Have you ever lost intimacy with a whole household?
Each summer draws nigh, and my students get their summer living situations together with each other, I miss so deeply the Baumgartner House, the house in which I lived the summer between my junior and senior years of college at Bethel. It was a pink Craftsman Bungalow with a big front porch, built-in bookshelves, and an electrical system so dangerously old that when you ground coffee, the light would flicker. I lived in it with Lost Erin Scott and my friend Liz, who would fall in love with her future husband all of that summer, leaving me the ten-window bedroom all to myself. Our friends Matt, Stephan, and a loaner-cat named Honey lived in the basement.
We all played guitar.
We all had jobs we liked but didn’t really care about: I was repainting the college a shade called “Industrial Almond,” Liz actually did something meaningful but I can’t remember what, and Erin was the cool Godfather’s Delivery Girl Who Drove a Red Convertible. She came home from work one day and told, with tears of laughter, of the six year-old’s birthday party to which she’d delivered that day. When they saw her car, the birthday girl had exclaimed, “When I grow up, I wanna be the Pizza Girl!”
Everyone came over to that house that summer. Since my job started early, I’d come home at 3 to find half our friend group already on the porch, playing Uno and drinking beer. We spent Erin’s tip money on bags of cherries and would eat them all, driving around in her convertible. I kissed the Message in a Bottle Ryan for what I thought was the last time outside of that house. One night, both floors of the house stayed up and watched somewhere between four to eight hours of Sting / the Police videos. When I got the letter from Ryan announcing he was going to pursue a relationship with that other Mennonite girl, I went out into the living room where everyone was gathered, said “I’m hot,” and cut off my hair–from waist-long to my chin. (I sent him a piece of it. I know.)
Every day was tomato and mustard sandwiches, wearing each other’s dresses, spontaneously driving to Oklahoma City. Every night was the pleasure of fresh bread, the solace of friends when a lover was lost, the coming in covered with mosquito bites from making out in the warm Kansas eve.
Moving out was chaotic, as any disruption of paradise should be. Honey the Cat had a terrible case of fleas, with which we’d coped temporarily by wearing thick woolen socks when we went down to get the laundry. On moving day, though, we had to pull mattresses out, flea-bomb the whole place, swearing at the friend who’d foisted Honey off on us for the summer, and hating the poisons tainting the end of this glorious tenure.
We all moved back into the modular apartments on campus, probably 500 yards away.
The family from whom we’d sublet the house moved back in, and so it went. I knew while I was there that I would never have another summer so golden in my life–that it had been the most perfect expression of being young and hopeful and free. Every day, that knowledge both had saddened me and had made me that much more committed to being as intimate with the moments of that house as I possibly could. If anyone finds that tragic, they are wrong. That sadness etched that summer into me like light fixes the image on a photographic plate, so deeply that I can call up my 20 year-old self, as I near my 40th birthday, as easily as pulling a file from a folder. Easier–and with more pleasure.
We listened to this album a lot. It’s a kind of music to which I no longer spend much time listening, the music of that young woman I was just becoming, in that time of infinite ease and gladness. The video is so terribly pure, so incredibly innocent in its low-production value, that it could not more perfectly represent this summer.