When I arrived back in North England last night, after a week’s stay in southern North Carolina, it felt like autumn, already: cooler, quieter, darker, calmer.
As I ran errands today and ducked in and out of shops, signs of a new season were everywhere. Apple-spice scented candles. Bags of candy corn. Orange and black cards shouting a holiday “Boo!” A stack of assorted books on Christopher Columbus. Pumpkin pie filling. Banners boasting from store windows, “New fall fashion is here!” At Target, I saw a woman standing before a rack of Halloween costumes, eagerly sifting through the full, early selection and holding choices up to her young twin daughters.
No wonder we struggle to stay present, when we are constantly propelled into the future, into next season when one hasn’t even finished.
The return from my family’s annual vacation has always marked the end of summer for me, though, largely because my sisters and I always trucked right off to school shortly after we arrived home to Stoneyway, still bearing our tans and beach-blond hair proudly, still loose-limbed and smooth-skinned from days and days of walking the sands of Topsail. Although I haven’t been on a student’s schedule in almost 10 years—graduate school doesn’t count, considering I attended part-time—it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve stood, post-vacation, at my Boston apartment doorsteps and set down my bags and felt the enduring heat and damp heaviness of summer and realized, grimly, that I had many more weeks to go until a new chapter of the year would begin.
And so this sudden turn of time, this quick spat of cool, dry air, this hint of what’s to come, was a welcome surprise. I returned to Marblehead and remembered that one season has peaked and crested and will soon fall, and fall, softly, slowly, unpredictably, like leaves, like a child at play in a pile of their color.
And it is fitting, too. Because change is indeed afoot.
At the beach this year, we had three active, adorable, wholly individual and astounding children, who absolutely amazed me with their sweetness, their innocence, their ability to see and understand much more than I give them credit for, much more than I saw or understood at their ages. During our stay in Topsail, I watched my sister’s boys play independently, then snuggle close on the couch, squabble and quickly forgive, comfort one another, laugh with one another, share inside jokes, tell secrets, swap food, follow, lead, listen, and stay close. Always so very close. Without me knowing when or where or how exactly it happened, they are true brothers now, at ages six and (nearly) four. Brothers—a foreign but fascinating development in our family of women.
And my family—this year, unlike several other vacations before, we approached every day in a unified yet undiscussed decision to relax, move slowly, not over do it, enjoy, go easy, let mornings unfold gently and without agenda, let fights die before they began, let the sea carry it, all of it, far from shore. Games, walks, sandcastles, books and music, homemade breakfasts, puzzles, platters of cheeses and grapes and ripe Pennsylvania peaches, sangria and spritzers and several heavy pours too many, and mothers, aunts, fathers, children, loud and falling underfoot, as thunderclouds rolled in over the Atlantic, as we sat back on our high, white deck chairs, the ice in our glasses melted, the porch railings wetting with rain and sea spray. We knew then, if only for a moment or two, that this—all of this—is precious, is only ours, is us, from years past, and for years ahead.
Because, in the next moment, it is another season, another summer.
I feel as though I am embarking on the next moment, too.
Here in my Marblehead apartment especially.
Today, I decided, resolutely, as I unpacked and rearranged, that this apartment will be nothing but a laugh for me. It’s more than 200-years old. Literally. The floors dip and sway nearly as much as the ocean I just left. The doors cut at odd, mismatched angles. Dust accumulates pretty much as soon as I wipe it away. Nail holes scatter across every single wall like black polka-dot wallpaper. Except, of course, in my bathroom, which is outfitted in a wildly bright and chaotic wallpaper pattern that I imagine died a quick death on every other wall but mine and perhaps the sunroom of a wilting Floridian bungalow. And except in my dining room, where the faded, floral wallpaper conveniently hides the nails and inconveniently dates back to the 1970s. When I asked my landlord about taking it down, considering, well, it’s already coming down in one corner, she gasped, and said, “Absolutely not. It’s beautiful. It stays.”
As does the wildlife, it seems. The number of spiders crawling around outside—and, I cringe saying it, inside—my four walls is such a daunting figure that I’m beginning to think this place might finally cure me of my debilitating (and ridiculous) arachnophobia. I pulled out my vacuum cleaner five times today to suck five horrible creepy-crawlers off my walls—after, I admit, alternating between standing frozen in one spot staring at the damn things and running to grab first paper towels, then a shoe, then a book, then a broom, and then finally the Dyson, assured to do the job cleanly and thoroughly. My neighbor probably thinks I have a compulsive cleaning disorder rather than a paralyzing (and ridiculous) fear of Charlotte and her brood.
Yes, in the next moments to come, I think I will laugh quite a bit here in my Marblehead apartment. In which I also keep finding interesting and eerie remnants of past lives: a crinkled ziploc bag full of yellow tacks; a batch of wire hangers; an Indianapolis Colts magnet (traitors…); a box of graying baking soda, dated 2005, and long done deodorizing the cabinetry; three small, wooden boxes, none of which I can open; a sturdy brass-based lamp that, actually, I rather like and have adopted and is now lighting my living room; and, finally, a photograph, encased in glass and tucked into the highest back corner of my built-in bookshelves, of a thin, tanned woman, wearing 80s-style, over-sized sunglasses and a wide smile, sitting timidly on the bow of a sailboat, waving. Good-bye? Or hello. It is a laugh, either way, because it is all a part of this strange, funny old house I’m now living in.
And the other next moments, the changes ahead: a new job search, a new schedule of helping with Grace, a new membership at a new yoga studio. New writing, new books. New babies born, and next birthdays celebrated. A few new trips, domestic and abroad.
And, hopefully, new dates to plan and look forward to, new love to give and to take in, new chances for bravery, for brandishing the fear of what won’t happen and blazing toward the answer of, “What will happen if I try?”
A new season.
Not yet, I know. But, soon.
So soon that today, on a whim, I bought one of those apple-spice scented candles, and I burned it, atop the side table in my sloped living room, now adorned with my freshly dusted and cleaned furniture, and my volumes of poetry and my mother’s paintings, all freed from storage, all alit in the golden, late afternoon light.
I burned it while I sorted through stacks of books. I burned it while I drank a glass of wine and read our letters, your words, a time ago, in that life.
It burned, and smelled sweetly of what I remembered best, what I loved from season’s before.
The breeze blowing off the sound, blowing through the narrow, empty sidestreets of Marblehead, whistled as it reached my windows, rustled the crushed-silk curtains that my mother sewed for me years ago, that I have hung here, in this moment of time, and brought with it the tantalizingly scent, and promise, of what’s to come.