It was the summer that cost us more than we knew. When we atoned for our sins and kept on sinning. When a small part of us died and we fumbled to fill the growing void. When we forgot, in truth, how to ask. The summer Ben slept with Lola, who was loved by Jeremy who slept with Kat who fucked, despite her beauty, like a corpse. And later, when a rash smothered his groin like English Ivy, Jeremy scuttled around the kitchen, poking his member like a cactus.
The summer Uncle Harry, days before his 60th birthday, was hospitalized for GI obstruction; and whose last words were close the Venetian blinds and bring me a glass of bourbon. And when my mother had to take out a second mortgage and a third job stocking shelves at the Harris Teeter grocery store to help chip away at funeral costs.
The summer my younger brother Daniel, who once was suspended from grade school for tossing homophobic invectives, returned home from college wearing stiletto heels, caked in makeup, flanked by a man twenty years his senior and announced they had eloped.
The summer Kat moved to Los Angeles to realize her actress dream and waited tables at a Laundromat that doubled as a café before being told by the producers of a local fast food commercial that she was at once too tall and too short and lacked the required décolletage to play the part.
The summer Facebook made us privy to the fact that Mason—class president from our high school—had one too many whiskey sours and got behind the wheel of his father’s Camaro for another episode of L’appel du vide and swerved into the trunk of an ash.
The summer I found in my bed on one stoned night, the woman from whom I’d later move to France to escape—the consequence of la petit mort. And the following morning, hours after she tuned my guitar while I’d pretended to sleep, we locked gazes and laughed like conspirators over the slimy green strings in the clay bowl, because the Nopales were tart and new and sweet and our lives seemed full and becoming.
The summer Jeremy melted into a quark of his former self. When he asked the store clerk what his order number was and didn’t know if his voice projected or if it just echoed in his mind; and then when he wended his way home through Rittenhouse, and bellowed on a park bench to prove to himself that he was not, in fact, invisible.
The summer Lola staged her childhood bedroom into a live cam girl show, gussied up with phallic throw pillows and inflatable dildos to pay off her mounting medical school debt, only for her to pivot to a career in pornography where, in two years, she’d win AVN’s best newcomer of the year.
The summer Ben talked a blue streak that he caulked a tub and was more fit than any of us as he sipped cabernet sauvignon that was quaffable but drinks a little young and we put up with this charade because Ben was tippled and cancer was eating away at his mother’s breasts.
The summer I told my baby sister Olive that Uncle Harry had passed and she asked me, What did he pass? Did he get a good grade? And then I told her to throw her candy wrapper away and she asked me, Where is away?
The summer the world bubbled in consequence; as the sun stood sentinel over the soft breath of roses in Philadelphia and the tattoo of Charolais grazing in France. When we spent far too long flicking lint from our navel or shucking grime from our fingernails to see the stars humming over us. When we jumped off cliffs and built wings on the way down. The summer we stowed away until we were ready, finally, to see the cost.