For Carolyn, the official end of summer has always been August 12th, the day after her birthday. On that morning she’d wake up to the distinct chill of Autumn. This year was different. There was no chill in the air. She couldn’t feel the gotta-get-stuff-done energy that normally spilled from her neighbor’s houses.
Maybe it was that she wasn’t ready to let go. Get back to her normal life. She didn’t work all summer. It started with a slow June, then it was the 4th of July, she figured no one works around the holiday, then there was this cloudy memory of a book she read when she was 20 about a girl in analysis and how everyone, including the girl’s shrink, vacationed in August. All summer she felt as if she were forgetting something. She had to call up the credit card company more than once to ask for forgiveness and to waive fees due to late payments.
She spent a lot of time in the sun. At the beach or on her lounge chair in the back yard, a glass of lemonade and her book on the table next to her. She was like her father. He would sun himself by the pool in their backyard. Stretched out on his lounge chair, glass of iced tea and a script on the table beside him. Carolyn read Play it as it Lays three times that summer. She kept the book in her purse. She liked Joan Didion, how her writing made Carolyn think about her father. She remembered that December when she was a girl, her grandparents came to stay with her while her parents went to California for three weeks so her dad could work on the movie Play it as it Lays.That Christmas there was talk about moving west. Some days Carolyn didn’t open the book. Instead she closed her eyes. Thought about Mariah, Joan Didion, her father. Listened to the buzz of the humidity.The heat that August was thick. Record breaking. Carolyn missed the spring winds with their tangy mist and cool kisses. The heat pushed in on everyone. She 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, she felt it push in on her. It clogged her system, seeped from her skin, pooled in the pit of her stomach.
She woke up early on August 31st. Her chest hurt. She stood naked in the dark kitchen. Drank her coffee and looked out the window. Waited for the sky to catch up. It was her father’s birthday. She never knew how to act on this day. He would have been 83.
She went to the beach that afternoon and stood at the break, watched the water wash over her feet. She thought about her father. He died 12 days after he turned 53. She passed the milestone of outliving her father by two years. It had been thirty birthdays. Thirty August 31st’s since he left. Thirty years is 10,944 days.
That evening Carolyn 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. Carolyn liked to read that section. She knew that she and her mother and father followed behind them, the next set of waves to wash into Katherine Ross’ beach house.
She tucked the book under her pillow before she went to sleep that night. In her dreams she visited Broadbeach. She was with Katherine, they were baking cookies like when she was a girl. She could smell the dough rising in the oven, the ocean, the Herbal essence of Katherine’s strawberry hair. She knew her father was there. Just outside, on the balcony. She could almost see him in her periphery. Almost hear his voice under the sound of the breaking waves. His laugh. Almost hear him say her name. And when she woke up on the morning of September 1st she almost believed he was alive.