The Summer We Came to Life - By Deborah Cloyed



BIRTH AND DEATH ARE THE TWO OCCURRENCES in a person’s life that seem to say one thing: we are not the ones calling the shots. “The only consolations are love and best friends.” That’s what Mina told me two days before she died.

This much is true—June 25, a Friday, in the summer of 2010, we were alive—me, Kendra and Isabel—and Mina had been gone six months.

I was renting an apartment in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, until my “artist in residence” began at the university. It had been planned for a year. I remember thinking I would have to cancel it in order to spend time with Mina in her final days. But the doctor’s estimates were generous, and her death left me instead with six months to wander or languish. I chose to wander, as per usual.

After the funeral and the long, unanchored days that followed, I took a friend up on an offer to stay with her in Paris. That’s where I met Remy. Remy Badeau—Parisian bad-boy film director. I welcomed the whirlwind he provided with open arms. It distracted me from the pile of dead leaves I would have been otherwise.

Summer came faster than expected, like it always does. But for once, the surprise solstice wasn’t gleeful.

For the first time since we were little girls, there would be no summer vacation with Isabel and Kendra and their mothers, Jesse and Lynette. Mina and I, both motherless, had struck a cozy balance with the mother-daughter pairs. And every summer the six of us took off for some exotic locale for a week of laughter and memory making. But now what would I be except a pathetic fifth wheel? It was bad enough going from a circle of four to a tottering triangle. Maybe if life had been sold to me as a tricycle, but I thought I’d bought an ATV. No more Mina, no more vacations. But wasn’t my life like one big vacation, an escape from responsibility?

I already felt guilty enough about the laughing.

In the six months following the funeral, I was continually ashamed by my residual tendency to laugh. At the fruit stand. In the shower. On the metro. I’m the type that shares conspiratorial giggles with children. I flirt with old men. I laugh at myself when I stub my toe.

But grief hacks away at the soul, leaving only vestiges of your self behind. So every time I chuckled with Parisian strangers, I felt guilt like a dropkick to the sternum. It created many an awkward silence when my smile snuffed out, catching them in the laugh like a Peeping Tom in a flash-bulb. Sometimes they shuddered as if a chill had found its way into the smoggy city. Then they looked at me with pity. Europeans are good at spotting the haunted.

So, that’s when Remy proposed, when I was practicing not to laugh anymore. He proposed on the day before I left Honduras, in a hasty manner that smelled of panic, with a ring he said he would upgrade after my return.

I said yes, because saying no was too final, and had too many immediate consequences. I said yes because I wondered if it would fill me with genuine lingering laughter. I said yes to cloak the fact that I had failed to fulfill my best friend’s dying request.

Now I had to figure out if I really intended to marry him.



SO, ON A FRIDAY, JUNE 25, I WAS ROLLER-SKATING around my Tegucigalpa apartment, watching the sun set beyond the sliding glass doors, watching the golden light transform the grimy city into a shiny postcard. First thing I’d done when I arrived was move all the furniture into the bedrooms along with my rolled-up canvases and camera gear. The floors were just like a high school cafeteria, providing a flat expanse to soothe my bumpy thoughts.

Roller-skating was my therapy. You had to give the body something to entertain itself with so the mind could tackle all that metaphysical, esoteric, life-decision stuff bouncing around between the ear canals.

I was almost thirty. Why is it that just before thirty the carefree blur of your life stops and you hear an unfamiliar voice you identify as your grown-up self ask: Aren’t you getting too old for this? And I don’t think the voice was just talking about the roller-skating.

Hey, I was on the track to normalcy and respectable over achievement once upon a time. I graduated from Yale in Physics. Ask me how many of my classmates were lanky redheaded females.