It was a warm summer evening—an evening just like any other—when we were running around John’s yard, trying to catch fireflies, and Hutch called out to us. Now, we didn’t know much at that young age, but one thing that was fact even to our immaturity was that when John’s father talked, we listened. The memory was so distant that it was like I was recalling a dream, rather than something that actually happened. A calm, untroubled, peaceful dream that I woke up from feeling well rested. What seemed like an average moment somehow stayed in the back of my mind.
The three of us were bounding around the tire swing, running up and jumping onto it, swinging until we tumbled off. Hutch walked over to us with an air of wisdom to his slow, deliberate movements.
“Hey, guys, I need to show you something,” he insisted, stilling the tire and guiding us to the edge of the dock. The water was glass, every once in a while rippling with the disturbance of a fish or frog. He stopped at the ledge and lifted me on as the four of us peered out at the orange and pink sky. Arshomomaque Pond wasn’t well known by the residents of Southold or Greenport. It was just a tiny, silver fragment of the sound, hidden by a row of small houses lining Bayview Avenue on one side and a thick layer of woods on the opposite. But that was just fine with me. The last thing I wanted was large groups of people coming with jet skis and motorboats to ripple the now glassy, colored surface. To shatter our serenity. The sun was low, small, and bright, the very bottom just dipping under the horizon. I squinted my eyes and used my hand to shield the light. The water, the ebbing daylight, the tranquility, the feeling of being isolated, of not being disturbed—there was no other sight I had beheld in my seven years that could compare to this. It was just us here. Hutch, John, my brother, Perry, and me, peering over the dock at the sunset, the last people on earth.
Hutch pointed to a small, metal grate on the ledge of the dock and guided my feet to the spot. “Now, stand right here and look at the position of the sun. See how it’s right above that white house over there? By the end of the summer, that sun will be setting approximately over . . . here.” He moved his arm about a foot and a half to the right until it was pointing to the edge of a small woodsy area. Although the contrast seemed insignificant from here, it was a good 30 or 40 feet away from the white house where the sun was now disappearing. “Right over there, you can hold me to it.”
I directed my gaze away from the brightly colored sky to Hutch’s face, deep in calculation. I knew he had more to say. He always did.
“Now, this change in the position of the sun setting will happen gradually, over a period of 60 days. You may have heard in the past that the summer is about 90 days, three months long, but I’m telling you different. Although the days you have for summer break might be that much, the real, true days of summer are the days when the sun sets from that white house to that bunch of trees. These are the magical 60 days of summer, and this is the first day.”
I stared in awe at him, smiling slightly, feeling like I had been let in on some amazing secret that only a select group of people knew.
“This may seem like a lot of time,” Hutch continued, “but in truth, it goes by very fast, and in no time at all, you’re going to be standing here in this very spot, watching the sun go down behind those trees, wondering where all the time went. So use it wisely.”
Up until this point, I had been soaking it all in, but I had to disagree with the last part. This summer would last forever. We had a whole lifetime stretching out before us. I silently vowed that the day would never come when the sun was setting behind those trees, rather than the white house it was now almost completely obliterated by.
However, despite my most sincere doubts, the day did come, as did many after that. The years flew by, and I stood on that spot many a time, watching the sun go down, wondering where the magical 60 days of summer had gone. But there even came a time when I stopped checking. As the leaves and the weather changed each year, so did I. Warm summer nights and carefree days on Arshomomaque pond turned into slammed doors and faint headaches. Made up games and bike rides to the Drossos mini golf course in Greenport turned bitter. I didn’t go down to John’s house much anymore, but even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered. The grate was removed when a new dock was built, so we lost our ability to mark the sun’s progress. Hutch, John, and John’s mother Irene became more and more distant, staying away from the house for long periods of time. Often when I rode my bike over, the car was gone and the doors bolted shut. It seemed they were always that way. The short ride on Bayview Avenue from our house to his seemed ever lengthening, drawing us apart.
So the magical 60 days of summer became contaminated with stress and conflict, a wrinkle in our once blissful two months. Our faces hardened with the passing of five, ten years. It’s true, what they say, about the fact that you don’t appreciate things until they’re gone. We had something there, something special, in that little group by the dock. Something that not even time could sweep away. Yet, somehow, it’s no longer. I wonder, sometimes, whether I truly took Hutch’s advice and used my time wisely, because, although I didn’t know it then, his words were true. I had no inclination of how quickly the years would zip by. Somewhere down the road, we made up our minds that lackadaisical swims and dinners at the Orient Yacht Club would not suffice. Someone decided that the only way to be happy was the constant grinding of efforts, waking up at the crack of dawn and working until sundown, bruises and burns covering our calloused skin.
It’s hard. Hard to remember a time when this skin was soft and supple, our minds calm and undisturbed. Hard to remember the choices that brought us down this path. Hard to remember streaking through the yard after dark playing flashlight tag and catching fireflies. Hard to remember squinting on the edge of the dock, supported by sturdy hands, watching the sun sink beneath the white house that symbolized the commencement of the glorious time. Still, amidst the chaos and confusion that comes with growing up, I silently hope that there still comes a day when the four of us can once again return to the dock and watch the sun sink below the house, signaling the start of the magical 60 days of summer.