I’ve been telling my summer stories for years now, to myself. Some of them I’ve rehearsed and rehearsed in my head, trying to capture all the details, get them perfect. We moved in the summers. It was not quite every second summer, but nearly that. Memories of summers smell like cardboard boxes and sound like the tense squeak of packing tape peeling off the roll. They include the hot, still, metallic shade inside the back of moving vans. They include sweaty hugs, and goodbyes weeks early to people who were going on vacation and would not come home until we were gone. They remind me that thick, hot days full of whirring cicadas feel lonelier than bright, crisp days full of whirling leaves.
One summer, I lay with my cheek on a bare brown carpet, looking at daylight through a big crack under a front door. At my back was the emptiness of the long, low room, with its tiny windows at either end. At my back was the long stretch of highway across Tennessee from Memphis. The stifling traffic in Nashville. We in the air condition-less car, windows rolled down, listening to CDs and cassettes on a battery-operated boom box of uncertain speaker capabilities that skipped tracks or turned itself off going over bumps. At my back was a dark-eyed boy in a church hallway saying “’Bye” awkwardly while I stood six feet away and choked out “I’ll miss you.” There were not cracks under the doors in the spacious, high house that was behind me at the other end of the highway. The house that had large windows and carpet that was not brown. The house where friends came and frogs sang from the pond.
The Apostle Paul speaks of forgetting what lies behind and pressing forward to what is ahead. The Bible balances that with so many huge books of history, so many Psalms recounting past events.
And so I remember how light streamed in through the crack under that door, over the brown carpet where my cheek rested, where, in spite of everything behind me, I could not cry. It was a little low house. Concrete walls, concrete floors under the carpet, and, as we discovered when we tried to hang a model airplane in the boys’ room, concrete ceilings. It sat under oak trees, which we’d later learn produced enough small, slender acorns to entirely cover the ground. Behind it was an artificial hill covered with pines which blocked the houses from the train tracks. The tracks were also divided from us by a high chain-link fence with three strands of barbed wire on top. Across the tracks, across a road, tiny old houses teemed with migrant families having fiestas all over their front yards. The road wound bumpily through past their houses, past a tattered billboard that queried “Pregnant? Scared?,” past an A-7 Corsair on stick that marked the gate to Naval Air Station Atlanta.
Once you entered that gate the first road on the left – Nimitz Drive – was ours. At least, the daylight streaming under the door came across Nimitz Drive.
And I remember how we managed to hang things on the concrete walls, how we played on the playground in front of that little low house, and ran up and sledded down the hill behind the house. How we hung a swing on one of the trees, built a fort of fallen leaves, drove over those bumpy roads to see friends, brought friends over those bumpy roads to see us.
So that now, though I can still vividly recall the bleak feeling of being thirteen years old in what seemed an ugly, horrible house, with what seemed like everything I loved left behind, and only light coming through a gap under a door, I can also recall that the seeming was not the reality. Because, however lonely and bereft I felt, lying there on the carpet, whatever I thought I saw, gazing at the crack under the door, the thing I truly saw was sunlight.
Sometimes, remembering what lies behind teaches me to reach forward to what is ahead with a better grace, to open the door, step into the light.
©2012 by Stacy Nott