That summer you knew everything. You knew that whatever you needed was packed in the suitcase stowed overhead. You knew your mother would stand outside the Greyhound bus window and wave until you could no longer see her. You knew however long it took the bus to pull into the dusty terminal in Stockton, California, your grandparents would be waiting.

You knew if you stepped on a bee, you mustn’t cry: run the hose in the dirt and bury your foot in the warm mud. You knew you could coast the red wagon round and around the block, one knee folded under, one foot pushing along the shaded concrete, for as long as you wanted.

The summer you were 12 you knew the morning TV lineup before Mom came home from work, I Love Lucy and Beverly Hillbillies reruns, The Morning Movie. You knew all your friend’s phone numbers by heart, the bicycle route to the boy’s house you’d met, how to sneak one cigarette at a time from a pack and blow the smoke out the bathroom window.

At 15 you knew what it meant to have a summer job, to paint doors in a warehouse, crack eggs in a granola factory. At 17 you filed papers in an office at a table with older women, the room filled with their second-hand smoke. You knew you should save your money if you wanted to go to college.

Then there was the summer you knew how to drive a pickup truck, how to follow maps and your boyfriend from highway to campground to Canada. It was the summer you were almost 19, and you left college for a commune.

Do you remember the summer you got married in a grove of redwoods? Your mother insisted on white wooden folding chairs, potted chrysanthemums. People gave you quilts and sand candles, a couple of crockpots. A toaster. All you needed. You wore flowers in your hair. You were fearless. You were 20. You knew everything.

And what you didn’t know you didn’t know, which was, really, almost everything, was nothing anyone could have told you, though you know sometimes they tried.

 

Sally Ashton is Editor-in-Chief of the DMQ Review, an online journal of poetry and art. She teaches creative writing at San José State University as well as private poetry workshops. She is the author of three collections and the assistant editor of They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press.