Summer Skies in Winter
I spent most of the past year and a half looking up.
My obsession with “up” was born out of another obsession (borderline paranoid neurosis) that was born out of purchasing a home. I am an excessive roof/gutter checker, i.e. I am terrified that I will awake one day to a huge hole in my box gutter, or an even bigger one in my roof. This daily practice has caused me to look more upwards more often than most people should. This habit has gradually morphed into my neck craning skyward whenever I venture outdoors. First it was to check out everyone else’s roofs and gutters and compare their maintenance/deterioration to mine. But all this measured structural analysis led my eye drift skyward on more days. I guess I didn’t realize until quite recently how striking Pennsylvania skies can be; or maybe I just don’t remember them ever being quite as dynamic as they were this year; or perhaps there was just more pollution creating more cloud covers and wacky weather patterns; or maybe I was just paying closer attention than ever before; or maybe I just chose to look up more often.
Looking up into the sky reminds me of my summers working as a sweeperette at Kennywood Park. Back in those days, I loved having the 4 p.m. shift. The late start to the work day helped me to avoid walking around the park in the wretched noon day sun. And as an added bonus, if the weather was pleasant, it gave me a chance to head to the local water park with a few of my friends who also had my same schedule. We would always dash straight towards the “Lazy River.” We spent the day talking and not talking while floating um, lazily, in oversized inner tubes on this man-made “river.” We held onto the handles of each other’s tubes in order to stay together amongst the long line of tubers. Usually we ended the day happy, sleepy, and near sun poisoned. The following hours would entail sweeping up the remnants of leftover amusement park fun while nursing our pinkish skin with aloe vera, praying for the cotton of our polo shirts to stop scratching at our blisters. Ah, the bliss of young summers.
The memory of one of those “water park days” came to mind the other night. I remembered sitting on the foot of my friend’s bed laughing, joking, and listening to music before getting ready to head out. The Bodyguard soundtrack was playing in the background. As the next track began to play, my friend stopped talking, sat down on the bed, and leaned back on her elbows. She tilted her head back, inhaled and then exhaled and said, almost in the register of a shout, “I love this song.” She belted out that tune like it was written for her. She was looking up when she first belted out her tune, and then she turned her head looked directly at me and began to sing in that jokey way only close girlfriends can. I followed suit. I remember the look on her face and sound of her voice as if it were yesterday.
That was the summer before “devastatingly” serious relationships started to rear their lovely, angst filled heads; the summer before my mother died; the time when college was just beginning, before momentum of growing up took hold. I loved the innocence of those Kennywood summers, the simplicity of lying on a bed and singing out loud with a close friend. When living in those moments were all you were required to do. I spent most of those summers looking at the ground, sweeping. I barely opened my eyes on the “Lazy River” because the sun was usually quite bright, even on the most overcast of days. I looked for the moments I could peek through and let the sunlight in, but I was often left seeing the imprints the clouds left behind when I was forced to close my eyes again.
Driving back from the water park, the car was usually quiet and listless. Sometimes I would plop myself down in the seat and rest my head on the passenger side window. I was finally able to look up and out into the summer sky without sunny obstructions and daydream into the cloud patterns. Certain clouds would catch my eye and I would stare at them the entire drive, wondering if they would be able to hang on to our speedometer long enough and make it all the way to our destination. The screech of brake dust when we arrived in the parking lot woke me from my fixation. “Sigh. Eight more hours of work.” Summer was calling…
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Excerpts from “looking up”. A few unposted skies from this past year.