The first night of the year you can sit outside on the patio after 7pm without a coat on is something divine in Minnesota. If you’ve never lived through months of temperatures hovering with “highs” in the 30s and 40s (and those are the GOOD winter months) then you simply cannot understand the feeling. It’s as if you’ve added hours to your life. There is a reason to stay up later, there’s a reason to stay out later.
Every year at this time or thereabouts, I get an overwhelming feeling of peace and sad nostalgia. I’m not sure how two such conflicting emotions can coexist. They mingle inside me like the moments before you stir mixer into a glass of liquor. You can see the two meet and intertwine like coy playmates before fully coming together as one.
I miss the summers of years past. The summers of my early twenties were some of the best of my life. I had just taken the training wheels off my teenage years and was trying to get the hang of riding on my own. I used to stay up late, sitting around bonfires with friends, drinking, laughing, flirting… There was no curfew. I seemed to care little about how much sleep I actually got. One summer in particular my friends and I lived by the motto “you can sleep when you’re dead”. I remember several conversations starting with, “…I don’t know, I have to work in the morning and it’s getting late.” Followed up with “you can sleep when you’re dead, Jax!” With that I’d put on my party pants and head out the door. I miss that enthusiastic grasp I had on life. I was too young to care about debt and credit scores and salaries. There was an unspoken feeling that knowing that right now was all that mattered. I used to go rollerblading at midnight on the boardwalk. I’d sit on the beach with friends until 3am watching the stars and pondering where our lives were taking us. I stood with masses of other people, sweat cooling on our clothes while we watched our favorite bands play live right in front of our eyes. I ate appetizer samplers from Perkins at 1am. I’d pick my drunken boyfriend up from the bars at 2am. In the middle of house parties, my friends and I would go to Hardees for greasy burgers and cinnamon rolls the size of our heads. I used to watch the sunrise just as I’d tuck in under my sheets.
Time did its job though and by my mid-twenties responsibilities set in. If I wanted to get by on my own, I had to earn decent money and that meant working a decent job. My 9 to 5 life began and my midnight bonfires faded in their own ashes. I had gotten married and was plunged into a serious lifestyle change. I was home by 5:30, cooking dinner by 6, cleaning up by 7 and in bed by 10 only to get up and be to work by 8 the next morning. My fun summer nights were cooled off by the air conditioning in the apartment I worked my 9 to 5 job to keep.
After my marriage ended, I regressed a bit back into my early twenties mind set. I started dating someone younger and his youthful energy was like a caffeine pill to my life. We’d spend warm summer nights sitting on bar patios drinking beer out of sweating glasses and eating pizza. We’d take walks at midnight with the dog. I was able to let go of my structured life I’d created when I’d gotten married and was able to live again within the moments of life, not worrying so much about the future of things coming.
In my late twenties I had started to figure out a nice work-life balance. Younger guy was gone and I realized I could get the same exciting content feeling sitting on my own deck enjoying a glass of wine with friends as I had used to get drinking $10 bottles of beer on downtown rooftop patios with strangers.
Some of my favorite summer nights were last year actually. I was in a new relationship. New guy and I would sit under the twinkle lights strung up on my patio and share stories of our past. We’d laugh at jokes that are only funny when you’re exhausted. We’d gasp and exclaim excitement when we’d figure out something else we had in common. I’d pull my legs up to my chest and wrap my arms around them listening to new guy’s infectious laugh and falling in love with his crooked smile. I’d tug on the ball of yarn that was this new relationship and watch new guy unravel his life little by little in front of me. They were intimate moments. They were hilarious moments. There was peace in those moments, strong feelings of utter contentment. In those minutes and hours I couldn’t imagine being in a better place in the world.
I sit here now alone on my patio breathing in the cool fresh air thinking of many more summer nights to come. My peacefulness comes from the still air around me and the remembrance of nights warmed by driftwood fires, laughs caused by drunken shenanigans, and nervousness caused by first kisses. And in that same breath my sad nostalgia reminds me that I’ll never hear that infectious laugh again, or look upon that crooked grin. I’ll never experience my first outdoor music concert again or my first summer camping trip again.
I guess this is that place where peace and nostalgia meet. Those moments are gone and all that remains are the remnants in my memory, but memories fade with time and perhaps part of what’s hardest about growing up is not knowing if you’ll ever experience something better than what you just had.