The Last Day of Summer
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Feared by school attendees across the nation, the last day of summer has always been a surreal experience to me. I once read a music review that coincidentally summarized the very epitome of it, though the review was speaking of The National, a talented indie group: “ [it] creeps in like the villain in a bleak Gothic novel...” or in other words, it always emerged slowly, stalking, always completely expected. And yet, simultaneously, one feels like it is impossible for the holiday to be over all of a sudden. Where did it all go? You remember the innocence, the wide open possibilities presented to you three months ago, like gifts laid down before the baby Jesus. Golden afternoons of deliriously pleasing boredom. Moist, thick nights spent in pools, steam rising from the water illuminated indigo by eerie underwater lights. Plans laid out that never get made, instead traded for other things. Lofty goals—I’ll take a roadtrip this summer. Dude, we’ve gotta hang out this summer. I’ll read War and Peace this summer. We’re gonna go to every concert we want to, and even ones we don’t! Man, we have to sneak out like every night. It all fades before you on that hazy Sunday afternoon, and you feel hopeless trying to grasp it back to you, you wanted the summer to end at first so you could go back to school and see your friends, but now that doesn’t sound like such a good idea. You can no longer wake up after noon, you can no longer sneak out in the middle of the night just because, you can no longer see your girlfriend everyday because she goes to another school. You’ll have homework, and projects, and no time for anything you really want to do, unless of course you make time. Indeed, the last day of summer is quite abnormal.
I didn’t really wake up on the last day of summer this time. I’d been awake since about eleven a.m. the previous day. I had been at Dean’s house since seven p.m. or so. Cal and Harris had been there as well, and we’d long made the decision to stay up as long as we could that last true night of summer, a choice I was bound to regret.
Out of the four of us, seventeen-year old Harris was the only one that was licensed. Dean had just turned sixteen, though he had only recently received his permit. I was sixteen and had been for a few months but I had also failed my driving test and wasn’t ready to take it again. Cal was the youngest at fifteen.
I don’t recall very well what we had been doing for most of that night. I vaguely remember a late walking excursion down the highway near Dean’s house, the silent night torn to pieces by the roar of the occasional car. I was of course tired at that point, not quite at the moment when one’s second burst of energy kicks in, the body realizing there will be no sleep yet. We had also walked around the massive suburban labyrinth of Dean’s neighborhood, the dogs barking at us, the crickets forever singing for a mate, a soft wind harassing the trees.
My second wind came around dawn. For the last two hours or so, the four of us had been lounging around Dean’s living room, watching bad TV. If anyone had started to drift off, he was duly notified.
“ I’m hungry.” Harris said, and Cal added that he was, too.
“ Let’s go to Waffle House. It’s the only thing open, anyway.” I suggested.
Dean agreed, eyes half-glazed with sleep deprivation. We all followed Harris out to his car, a little hatchback of some sort. I am quite convinced now that that was the most beautiful morning of my life. The air had cooled considerably overnight, so that one was just barely warm enough in a t-shirt and shorts. There was a delicate wind caressing the air, carrying in her angelic voice the promise of autumn. The sun had just risen to its full glory, and the tops of all the trees were splendidly refulgent with their baby bright green leaves, dancing in accordance with the breeze. Freshly mowed lawns were visible as far as the eye could see, each slightly shrink-wrapped shiny with the morning dew. Neighbors’ gardens were stretching out to us, sunflowers and daisies and flowers of all sorts holding their heads high. Nature was proud and exuberant that morning, sadly not knowing that the heat and the humidity would later turn her into a drooping mess.
I leaned my head out the window all the way to Waffle House, wanting to shout just because. I was giddy with lack of rest, but it felt amazing. I don’t know what we talked about on that ride, or even when we got there, but I remember it was hilarious, all of us sitting around one of the little booths, faces contorted with laughter, porcelain white logo engraved coffee cups in hand, hashbrowns littered on plates before us.
When we returned to Dean’s house, we were seized with youth’s mischievous stupid glee, suddenly ready to play pranks on unsuspecting residents of the subdivision. It was only seven in the morning after all. We went down to Dean’s basement, searching for tools, ideas. Cal suddenly emerged from a storage bin wearing a cowboy hat, holding a toy guitar. Our ingeniously idiotic plan was born.
