Like A Pause Before The Counterattack

Jul 1, 2011 by

Like A Pause Before The Counterattack

Summer has always seemed like a quick gap in reality. Slogging away in school from September through May, suddenly all the hours in the day are free, waiting to be filled exactly as you please. Of course, there’s always lots of outdoors-work to be done between when the grass dries out and when the sun gets hot, but the rest of each day is ripe for the picking.

Hours can be spent on a project of any kind. The days can be basked away on the lake, the sun can gently bleach your hair as you pour over all the books your teachers wouldn’t let you read during the school year. If you’ve had a year without math classes, you can try to develop some proofs. If you’ve had a year without philosophy, you can absorb dialectics. You can steep yourself in poetry (Bukowski’s, A Pause Before The Counterattack starts every summer out). You can, all day, live out all the dreams of the person that was too shy to speak around your friends—in the summer, no one can see you. You finally exist only for yourself.

You’ll pick up your books again in the fall, and your classmates are none the wiser. They can tell by your lightened hair and your darkened skin that you were outdoors rather than in, but your school shoes hide your calluses, and talk of new teachers quickly takes over talk of the discoveries of the summer.

Having gone that far, I was always tempted to run away for the summer. Up to the Great Lakes—are there still steamships? Do they still need cabin boys? (Would anyone be willing to settle for a cabin girl?) Could I come back home, and would my friends know that I had sailed with tons of taconite to far off lands?

Or could I just walk to the nearest town with a railroad track, and hop on a train, and watch the men in Wyoming mine coal? I knew I wasn’t strong enough to help, but I knew I was smart enough to stay out of the way of equipment, and I was sure that my presence wouldn’t hurt—and all that energy in the ground seemed interesting. Maybe they’d at least let me serve the backhoe operators lemonade, and I could earn at least a little bit of coal dust under my fingernails. And then quietly hop on a train back to my own state, to let the coal be dropped off at my district’s power plant, and then walk along under the power poles home.

The work at home always kept me planted, though, and my projects were enough. I found internships as I grew older and more able to help, and I’ve always been able to absorb the stories of the old men who ran away in the ways I had wanted to.

In the middle of my very last summer of relative freedom, though, my feet are still aching, wanting to take me on an adventure. In my next summer, when the people I see in May will still see me in June and July, will I still have the same freedom to enjoy a private life? To travel in my mind to where great work is happening? Perhaps not—but perhaps I’ll be fortunate enough to work where great work is happening, from January through July and back again. And I won’t need a vacation, because I’ll be where I want to be.

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