New Haven lets go of summer inch by inch, in fits of late heat waves and thunderstorms. There are so many false starts that I begin to feel impatient by the time the leaves fall. Then, one day, summer is really gone. No more hot days, no more sun. For the last four years, I’ve been glad to see the back of it—I hate the heat and I love my scarf—but this summer is different. It’s my last one here.
The thick of the summer has already passed me by. That particular musk released by the wood varnish in the staircases after three straight months of heat; running into a friend for the first time after move-in; annoyance at the lack of ice in my freezer. These moments didn’t matter to me because I always had more of them. But now they’ve all run out. My time here is almost up; I’ve overstayed my welcome as it is. People come up to me, wide-eyed, to exclaim: “You’re still here?” I’m not sure how they want me to respond.
I am still here, for now. I won’t be for long. I think of taking a first-year by the shoulders and saying, “The years will pass while your back is turned and someday soon it will all be over.”. That smacks too much of sentimentality, even for me, so I restrain myself. Instead, I spend my time wishing I had written it all down or taken more pictures. But that wouldn’t have forestalled it. There is no cure for this. College ends.
Two days after summer is over, I open a fortune cookie: The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it. I’m stuck on that verb pay for a while, but eventually decide it means something like value. I think of the agonized hours in front of blank Word documents and the lonely meals in crowded dining halls. I want to value these last moments, but am I enjoying them?
I am reminded of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. At the apex of the novel, a journey across endless ice, the main character describes, “[I]t all got worse the longer it went on. I certainly wasn’t happy…What I was given was the thing you can’t earn, and can’t keep, and often do’’t even recognize at the time; I mean joy.” Maybe joy has little to do with day-to-day happiness. Perhaps it is something deeper down, and harder to understand.
I don’t mean to say that writing papers and turning twenty-three is as dramatic a challenge as Le Guin’s novel presents. My own journey doesn’t normally take me farther than East Rock. But I take comfort in her words. One day, she promises me, the little anxieties of my college life will blow away like chaff and I will be left with the heavy things, the grist for my mill. I will find out I have been enjoying my lovely moments all along, and that will be enough to balance my checks.
I have no more summers here, that is true. I am still miserable over leaving this place. But I will remember the joy, and that will have to be enough.