We were young and it was summer. There were always popsicles. There were always games to be played and adventures to be had. There were always old friends to be found and new friends to be made. We laughed a lot, and ran a lot, and stayed outside until it grew too dark to see. Someone was always calling us home. There was no time for grief.
I’m not sure if anyone, anywhere, ever stops missing that. The world never again feels quite as possible as the days we were young and in love with our lives. We never expected to lose so much. We never considered that we could be anything but happy.
It is nostalgia that calls to me on this unusually warm April day. All around me children are laughing in the streets and running through sprinklers and chasing down ice cream trucks. It feels like summer, which is no summer in particular, but the summer of childhood that never leaves us and can never be relived. We couldn’t have known it wouldn’t last forever. We wouldn’t have believed it, anyway.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to see the end at the very beginning. I don’t know if this is true for everyone. I don’t know if it comes from being a child of divorce or a writer or a person with failed relationships or someone who has had to cope with the death of loved ones. It might be inevitable or it might be that experience has made me cynical, or at the very least skeptical. I suspect it’s a little of both, and I suspect I’m not alone in it.
I want to believe in happy endings. I want to be the kind of person who believes in happy endings. But I’ve learned to prepare for that not to happen, and in trying to toughen myself to the world, I’ve lost a certain softness.
What I miss most about my childhood is not the feeling of happiness or safety or comfort. It is not the way days always felt long and full and important. It is not the friendships or the adventures or the sound of mother’s voice calling us home for dinner. It is the certainty I felt that my life would always be that way – so simple, so nourishing, so pure.
I never thought about it that way, of course. To do so would have meant the recognition of alternatives, and for happy children, those don’t exist. There is only here and now. There are only friends and games and popsicles. There is only giggling. There are no foolish questions like “What if? and “What next?” “And then what?” There is only endless summer.
I miss being able to live in the present, as only children, and perhaps other enlightened beings, ever really can. I miss not having plans, and not needing plans, and not planning to make plans when things feel helpless. I miss not feeling helpless. I miss feeling invincible. I miss the softness of summer days.
It is a difficult balance, to be an intelligent being and to live life outside of your head. I haven’t yet learned to stop writing the next chapter before the current one is complete. I haven’t yet learned to stop asking “What if?” and “What next?” “And then what?” I haven’t yet been wise enough in adulthood to think like a child.
One day I will be old, if I’m lucky, and there will be no more need for planning. I look forward to this. I am nostalgic for it, though it has happened yet.
It is the one ending I like to imagine, the ending that doesn’t keep me from beginning, the ending I want to believe will be happy. There will be no more time for questions or grief. There will only be long, important days. There will only be thoughts of laughter and friendships and adventures. There will only be endless summers within me.
There will be nothing left to do but continue to play until it grows too dark to see. And then the time will come when I will hear it, echoing over decades, over the course of an entire life – the sound of someone calling me home.