On my last night at home, walking up the street with my sisters, I felt the air turn. It rained earlier that day; the storm drains were thick with bloated apples and poached leaves. In this way, the end-of-summer shift came and then it stuck.
For the past few days I’ve acted like an idiot, going up to people and saying, ‘It’s all over, I can’t believe it, I blinked and it was gone!’ But I mean it every time. Summer ends and everyone fakes bemusement. We love to tell each other about it, commiserate, look at each other and throw up our hands: how did this happen! How did we let it happen, again?
In early August my family drove over to Prince Edward Island, as we’ve done for over a decade, where we prostrate ourselves under the red sun and eat shellfish. I wrote in my journal every day, sitting on the beach. I recorded minutia: woke up (okay sleep), made coffee (bitter), went swimming (cold but no jellyfish), ate peaches (ripe). When I read the entries now, sitting on my bed in Toronto, I can close my eyes and feel it — the security of a routine with only good steps, the sanctity of unconditional time. But then I’m back in my apartment, my roommates are playing Red Dead Redemption 2 in the living room, it falls away again.
I stayed at a friend’s cottage for a few cold days in June. It sits on a Québec lake, rimmed with pine trees and rich liberals’ summer homes. We sat on the screened-in porch every evening, candles melting down to the table, bugs humming dumbly beyond the light. For dinner, we made zucchini peeled off into long, aquatic strands; corn, peaches, and cheese tossed in a wide bowl; and fresh pasta inlaid with tiny tomatoes and showered with green herbs. I ate it all and hardly felt fat after. Drunk in a wicker chair, I remember thinking: if I have kids, they won’t have this.
Last December I applied for an academic excursion to Germany, when my hair was still falling out and my life felt very narrow. In May, I sat on a plane beside strangers and woke up in Frankfurt. We went to learn, so I listened in community centres, felt engravings on synagogue walls, and walked with eyes up. We ate Friday dinner at a Chabad house and I listened to the Rabbi’s daughter speak five languages through her tiny mouth. Then everyone got drunk and we struggled home. Was that me? Walking around Berlin with wet feet?
This July I turned 21. I went to Halifax to see my friends from high school: a splintery group of girls-now-women with boyfriends and jobs and vague plans. They live in lofty student houses that make my Chinatown bedroom seem small and mean in comparison. The heat slouched over us all weekend, so we slept with the windows open. Everyone goes to the same bars in that city, where unwashed girls in barrettes sit pressed up against one another in booths, eyes blurry. I see myself there: opening birthday presents beside a lake, wearing a bathing suit in the backseat of an ancient Volvo, flinging myself into people I love… somehow it happened and then didn’t.
Walking around the neighbourhood I grew up in feels like pulling weeds from a vegetable garden. One pull: this is the store where someone, who in joyful delusion I loved, works. Another: this is the church where, in a white dress, I took first communion. The minutes all roll together and over themselves. I look up and the sun’s moved, look down to more green. Time isn’t graceful but nor is it cruel; it’s an endless, uncaring unfolding. Is 21 too young to feel swept up?
I spent my last June and July in Israel, trying to learn Arabic. My dorm room had metal shutters and a special area with a blast-proof door. On Saturdays I walked to East Jerusalem, where the shops stayed open, and I drank orange juice in cafés cornered by electric fans. I took a bus to Bethlehem and felt despair eat into my feet, my breastbone, my hips. If you stood in the right place, the horizon never ended — but if you stood in the wrong place, it never started. All I saw everyday was the same beige-brown landscape over and over. Looking at it made me panic. The heat made me panic. I stopped eating and started running. I changed my flight, I left early, I still dream about it.
When I got back from Israel last August, I spent most of my time on my mom’s front porch. I drank wine out of plastic Ikea cups and slept during the afternoons, curled up on a tiny chair like a dog. I tried to wash it all off me, spread out my hair and pick out the rotting strands. My skin, tanned and freckled from the desert, flaked off. And my hair did eventually fall out that winter anyway, from what my doctor called a “latent trauma response,” what my hairdresser called “too much bleach,” and what my mom called “well, what do you expect?” But everything else stuck.
It’s tempting to put bookends on things, keep the unruly standing straight, etc. While I know anyone can turn a few flashing moments into a line, forcing teleology onto my life doesn’t make me feel more secure about it. Did May lead to June? Did Frankfurt lead to Summerside? Masada to Tel Aviv? Try all you want, but I’m not believing it, Bibi, baby!
So this is all I can say of the past four months: I spent a lot of time in my underwear, I felt devout joy and divine sadness, I would not do it over, but I know I will live it again.