Summer this year was both stressful and drab, so I’m not sure why I am feeling nostalgic about its end. I suppose that after a few decades of sultry city nights, woodsy campfires, and stirring rereads of Dandelion Wine, summer took root inside. It continues to grow in me like a sunflower bright but woozy with its own weight. This head still swoons with the fullness of berry picking with my little brother. It still rests with the contentment of sitting in sand between my parents and their sketch pads, drawing my own charcoal version of the dunes, or holding my breath with Grandpa after he cut the engine at the edge of a meadow. If we waited, the deer would come and break the stillness with their silence, materializing out of dawn.
It still thrives in me, this flower.
I’ve been tending my inner summer since the sun started giving me rashes. Our star had long been my symbol; friends painted me colorful suns, and bought me smiley ones for my birthday, and I decorated my apartments with them. When advised to imagine “a peaceful place,” the exotic scent of sand would fill me while sunlight warmed my skin. Finally I realized my dreams and bought a convertible, and a house by the beach. I invited those healing rays to live and travel with me. Now, when they seek me out, I am forced to hide from them.
I must make my own light, like a lightning bug. These living symbols of hope and self-illumination, inspiration and creative effort, did not frequent our patio back home. Our beach block is mostly treeless, and firefly sightings had become scarce and sacred reminders of my suburban childhood. Since Sandy we’ve been in a basement, so we have taken every offered opportunity to visit the homes of vacationing friends. Fireflies returned to me wholeheartedly this summer, populating every borrowed property. Their call-and-response flashes connected points in the dark. My beloved bugs reentered my world when I needed to remember: I have the power to transform and transmit. I can become my own sun, and live summer internally, even without grilled cheeseburgers and garden tomatoes and evening boardwalk strolls. And I can send out light signals that will be answered in kind. If I fly around frantically in the dark worrying I will never find another light, I never will. Like a firefly, I must source the light from within and send out bright bursts whenever I am able.
After a week of faxes, scans, emails, tearful phone calls, dreadful hold music that haunts into the night, and trying to prove over and over that we have not been plotting a trip to Disneyland while leaving our home in disrepair, we finally found someone at our mortgage company willing to help us get a few thousand dollars released. The next day, from the dark where I flew in a frenzy, I created ten minutes (it takes about nine just to go through the verifying process every time you call) to contact the woman and thank her.
I put in the effort and put forth light, and the return signals are brilliant. They come from different places. A friend at work threw a Pampered Chef party so she could pass on the freebies and help stock my eventual kitchen. A dear couple in Long Beach let us use their house and yard for the week, and Lucy got to run and play. The humidity and stagnancy of our dog’s new life in a basement studio has bred a stubborn and uncomfortable bacterial infection. Today, we took her to a vet who understood our situation and sympathized, and she did not charge us for the visit.
So while we continue to wait for our house to be lifted, work tirelessly toward our government loan dispersal, beg a bank for our own insurance checks, get called for two jury duties (no joke—Steve got a summons from Long Beach and a summons from the county, one call-in beginning when the other ends), write curriculum, set up a classroom, shop for new homeowners’ insurance after being dropped, smash concrete and haul steel beams, rack up our debts, and pay yet another month in rent and mortgage, we are still trading in light.
This Labor Day Weekend is the unofficial end of summer. Remember to swallow some sun, so when it grows cold and dark, you can uncork it like a bottle of dandelion wine. And when the energy starts coursing through your veins, throw me a spark. I will answer.
This post is dedicated to my cousin and spark partner, Janet.