The sounds of summer drift lazily over our back fence like smoke.
Children laugh and splash in paddling pools, squealing, cold water on hot skin, lawns flooded, warm mud squelching between small toes.
A lawnmower hums bee-like in the distance, and the smell of fresh cut grass hangs in the hazy air. I breathe it all in, the endless peace, the comforting familiarity of home. Sometimes, when I’m heartsick, I ache for this time, this place, these feelings. I close my eyes and let my memories bring me here, back to simpler times. They heal my soul.
My worries are bound by childhood, contained by school gates closed against the world. I agonise only over which friends to see and which games to play. The problems of the adult realm are far beyond my imagination and I’m in no hurry to reach out for them.
I recline on ancient sun-loungers with mum. They smell like sunshine and tanning oil and I feel grown up drinking tea beside her. We close our eyes and pretend that we are abroad soaking up Spanish sun.
Mum is glamorous, all curves in her bikini, brown skin glistening. I long to be beautiful someday too. I don’t hold much hope—I am awkward and skinny, all arms and legs and unremarkable. I stare at myself in the mirror sometimes and try to imagine what my grown up features will look like. I can’t see beyond the braces that imprison my smile and the unruly curls that never seem to lay straight and shiny like the popular girls at school.
In later years, I will breathe a sigh of relief as I start to fill out and my cheekbones decide to make an appearance. I will be startled when my first boyfriend notices me among my friends, an individual for the first time. I will grow into myself, a butterfly emerging from the cocoon of youth.
Charcoal barbecues, colourful picnic plates, my family talking and laughing under a bright blue sky. Dad’s radio blares summer-time anthems from the sanctuary of his shed. It is full of treasures, musty and masculine. He croons along and I smile, swept along in his happiness.
Even today, these familiar melodies transport me instantly to a brighter place.
Night never falls on those evenings. The light lingers and we stay out late exploring a neighbourhood that holds every memory of my childhood me. A close look reveals me there still—wading in clear cold rivers with fishing net in hand, collecting conkers in the shade of great oaks, and eating penny sweets on swings, flinging higher and higher, trying to fly from the frame to the wide world beyond. We race the setting sun to beat the darkness home.
I soar downhill on my bike, clothes streaming in the wind, fearless. The courage of a mind that has not yet had to comprehend pain. I get entangled with my friend’s pedals and we tumble to the ground together in a laughing heap. We are not afraid. Broken bones, blood, death—they are not for us.
We are young and wild and will go where the night takes us. There are no alarms to set, nor places to be. The only rule is curfew and even that can be overcome with pleading and promises.
We long to grow, to explore, to see the world. We yearn to cast off the tight, constricting skin of our upbringing and be so much more. So impatient are we to be released, that we don’t yet realise that these playful years, roaming free under a summer sky, are among the best we will ever know.
We are sending our roots deep into the ground, laying the foundations to hold us securely, when the storms of life howl around us. We never imagine that we will return here often during our adventures beyond, in dreams and memories, seeking exactly what our youth sought to escape—family, contentment, safety.
We don’t yet understand that whatever far off corner of the world we find ourselves, regardless of the people we meet and love along the way, our hearts will always long for the familiar laughter of someone who has grown with us and those sounds of summer, drifting over the back fence.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock / Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Jim Brickett