For school and other things

Dear Reader,

Here comes the end of a mental season. The idea of summer is longer than allotted by school calendars, and the season’s promises are intense. Toward the end of each July, I get attacked by a swirl of feelings and wonder what I am doing, am I having enough fun? I notice I miss my friends and that I want the routine of school – even though I graduated forever ago. I return to emotions that began to happen when I was a kid. As the thrill of summer ages, boredom and doubts settle thick, like humidity. I feel guilty for not relishing my freedom, whether I actually have liberty or not. How dare I not love the nothing of summer?

That boredom I felt as a kid, it was the dullness of waiting. Waiting for the return of routine, for the certainty of the school bus and the fact that my sisters and I would not be ready for it. I was eager for days metered like a clock, when I wouldn’t have to plow through books and pick billions of blackberries and wait for school shopping, for packs of filler paper and fresh pencils to sharpen, a new pair of jeans.

I wasn’t waiting for bad things to happen, but they would, usually right away. Boarding the bus, would we get seats? Would someone be a jerk in the hallway, bump into me in line? Try to make me drop my tray in the cafeteria? Dangers lurked in the many scary transitions that dotted each day: moments when adults looked away and gave us a chance to be cruel to each other.

I feel that sense of danger right now for so many people, and the stakes are far higher. The reasonable people with power have looked the other way and given cruelty room to happen. I see this in Afghanistan most vividly, but of course, elsewhere. The Delta variant is sweeping across communities, but governors fight mask and vaccine mandates. Eviction prevention money is not protecting people. How can vulnerability be common for so many people in the world?

This is what I wonder as tomatoes and peaches sneak into the house, begging to be used. Daily, I cut off bad spots and use the ripe fruit, putting the ones that are not quite ready on cookie sheets. The table and counters are covered with trays, the fruit nicely lined up in rows, but the orderliness vanishes overnight. Mornings, a few furry peaches puff up with black and white mold. Nature is always faster than I am. I can’t wait -- another round of ripeness is always developing. I have to be ever ready. And I’m not. Because I’m waiting for something else.

I've been waiting for something all year, a train, a plane, a phone call? I guess I'm waiting for my ticket out of grief, or the miraculous return of my father, preferably in the years he was 55 to 70, retired and delighted, his body unfelled by strokes. I feel selfish for having so many feelings about this particular death when there is so much suffering near and not -so-near me. I have it easy, but I can’t escape the loss, not when my parents’ house is going on the market on Monday. They lived there for 48 years. Such stability!

Yesterday, the clock in the kitchen stopped. Felix took it down from the wall to change the battery, which we didn’t immediately have. So, we kept looking there, for the clock hands to give us cues about making dinner, or winding down for bed.

Seeing the green wall instead of the clock is what I'm doing a hundred times a day: thinking of something to tell my dad. The reflex to connect with him is always there.

The counter is filling up with little glistening jars, trapped promises from the garden. The preserves are temporary survivors. Seeing them feels good. Maybe I could make a batch of ‘waiting’ jam. I could fill a pan with imaginary berries from the thorny bushes of my eternal waiting. Add some sugar, lemon juice and a few chopped tart apples for pectin so that the waiting jam won't be too soupy, so that this ephemeral stuff will be thick enough to sit on my toast this winter, when whatever I am waiting for will have arrived.