August's bright loneliness crept into my bones again today--late this year, but the sky has been changing all the same for over a week. The blue lines recede into a more sinister white light and dappled shadows splash flowers still trying to bloom, blossoms racing to unfold before the autumn.
My birthday, the fourth of August, comes with the rushing past of the twenty-nine that precede it--amazingly, never a bad birthday. I have been blessed with a lifetime of good friends, people willing to celebrate this living in the bodies of our birth. Even in awkward years of puberty, uncertainty, there still remain whole collections of celebratory photographs: yellow wrapping paper strewn across carpeted floors with pink ribbon, the feet of others "photo-bombing" the corners of old snapshots, people standing in a haze of smoke as candles are blown out.
This afternoon, driving country roads of Oxfordshire I have never known, remnants of a hurricane set contrasting tones across the undulating fields. I moved through light like an apparition--in the lens flare one moment and then gone again the next, like I was never there, like the light had never washed the windscreen, never even kissed the ochre fields... like my hair hadn't been blown by a breeze too cool.
My fingertips ached with the soft touch of this morning.
The rush of the previous six weeks vanished with the tenth of August, the day proceeding my thirtieth birthday party--a quieter night than the twenty-ninth party, but full of beauty all the same.
My colleague and friend Tom was on the couch this morning, still under a duvet, the collar of the shirt he wore the night before peeking out with his head. "Hey Sexy!" he said, as I shuffled into the room, a new plush white bathrobe too short caressing my skin.
I whined something about not feeling sexy and instead feeling tired at 9am when we had all gone to bed at 2:45.... Oonagh, my beloved friend of five years, sat pretty on the chair, a drive back to Wimbledon awaiting her (my sleepy brain already worried about her taking on the M4 this Sunday morning).
The house, already tidied in that 2am hour, belied the party of the night before. Only the floor revealed remnants, revelations of the life that lived--bits of food, marks of dirt from feet worn bare in and out of the garden, feet that danced in grass, danced on wood and slate.
Each August I sink into a depression following my birthday, but not because I am another year older or because I am petulant and crave more presents and attention, but because of the light... and also, for the last seven years, because of the end of July--a month I spend with people who intrinsically "get me." We teach subjects we love to students who also want to love them. We work hard and play hard. We can be socially awkward and its acceptable. Our conversations are filled with far too many innuendos. Inside jokes are ubiquitous. We breathe July like we're about to jump... and then August deflates the lungs with one long sigh.
Tom is moving to Poland on Thursday. Our fourth corner of this summer's knitted group, Vikram, is back in London. Oonagh is in Wimbledon until she and her fiance make the move back to Northern Ireland next year. My heart always feels like it it is shredding this time of year. There are long red strands of yarn from the center of my chest that tie to thumb tacks all around the globe. As people move, as they migrate, as they change, as they come back, my heart is pulled open wider. I live with veins that expand across oceans.
And sometimes this hurts. Usually the most in August.
When it came time to go this morning, Tom flung the duvet back and said, "Okay. I'm ready." He looked the same as he had seven hours earlier when he was drinking tequila from a plastic solo cup, alert as ever like alcohol was water. I smiled... I had to be ready for him to go too, for him to move out into the mid-August morning light.
A friend said I look the same at thirty as I did at twenty-nine... and he is probably right--but maybe I will always look the same, as it is the same marrow within that responds to the fading light of summer with trepidation, sadness, and an eagerness to surrender to the autumn. Nonetheless, despite missing the "2" in front of my age, thirty feels like a swooping blessing, lifting me from my twenty-ninth year, which for a variety of reasons, it feels like I barely survived. I can only hope such growing pains blossom me into thirty (unless I too am just a late-blooming gladiola, hoping to open peach flowers before leaves fall all around me).
Italy welcomes me again this August, as everything fades toward September. It has held me the last seven years... and it feels safe in the lullaby of the language, snug on the tongue of sun-soaked tomatoes.
I live with my heart opening, reaching back thirty years to birthday parties celebrated with some who are now dead--those heart strands reaching even beyond maps of the known. I'm always sending vibrations down the lines--back home to those who knew my eyes at fourteen, who will know them if they make it to forty. I was born to a sun that makes leather, deep heat of a lion's breath.... So maybe this is why August cuts so--the heart muscle opening out to dry light, the last flowers spilling, everything living for those soft touches of morning before accepting the leaving and changing of things.