A pre-dawn thunderstorm. What a treat. Don’t get them much in Duluth. There’s a cat fight going on outside. When I arrived home late last night, the lightning bugs were dancing. The air was thick and I could smell my childhood.
Which is all very bemusing because I hold little nostalgia these days. I used to sit on bushels of it when I was younger. An example is — and I think I may have relayed this to you in passing or maybe in some strange post-apocalyptic note — the events of June 17. It passed this year and I once again failed to think of you.
We had a date for that night in 1983. June 17 is also the anniversary of the break-in at Watergate, which never registered with me until recently. I was so obsessed with my own Waterloo.
You had gone to Florida and promised we would see each other upon your return and before the early pea pack. Our farm country hometown, like Paris, is such a romantic place.
I think that somehow I knew I stood little longterm chance with you, an older woman (a whole year!) with a different slate of friends. We were this steal-away couple, only good if it was in the shadows, under the radar. Could I have possibly had any such sophisticated understanding at age 16? Maybe I simply thought I was getting laid on June 17, or at least there’d be some satisfactory consummation of this — and I remember this succinctly — burning, consuming love for you, no matter its maturity.
I didn’t hear from you that night. I might have received a nebulous letter or postcard days later. I already knew that this all just wasn’t going to happen.
My most tumultuous year was probably age 15 to 16. I was a Judy Blume novel on steroids. I found some stability and escape in concert and pop choir. And, of course, like a couple of movie co-stars, there was you — in the choir room, at rehearsals.
You had such a sweet face and meaningful expressions. You could use one hand to tell me what you were thinking. I loved the feel of my hand on your back as we danced and sang our duet. To what? Was it “One Hand, One Heart?” I think of us standing like statues during that. It must have been some other tune.
I could have danced all night with you.
Alas, you didn’t come around. I know the reasons, some of them. Who cares. We were kids. It was a different time and place.
I built a fire that night, across the road in a small clutch of trees, kind of set down into the earth. There were sitting areas I had created with rocks and logs. It was a little oasis from an often unprivate home. I thought I’d find you there sitting with me one day.
I sat there and cried. Thought about you in this sickly sweet way. I don’t recall being mad at you. I was mad at myself, for typical circumstances, for not going for it harder.
And I made a vow then and there. I would never forget June 17. It would be the marker, telling me that unless I take a stand, speak up, wear my emotions on my sleeve, I will never get what I want. Or maybe I just wanted a reminder that you should never throw yourself in too far, for fear of being spurned. It was a combination. I wanted to be defiant, but was tugged by disappointment in myself.
We dodged through that final year. You graduated. I got over things. But I never forgot that vow. Every June 17, I thought of you strongly and this hurt that I thought I would never recover from. After so many years, remembering became a bit of an amusement, an homage to a younger self. I took it on willingly, if not a bit ironically.
This month, making appointments, the date came up. I wondered for a minute how I would commemorate. Then I realized how many times I’ve missed ruminating on June 17 in the past few decades.
I looked at the old fire pit area last night. It’s grown over, like so many layers of skin ago. Thinking of June 17 indeed brings a smile. A simpler time, like a Nick Adams story from Hemingway. And you. Gorgeous, full, wan face. The first girl I ever touched while my heart burned.
Which isn’t a bad legacy. So another June 17 has passed, and as much as I say the full-on remembrance day is a thing of the past, I realize it never really will go away. After all, what is a life if not a passel of memories and meanings to lean into now and then.
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