It’s an album I haven’t listened to in ages, and their recent concert had inspired me to dig it back up.
The intro does something to my soul. There’s a stirring, a recollection of the past, that I can’t put my finger on. As the boyband singers croon, I’m transported — but I don’t know where.
It becomes the most fascinating walk down memory lane. I play the intro over, and over again. It’s nighttime. That much I know. There’s a rumble underneath me and I eventually deduce that I’m in a car. And I’m the one driving. And I feel peace, like I’m about to embark on something. But where am I? Where am I going? Why is this song placing me in this unknown car? I’m here by sight and by feel and nothing else to connect me.
I slowly piece it back together. It’s 2008. I’m learning stick shift, albeit it by myself. It’s my mom’s car, but my father had given me a quick lesson before leaving me to it. I’m leaving my parents’ house to drive around the neighborhood, to get comfortable with manual transmission.
It’s 2008 and the album just came out and I bought it on CD and I have it in the CD player. It’s my soundtrack as I shift from first, to second, to third, my left foot clumsily at the clutch. I remember clear skies and quiet nights and the Backstreet Boys slowly singing out, “Last night I saw the fireworks, the kind of pain that never hurts...”
How peculiar, how unnerving, how amazing, to have such a deep memory encapsulated in a song — and to not fully remember the moment, to have it only stored as the night air and an engine’s rumble and a serene sense of calm as the night unfolds before you.
Fall has making its quiet introduction through the breeze in the trees. I can feel it. The same way I can feel its preamble in the mornings, when the air has enough chill that I need my sweatshirt and the porch feels cold beneath my bare feet and the coffee cup feels just a little warmer in my palms.
Fall is my gentle lullaby to soothe the overtired soul before rest. Fall applies easy brakes without jerking the vehicle into stopping. Fall reminds me that life doesn’t have to go a million miles per hour, that sometimes living your best life is a life with moments in the slow lane.
It’s been a fast summer, one spent feverishly finishing my hiking challenge — spent feverishly letting life unfold in whatever ways the fates deemed fit. I’ve stayed up late only to wake up early. I’ve released poetry, released the past, released tears, realized a little more about myself. The kind of summer where I can spread the calendar out over it and points out all the events, the adventures, the plans. The peaks and the valleys, the highs and the lows. Where it dipped and where it soared.
Summer’s swan song always has the same refrain. “Where did the summer go?” and I can righteously point all of it out and say, “Right here.”
It’s why I do what I do. Sodden the day with memories and perhaps it will slow a few of the days down in the rear view.
Because this life is so tragically short and the years zip by, one faster than the other. Because there seems to be fewer and fewer verses in between that refrain. It’s why I’ll exhaust my body and my mind and my heart and risk shattering all three without hesitation. I’ll bleed myself dry before letting the days just bleed together.
And it’s why I document, I journal, I maniacally take pictures. I want to oversaturate, and yet find a way to hold all of it.
One crisp morning, I’m greeted by a hummingbird. The distinct hum jerks my head to the right, to the flower bed that I didn’t dig up during yardwork (reclaiming the backyard: another hallmark of this busy summer). She flutters around, her squeak just a little louder than her hum, and just as involuntary. It’s like she’s compelled to sing a song to the lavender pedals before landing on them.
She darts. She darts in a way that makes me believe she’s safe even from the neighborhood cats and their viciously destructive ways. She eventually rests on one of the flowers, her wings uncharacteristically by her side, unmoving for a rare, beautiful moment.
But she still stirs. Her body thrums, her torso wiggles and gyrates, her head darts around. Even when she’s not moving, her soul is still rapid. Rest is not actually rest.
I feel that in my own soul.
The week after my hiking season finishes — when I stopped waking up at 3 in the morning every week, sometimes twice a week — I become permanently tired.
There is not enough sleep for me. I nap for hours and wake up unrested. My knees are stiff and aching in ways that won’t go away.
