Thursday, October 11, 2012

Memoir Revision: Cherry Stained Summer

Cherries have a knack for bursting open and stinging my tongue a little. I love to pop them in my mouth, bite one in half all the way to the pit, and spin it around. The bright red juice stains the inside of my mouth and I always make sure to get a little bit on my lips. It’s like a natural lipstick in the most perfect color. I like to see the deep red on the tips of my fingers, like I’ve dipped a few of them in dye. Whenever I open up a new bag of cherries, I rinse them hastily and let them tumble into a bowl. A cereal bowl filled to the brim or a mixing bowl half full. I grab a square of paper towel for the pits and prepare to eat.
When I finish a bowl of cherries, rub my sloppy stained hands on my legs and lick my bright red lips, the sting goes away. It doesn’t last. It always fades. I want to hold on to the taste forever; feel pit after pit roll over my tongue and fall into the bowl. Just as childhood, summer, and perfect days must end; cherries eventually run out too. My bowl of cherries empties and I must move on. 
Last summer, every Sunday started with a fresh bowl of cherries. I woke up early with my mom and we went to the grocery store for a copy of the Times and a magazine—Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, or sometimes Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple. We’d pick up some coffee and iced tea and a box of sushi to share for lunch. I always snatched a few extra soy sauce packets so we could drench our California rolls deep brown. When we got home, I prepared my cherry breakfast: refrigerator, rinse, bowl, paper towel, pool deck.
I loved to watch my cherry fingers smear red on the front page of the "Sunday Styles". By the time I got to Bill Cunningham’s photo collage, the supply in my bowl was dwindling. No worries. My dad kept the kitchen stocked. I kept refilling my cherry supply until my stomach felt full and my fingers were all pink.
My mom didn’t eat much breakfast on Sundays this summer. A quick cappuccino: “breve trad-cap with the guest espresso extra-hot” was all she needed. Breve means short in Italian and my mom likes Italian things. 
Two summers ago, we sat at table beside another pool and my mom matter-of-factly told my cousin she could teach her a few phrases in Italian. My mom doesn’t speak Italian. I filled myself with cherries and tipped my head back, laughing, as my cousin ran back and forth to her brother and sister with new “Italian” phrases she’d learned from Aunt Tee. “Une smocho giglee bumbo,” she squealed, “It means ‘I’m smarter than you’ in Italian! Aunt Tee said so!”
No request, dream, or hope was ever too big for my mom to indulge in the summertime. A language, a magazine, several bowls of cherries, and long mornings spent reading the news by the pool. These mornings were tradition. Even before we had a pool, before I liked sushi, before I knew who Bill Cunningham was, I remember spending this time together before the boys woke up and the house got louder.
A club soda and cranberry juice in hand, my dad appeared poolside for his section of the Times and good morning kisses on the cheek in the late morning or early afternoon. What was left of my cherries disappeared into his mustached mouth with a smile. I didn’t mind. It was sushi time anyway. My dad slid into his daily pool position. He leaned against the side of the pool facing the sun and rested his cup and his reading on a long, blue foam raft scarred with pockmarks from the dogs’ claws. “Daddy, you’re falling asleep!” I often called as I ran inside for the sushi, already chilled in the refrigerator. 
Sundays like this were my summer this year. Not Saturdays, not Fridays, and definitely not Mondays. When I was little, every summer day felt like Sunday. Every summer day, I played outside and ate all the cherries I could imagine with my family. This year was different. This year, all of a sudden, I was older. Fresh from my first year at college, I had “responsibilities,” an internship to go to every day, money to manage, a commute.
One day at my internship desk, I pulled a little Ziploc out of my brown paper bag and peered at the cherries inside. I put one in my mouth and closed my eyes. I broke the skin with my teeth and felt the juice spill onto my gums and over my tongue. I thought about Sundays by the pool and it made me sad. Eating cherries out of a Ziploc bag at work wasn’t the same as eating them out of a bowl by the pool. The air-conditioning made it feel like winter.
The next day I ate my lunch on the back porch of the office. Again, I broke the skin with my teeth and felt the juice spill onto my gums and over my tongue. No luck. The porch was all wrong. The wiry, cold chair, the incomplete garden. The New York Times app on my iPhone wouldn't even work. Worst of all, I couldn't smell the Italian cappuccino that meant my mom was beside me and I couldn't hear the pages of the Times blow off my dad's raft and into the pool as he fell asleep for an impromptu afternoon nap. I couldn’t reach the summery Sunday I was searching for in my Ziploc bag of cherries. I felt like crying through lunch like I did in elementary school.
“I should always, always, always be able to find Sunday!” I thought to myself, almost screamed, off the office porch. It just didn’t seem fair. I could usually feel myself sigh, relax, release into Sundays any day at home, even in the chilly Michigan fall and winter months. Sometimes I could find Sundays in soup and tea at the kitchen table in the fall and in warm sweet bread on the living room couch in the winter. The weather and food change as the seasons shift--inside for outside, hot tea for club soda, blankets for beach towels, bread and soup for cherries and sushi--but Sunday stays warm and cozy all year long.
I’m not at home anymore. I’m in college and the everyday extravagance of sweet summery days is gone. I wake up on Sunday mornings and my mom isn’t waiting for me to go to the coffee shop or the grocery store. I’m not in a warm house filled with sweet and soft smells. There isn’t a new magazine or a newspaper in my hands. My dad doesn’t wake up late and read in the pool or lay on the couch. I wake up and feel a little sad, like I’m missing something crucial. Here, when I pop a cherry in my mouth, it bursts open and stings my tongue and reminds me I’m not at home. My bowl of cherries is empty and I must move on.

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