The First Breath of Summer

Written By: Olivia  Cupelli

The escape from Queens is always a nightmare. Sorry, let me repeat that. The lovely vacation time away from home was slightly more complicated than it needed to be. Better? Whatever. It’s always the same. My mom tells us the day we are going to be leaving for the Hamptons and us three kids swear up and down on our great-great-grandmother’s grave to be completely and totally ready, with bags packed and in the car. Reality: I wake up at eleven with my clothes strewn all over my room and my bag still empty. T-minus six hours until my parents find me and I am dead. I sigh and begin throwing my clothes into a bag, then go downstairs to grab another… then another. Then I grab two more for cosmetics, another for shoes, one more for my laundry, and finally one more bag for my electronics. Obviously, I don’t pack light. Anyway, I’m ready but my room is an absolute mess. I begin cleaning it and soon enough I’m finding things I forgot to pack, bringing out yet another bag. I sigh again thinking, this going to be a long day.

I’m almost positive I’m done and I walk downstairs… to find my two older brothers still sleeping. Fantastic. I look around futilely for a bag or two, but lo and behold there’s none in sight. So I begin my task of waking them up. I turn on the lights, yell their names, blast some music—I swear, it’s like trying to wake hibernating bears in the dead of winter. Eventually, something I do works because now they’re up and glaring at me, so I quickly remind them we’re leaving for Southampton today and remove myself from the direct line of fire. Anyway the cleaning, packing, running around, more cleaning—you get the point—continues throughout the day. Meanwhile I blast Panic! At The Disco through my earphones, and wait for my parents to come home—T-minus one hour. I hurry downstairs to check on my brothers again, and just as I expected, it’s still a mess. I try to hurry them along, pleading, yelling, threatening—anything to avoid the enormous trouble we are all in. I hear the doorbell ring and freeze like a deer trapped in headlights.

The doorbell rings twice… three times… four… and I still haven’t moved an inch. I hear some swearing and keys being fumbled into a lock. I unfreeze and half run toward the door, praying to keep the facade of being ready. Unfortunately, God must have been busy because my prayers were not answered. I opened the door to my dad’s fuming face and smiling weakly I tried to joke. My dad was not in a joking mood. He pushed past me, growling like a grizzly—seriously, why am I thinking of bears so much—half-yelling threats somewhat along the line of “when you’re mother comes home…” and “grounded…” and, my personal favorite, “no phones.” Suffice to say, we tried to hurry along. Basically, my mom got home shortly after, echoing what my dad said, but I noticed she was trying to sneak into her room unnoticed. I trailed behind noticing she packed either! Shocking! Actually, it’s not that surprising. This happens every year too. I rolled my eyes as she winked and told me she would be ready in two minutes. Yeah, right. Two hours later we were trying to cram just about everything we owned into our silver minivan. It was nearing eleven PM, the usual time of departure, so after one last sweep over the house, the five—sorry, six (we have a dog)—of us climbed into the car and took off into the night.

The streets were silent; there was almost no one on the road. As soon as my dad hit the gas, my older brothers were snoring away in the backseat. Well, who wants to listen to that for two hours? Not me. I struggled to unearth my earphones from my bag and settled down to try and sleep. For some strange reason, I was wide-awake—I’m usually able to sleep on our way to the Hamptons. So I resigned myself to watching the cars fly by on the highway, and after a few minutes, I heard a loud, persistent siren coming up next to us, cueing a speeding ambulance on its race to the hospital. It’s so strange sometimes, the things that send your memory sailing back in time. I flashed back eight years ago… to a different ambulance… racing to a different hospital… except this time I was in it.

I was six years old at the time, taking on a fairly appropriate hobby—horseback riding. I swear I can remember this day like it was yesterday. Everything about that day comes back in perfect clarity. I was all dressed up in my riding gear, waiting for my instructor in the back. Meanwhile, I decided to pass the time by trying to start a fire with two sticks. What can I say? I was six. Anyway, she came out leading one of the biggest horses I’ve ever seen. I suppose it was a fairly normal size, but again—six. My instructor helped me up on the horse and I took off—literally. I was trotting, doing low jumps, and guiding my horse through obstacles. I thought I was doing pretty good, and apparently, so did my instructor. She thought I should try to do something advanced. Yeah, that turned out to be an excellent idea. She told me to let go of the reins (mini-panic attack ensued) and grab my knees (they were shaking) and relax (yeah, okay). Then she led my horse to the left. Unfortunately, I subconsciously decided to go right. I slid off the saddle and snapped out my right arm to break my fall. My fall was not the only thing broken—my wrist looked mangled. After that, everything came in flashes as I desperately tried not to pass out. My instructor picking me up off the ground. My mom rushing over, my brothers right behind her. My mom carrying me to the car. Someone—one of my brothers—calling my dad. The ambulance siren. Then darkness.

When I woke up, there was a lady taking my blood pressure and sticking a needle in my arm—I’m glad I’m not afraid of those because it was huge. My mom’s eyes met mine—that was the last thing I saw before the drugs pulled me under. When I woke up again I saw this bulky cast on my arm and the first thing I said was, “Mommy, you have four eyes.” Everyone in that room froze for just a second—then my brother burst out laughing. Soon enough we were all laughing so hard I forgot why I was in the hospital. In that moment, I forgot everything. All my fears and troubles, anything that caused me to worry about what had happened up to this point. In that moment, I felt a connection to my family, and understood the sense of family. I understood that they were there for you no matter the situation. My mom was at my side in an instant and didn’t leave until I opened my eyes. My brothers were doing everything they could to help—even my dad drove like hell just to be there. I realized something then. I didn’t need to break my arm to see what was right in front of me. The Hamptons brought together my family. During the year, everyone is running around everywhere, doing anything and everything, allowing almost no time to be a family. In the Hamptons, we set everything else aside to spend time together. Playing games around the dining table, watching the sunsets, beach days—all done together as a family. And I treasured that more than anything. Summers begin to hold a new meaning for me. I see them as the time that I get to spend with my family. And only the Hamptons have given that to me.

A week later: I dive into the water in one calm, clean stroke. All I can see is blue-green and tendrils of my hair swirling around my head. I stay submerged for a full minute before my lungs start burning. On impulse, I decide to swim deeper. The water is now a bluish-black color and the burning becomes painful. I push myself to go even deeper. The water is still and silent. I can hear my heart beating rapidly, struggling to pump my oxygen-deprived blood through my body. I can see blue and purple spots, signaling it is time for me to return to the surface. But I wait. I like the calm, the cool, and the still. Just before my lungs feel as if they are about to burst, I push my feet off the rocky floor and break through the surface, taking what is surely the first breath of a new summer.