For me, the official end of summer has always been August 12th, the day after my birthday. On that morning I wake up to the distinct chill of Autumn. This year was different. There was no chill in the air. I couldn’t feel the gotta-get-stuff-done energy that normally spilled from my neighbor’s houses.
Maybe it was that I wasn’t ready to let go. Get back to my normal life. I didn’t work all summer. It started with a slow June, then it was the 4th of July, I figured no one works around the holiday, then there was this cloudy memory of a book I read when I was 20 about a girl in analysis and how everyone, including the girl’s shrink, vacationed in August. All summer I felt as if I were forgetting something. I had to call up the credit card company more than once to ask for forgiveness and to waive fees due to late payments.
I spent a lot of time in the sun. At the beach or on my lounge chair in the back yard, a glass of iced tea and my book on the table next to me. I am like my father. He would sun himself by the pool in our backyard, stretched out on his lounge chair, glass filled with iced tea and a script on the table beside him. The book on the table beside me that summer was Play it as it Lays. I read it three times. I like Joan Didion. I like her writing. I like that the book reminds me of my father. When I was a girl my grandparents came to stay with us while our parents went to California for three weeks so my dad could work on the movie Play it as it Lays. It was after that trip that the discussions about moving west began.
As the August heat thickened, I drifted further into the past. The heat was record-breaking. It made me miss the spring winds with their tangy mist and cool kisses. I watched the heat push in on everyone. I could see it in slumped shoulders and furrowed brows, in weary gait, as if everyone was wading through setting cement. And in those last two weeks of August, I felt it bear down on me. It clogged my system, seeped into my skin, pooled in the pit of my stomach. On those days I didn’t read the book. I closed my eyes against the heat and listened to the buzz of the humidity and thought about Joan Didion, her character Mariah and my father.
Then it was August 31st. I woke up early. My chest hurt. I stood naked in the dark kitchen. Drank my coffee and looked out the window.
I went to the beach. I stood at the water’s edge, let the waves wash over my toes. It was hot. The sun was strong. I looked toward Malibu and thought of my father. It was his birthday. I never know how to act on his birthday. That year he would have been 83. He died 12 days after he turned 53. I was 55. I had passed the milestone of outliving my father. It had been thirty birthdays, thirty August 31st’s, thirty years, 10,944 days of living without my father.
That evening I picked up The Year of Magical Thinking and re-read the section when Joan and John and Quintana spent time with Katherine Ross and Conrad Hall at Broadbeach in Malibu. I like to read that section. I spent time at that house on Broadbeach in Malibu. Me, my sister, my mother, and my father. We followed right behind them Joan and John and Quintana. We were the next set of waves to wash into Katherine Ross’s beach house.
That night, I tucked the book under my pillow before I went to sleep. In my dreams, I visited Broadbeach. I was with Katherine, the sun glowed in the kitchen, glistened on her browned skin. We were baking cookies like when I was a girl. I could smell the dough rising in the oven, the ocean, the Herbal essence of her strawberry hair. My father was there. Just outside, on the balcony. I could almost see him in my periphery. Almost hear his voice under the sound of the breaking waves. His laugh. Almost hear him say my name. And when I woke up on the morning of September 1st I almost believed he was alive.
**This is a re-written piece. It was initially written for an assignment in third person. I changed it today, father's day, to first person. I miss you, dad.