Intersections – Stay Gold
By Nicki Salcedo
I sat in my neighbor’s backyard staring at the sky, and there was nothing to see. There were no stars, because it was an overcast night. City lights reflected gray on the clouds. Music filled the air, and the melody came from some close distance. We turned our heads in the darkness trying to detect the direction of the sound.
Was it the high school? Music from the square? The festival downtown? We each had guesses, but none of us knew the answer. To me, it sounded like music playing quietly in an adjacent yard. So ended our summer.
We did not need bug spray or coats. The metal chair beneath me stole my heat and gave it back to me. I did not move for a long time. Stillness like that is rare. Nights like this are numbered.
Mountain air in the city. The never-silent darkness. Frog and crickets kept singing. We enjoyed the last splashes of our kids in a pool. We talked.
“I still feel like Ponyboy,” said a friend. “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton is on the sixth-grade reading list, same as it was when we were kids. We all dreamed of being Ponyboy.
His words have come back to me in the days since. I felt myself nodding when he said it. I knew exactly what he meant. We felt tired, but we didn’t feel old. We do not have enough moments like this. Sitting in the backyard. Talking, but not much.
The dog wandered among us. Her face at our knees begging acknowledgment. The dog smelled cat at the ankle of my jeans, but she still liked me. If I looked long enough into her canine eyes, I’d remember that not all who beg are beggars. It is the end of Fall Break. It is the end of summer, and I want more.
“Sometimes I still feel like Ponyboy,” he said, and I understood. He forgot to add, “Nothing gold can stay.”
I don’t worry enough about aging. On another day I worry too much. I think about the gray hair on my head. I do lament my gray eyelashes and white eyebrows. No one warned me about these things. Since I refuse mascara, it matters. I don’t regret the excess of my body. If the dog likes me, that’s enough.
The dog is able to sniff out which one of us is sad, which one of us has cancer, which one of us ought to be a storyteller but refuses to tell the stories, which one of us knows where the music comes from.
The dog could tell you that we have all decided, under that absence of stars, to not age anymore.
The children jump into the pool without regard for the cold. That is youth. Nothing can touch you. Heat and cold and sun and ice are all the same to them. There is no rest. None is needed.
I should tell the kids our plan. Stay gold. That’s what Johnny told Ponyboy in the “Outsiders.” We believed it to be true. Stay gold. Never change.
A leaf causes the younger kids to laugh for a long time. A falling leaf is funny. Even the dog tilts her head at the sound. That is her music. And ours. I cannot tell if the leaf is green or gold in the darkness. What child would care? Only an adult would look to the turning of the season as a sad thing. We should do what the kids do and laugh.
We picked apples while the trees were still green. We enjoyed that first cool breeze of fall. I was the only one who immediately wanted the heat and gold of summer. But autumn comes. We will not age. We will find moments of stillness, and if we are smart we will make these moments last longer. If the young are smart, they will banish the stillness with laughter.
That’s what I learned in the last days of summer.
“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from Decaturish.com and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.