up in it remain blind to its ability to crack. Everything was somehow more real in those days. We still had the ability to be profoundly affected by something that today we seem to have inevitably become desensitised to. We withdraw further into ourselves and leave the paradise of teenage years behind for adult life.
As we grew older, we stayed together. She seemed to flourish with each year as she devoured opportunity and savoured the possibilities of life. I was exactly the opposite. By my late twenties, I had fallen into a state of depression, leaving me bitter without reason and ruthlessly anti-social. I was dragging her down with me before she even realised it. We were married. What choice did she have? She stood as a testament to that often forgotten vow, made one day in a haze of ecstasy. While her family had long turned against me, she couldn’t give up. She couldn’t let go of the memory of love. Maybe once I had helped her forget the world, but soon it became clear the world had forgotten us both.
I reach the end of the path and turn back to look down it. The sky is heavy to the point of bursting now and the trees begin to moan under its weight. I realise that the last good thing I did for her was leave her. She bore my burden for too long. So I find myself here, remembering her as a series of summers. In front of me is a wooden gate that opens onto a small bridge, beyond which stands a lone oak tree. I can just make out it’s highest branches from here; still as green and majestic as I remember.
Walking over the bridge, I notice that the water running beneath me has almost completely disappeared after months of ceaseless heat. The drop to the bottom isn’t too far but we would often dare each other to jump in when the river was full. She would always jump first: I never quite trusted my own ability to swim back to the surface. The tree ahead draws closer and rises majestically above the rest. Not even a summer of drought has paled it’s vivid leaves. It stands patiently, trusting in the rain that is about to come. Whatever the years throw at it, it continues to reach up.
As I reach the tree, I notice a bench sitting by it. I sit and look across at the valley straight ahead of me. A cricket squeaks its welcome. A sudden sense of arrival sweeps over me – I’m here. Even the far-off sounds of planes and roads console me; their distance is a comfort. Everything is still yet thrives with life. We share the same contentment, quiet: peace.
I close my eyes and for the first time in years, I think of nothing, and it is bliss. In somewhere so unchanging, I feel so far from myself. I touch the soil, the bark and the grass to remind myself of something I hadn’t forgotten, just to check.
As I breathe in the sweet, pungent smell in the air, a large splash of water bounces from my cheek, soon followed by another down my neck. I reach out my hands as more rain follows. A streak of lighting tears the horizon in two and becomes suspended in that moment. I look up to the sheet of grey above me and smile. Standing up, with my clothes now clinging to me in the mid-summer storm, I reach upwards like the child I once was and begin to spin.