It seems that mid-to-late August tends to bring with it idyllic summer days by my standards: blue skies, warm sun, even a faint breeze—what summers in New Jersey used to be like before global warming made it possible to get second degree burns right in your backyard. (Hard to imagine there were days when we could slather on baby oil and face no consequences.)
And when there’s that kind of break in the otherwise-sweltering temperatures, it is, to me, an irresistible invitation to soak up the fresh air. For a few glorious days, I sat under an umbrella with my iPad and wrote for hours—something I haven’t done in…well, in forever. Though it required multiple glasses of iced tea and generous re-applications of Cutter, the words were flowin’. I felt like I was in my element. I felt very writer-ly. I enjoyed it so much, just to be outside and to have time.
But maybe more than that, what I love so much about leisurely summer days like these are that they remind me of those spent in northern Germany, where the higher latitude means daylight will stretch long into the night, where it can get warm but is usually never humid, where sometimes, though, it might rain for days on end and bring with it a distinct chill that makes you glad you packed plenty of layers.
I’ve explored so much of that land by car, train, bus, boat, foot, and perhaps most memorable, by bicycle. I have been caught in a hailstorm and (in a separate incident) had a collision which tossed me into a rosebush. Another time I nearly ran down an old man taking out his garbage. And there were countless times I pedaled with the ferocity of someone so foolish, she thought she could ride away from the searing pain of loss.
But what I prefer to think about are those nondescript summer days when it felt like there was still so much future ahead, so much possibility, like a carpet that, if unrolled, would reach way out, far beyond the horizon. I can still envision the lush green cornfields in late summer, tall stalks towering above me as I would ride past on a borrowed bike, maybe headed to a favorite shop, to see a friend, or to Speckenbüttel Park. In my memory, those fields are forever green and golden. Forever summer.
Even as things changed, as time extracted people one by one and created new wrinkles in the rest of us, my mind denied the reality that someday Bremerhaven would not have a place for me. Someday it would be a place I no longer recognized, some of the most important people in my life missing.
This summer, I have spent a lot of time coming to terms with the fact that “someday” is actually now. One of my last two remaining familial ties to Fischtown has been, if not severed, then badly frayed: my beautiful and vibrant aunt struck down with a ruptured brain aneurysm. It was as if her age and my age and all of our ages finally caught up, finally registered. It happened the same week we buried an uncle here stateside. It was just a month before my mother would begin her own series of trials in the battle for her life. Suddenly everyone seemed older.
Suddenly it felt like someone rolled up that carpet on us, taking with it past memories and opportunities that no longer exist: no more bike rides to the lakeside tavern. No more trips to Greece or England or Hungary. No more afternoon coffee or snacking on chips and chocolate-covered raisins while watching TV at night, each of us in position on our own couches. No more parking six blocks away in the city because it’s easier. No more open-air movie nights at the Fischereihafen. No more somber trips to the cemetery to lay flowers on their graves. No more emails and phone calls, talking and sharing and laughing, the way it used to be. I’m ashamed to admit that, at times, there is a selfish, childish part of me that longs to talk to her, to have her advice and comfort while my mother is ill. “Kopf hoch,” I imagine she’d say. “Sie schafft es.” (Chin up, she’ll make it.) She’d be so sure.
Now there’s a good chance she wouldn’t remember who I am.
She has slipped through our fingers the way days roll off the calendar in late August, with no stopping it.
If I close my eyes, though, I can pretend it is late afternoon and I am on her Terrasse, with a cup of coffee and a slice of Butterkuchen before each of us, the sunshine warm on our skin, and warmer still, a feeling of gratitude. That part will never slip away.