We found more cowboy hats and Southwestern flavored cloth ponchos and each adorned something of that style. Then, looking like the world’s worst mariachis, we trekked door-to-door, ready to spring upon any answering neighbor with a poorly performed song. Only two people answered their doorbells, but God was the look on their respective faces priceless. Confused, angered, heartily bemused...those emotions seemed to twinge across the facial muscles all at once, a mixed signal to our soon departing retinue.
Around ten a.m. we decided to perform our second act, this time inspired by an old wheelchair discovered in the bowels of Dean’s cool, quiet, empty house. Dean, a master of imitation and disguise, donned a hat and a pair of sunglasses, distorting his face and eventually resembling a crippled old man. Loading the wheelchair into Harris’s car, we drove under steadily increasing temperatures to the nearby mall.
I was designated cameraman as Harris and Cal pushed Dean through the mall, Dean making obscene comments at passing girls in his grizzled old man voice. I lingered behind the three, holding the camera at my side and trying not to look too conspicuous. Our final destination was the bookstore, which we soon reached, leaving a trail of offended and flummoxed patrons in our wake.
At that point, Harris became cameraman and I the suddenly abandoned grandson with his crusty, crude grandfather. I mock-scolded Dean and nearly exploded restraining my laughter while he practically ransacked the bookstore, running into shelves, cursing, tossing books every which way, throwing a fire extinguisher, mumbling hysterically. Cal and Harris left rather quickly and abruptly after a few moments, and I noticed the head of an employee bobbing like a shark fin over the bookshelves, moving in our direction. I told Dean, then ran, him wheeling his way out of a different entrance. As soon as the four of us reconvened in the parking lot by Harris’s car, we fell apart laughing. The reasoning behind our stunt was that there was no reasoning. We were simply bored, trapped in suburbia and its limited consumer-oriented options, upon which we had chosen to take our revenge.
We returned to Dean’s house once again and parted ways with tall, goofy Harris and his choppy, high-pitched laugh. He had a job to go to. Apparently in our absence Dean’s parents had also left for a bit, leaving Cal and Dean and I to our own devices. We tried to remain busy, but fatigue and the prospect of high school classes the next day was eating away at us. I remember sitting awkwardly in the uncomfortable chair in Dean’s most uncomfortable hardwood living room, looking across my friends with the strange haze accompanied by sleeplessness. The world has a certain dullness to it when one has been up for over twenty-four hours, like gazing out through a dirty factory window.
“ Anyone wanna go for a drive?” Dean asked after a while. “ We can go pick up some of my friends at Duluth.”
Cal and I looked at each other and shrugged. Dean’s parents were oddly okay with him driving around illegally alone on his permit.
A few minutes later we were on the road again, but this time the weather was not so pleasant. The morning sun had become the angry August afternoon sun, exorcising demonic swirling waves of heat from black asphalt, sending UV radiation through car windows, effectively cooking us like a tin of sardines under a heat lamp. Dean did his best to cool the boxy sedan, but it was of little avail at least to me, sitting in the backseat.
Things only got worse as we arrived at Driver’s house. Driver was the kid’s last name, and I was never very sure of his first. He was one of the most laid back cats I’ve ever seen--Tall, skinny, with stringy black hair and tie-dye stoner clothes and Birkenstocks, a smooth voice that never rose above a few decibels. Once we got to this kid’s house and beckoned him out to the car, it was like we had hit a brick wall in our options for things to do. Dean shot questions at Driver about people around Duluth that we could hang out with, but they all seemed to be busy, unable to do anything, or questionable in their availability. We must’ve sat in Driver’s driveway for fifteen minutes, pulsating sun killing us slowly, the solitary tree in his yard no longer soft like the ones I had seen in the morning, but ugly and skulking, dying too under the heat.
We eventually resolved to go back to Dean’s house, defeated. We at least took Driver with us. However, shortly after we got back, Cal’s parents called. He had to go home. The day was slipping away from us. Worse, Dean had to drive Cal home because his parents were lazy drinking smoking types, unable to drive a few minutes to come get their son. So, Dean was off again, leaving me and Driver in his bonus room this time.