It goes on for two weeks. It’s as if my body had accumulated all the exhaustion over the summer and waited until I had a moment to breathe. This is certainly not the first time this has happened. Like the original marathon runner collapsing after finally reaching Athens.
“You do too much,” my husband warns, as I’m nursing ibuprofen.
I learn later that a major bug has swept through the area. People are absent from classes. Kids are taking sick days on their first week of school. I can’t help but build a defense for myself out of it. Maybe instead of running myself into the ground, I actually had fortified myself, and what knocked them out for days simply compromised my hummingbird ways.
And therein lies the problem: I haven’t found proof this relentless pace is a negative thing. That I’m not burning out so much as I’ve built the flames to ward off the unwelcomed.
There’s a dead butterfly on my porch a month after the hummingbird visit.
It lays on its side by the door, like it had crawled to our home for sanctuary and we refused to let it in.
I’m heartbroken. It had been a hard weekend and I woke up that Monday with hives across my skin. Waking up to find this lifeless, delicate thing only serves to further things. It’s the symbolic cousin of the wasp who used our porch as its final resting place as my brother in law lost his battle with cancer.
“I’m frustrated I’m this upset,” I tell my husband. I’m referencing the weekend. The past week. Not the butterfly. I’ll let myself shed tears over the butterfly.
“Why?” he asks. “What does that serve? How is being frustrated over your feelings going to help?”
“It’s not but…” I’m swallowing back tears. I’m in a loop these days. Talking about being upset gets me upset.
“You are having a pure experience. Don’t fight it. This is what it means to be human.”
It’s something he reminded me of last winter, when the rug had been pulled and I just wanted to stop hurting already, when I had gambled heart and soul and lost to the house. It’s sorrow, but it’s pure sorrow. These are emotions that ping the edges of the spectrum and remind us of the breadth of the human experience.
And isn’t this why I do what I do? Perhaps it’s not even to weigh down the days so they stop flitting by like a hummingbird getting the last bits of nectar before winter. It’s to fill the soul with pure experience.
Pure emotion. To have it paint the soul so readily that sometimes a memory will come back as pure visceral experiences – the hum of the car, the feel of the night air, the sense of expansion and adventure – before the details can even fall into place.
I bury the butterfly in the garden.
The garden — filled with flower bushes I had painstakingly moved when reclaiming the back yard. I can’t stand the thought of the butterfly getting snatched up by a bird, or getting stepped on. I’m identifying and personifying it. I’m lending it pure sorrow.
Even in my hands, I have a hard time believing it’s dead. But nothing moves. The wind rustles the wings but they won’t open, won’t reveal the beauty of its markings.
This little symbolic gesture. Maybe a nod to the wasp who disappeared after finding out Aaron was gone, who did get snatched up or stepped on.
They say fall is a reminder that there’s beauty in death. Soon this ground will be frozen, the flower beds under inches of snow. And I will be hibernating in my own way. My heart and my soul and my body and my mind will still be on the line. Because that’s what I do. I know no other way to wear my heart but on its sleeve, no other place to put my spirit except in places where it can get crushed. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
That Monday morning, I sit on the stone edge of my garden, my feet on either side of the hole I dug. One of the butterfly’s front legs sticks to my thumb as I place it in the dirt, like it’s clinging to me. My heart breaks just a little more. It eventually rests in the hole I dug out with the trough and I slowly cover it up. The day is warm and a reminder that summer is still a guest at this event, and its goodbyes are jovial and drown out.
In a week the weather will soar back up, the mornings with that hazy preamble that the tropical regions know so well. Perhaps this is a reminder that life is not linear, that so many things will bid its good-byes only to reappear, that the valleys will plateau and shoot back up before you ever reach sea level.
Either way, it’s a reminder it’s not time to rest, just yet.
Like the sun was in my eyes, and now I’m running blind / And I can’t explain / Last night I saw the fireworks / The kind of pain that never hurts / …Another unsuspecting Sunday afternoon