Driver and I are both the quiet type, so there wasn’t much conversation, and we were both cool with that. He sat in one of those weird hammock-chair things, hanging from the ceiling, while I lounged on a futon, staring upward absently. I felt like I might fall asleep, eyes urging to fall downward like theatre curtains on a failing play, here the set was coming apart, the actors had forgotten their lines in their sleeplessness, and it felt so good just to let the curtain drop for one moment and...
“ SHIT!” Dean screamed from downstairs, door slamming behind him. Driver and I both hopped to our feet and ran to him.
“ What’s going on?”
“ I got in a fucking accident.” And with those words the crush of panic embraced all of us, that inescapable feeling of jeopardy, of not-knowing what will come next.
“ What happened?”
“ I fell asleep on the way back from Cal’s and hit one of those barrel things.”
We followed Dean outside and saw the dent next to the wheel well on the opulent white paint of the car. It was about the size of a saucer, nothing too noticeable. But the plastic black stripe running the length of the car slightly below that had been ripped off at that point. That could be more noticeable. Dean paced in circles, Driver and I gawked.
“ My dad’s going to be home soon...what do I do?!”
“ Tell him the truth.” I said.
“ Fuck that.”
Dean was a genius, though his silly nature wouldn’t conduce one to believe it. Still, he had his moments, and this was one of them.
“ I got it!” He said, and ran back inside. Driver and I followed.
When we found him, he was holding a cordless phone about to call his father, the other hand balled into a fist.
“ What are you going to do?” I asked.
“ Just watch.” He said, voice frantic and confident. Then, he punched himself in the nose.
Tears welled up in his eyes and rolled down his cheeks as he cursed, Driver and I laughing uncontrollably. But the effect worked. He called his dad, apparently in a fit of worried weeping, explaining that some soccer mom in a tan color van had cut him off the road, sending him into a barrel. His dad, a tall, rather intimidating man with a bipolar personality (usually kind and calm, occasionally terrifyingly angry), actually told him to pull himself together and that it wasn’t that bad and that he would be home soon.
Dean got off the phone and Driver and I high-fived him for coming up with such a genius idea. But it wasn’t quite complete. About ten minutes later, all of us sitting nervously tired in the bonus room with its car-like white carpet and green futon and weird hammock-chair, Dean left for the bathroom to make himself appear as if he had been crying. The best way to do this, he had reasoned, would be to apply shampoo into one’s eye.
As Dean would later explain, he had taken a half-dollar sized dollop of shampoo and shoved it in his eyes, resulting in the second “ SHIT” that Driver and I heard from him that day. Again, his plan worked, almost a little too well. His eyes quickly became bloodshot, his face now tearstained.
And when his father came home, he was much calmer than any of us, telling Dean his mother would never notice the damage and that he was being a baby for freaking out as much as he did. He pulled the boxy sedan into the garage and that was that, a crisis avoided (for the most part).
Almost as soon as that was done, my cell phone rang. Parents. Time for me to head home. They came to pick me up, unlike Cal’s parents, and I dazedly found myself sitting at a dinner table not too much later. The food looked beautiful, but I wasn’t all that hungry. Sleep was the main pursuit of my mind at that moment and as my parents rattled off questions at me the world seemed to be melting around this currently out of reach luxury. I answered vaguely, shrugging, grunting, taking bites.
When dinner was finally over, I glided wraithlike upstairs and collapsed in a heap upon my cool, soft bed. Sleep became me, and my last day of summer was suddenly over, as suddenly as it had come. I would never find another morning like the one I’d seen that day, and it was only years later that I really knew what a summer day was when you’re sixteen. At the time, I would’ve told you it was the same as any other summer day when you’re fifteen or twenty-three or thirty-five. But that’s not true—because as the sun sets and summer exhales her final breath upon your sleeping body, that gentle breeze takes your adolescence with you, it tips the scales between immaturity and responsibility in the favor of the adult world, and one day when you’re eighteen or nineteen you’ll wake up and realize that one thing has taken the place of another, and suddenly you’re not just a teenager anymore.