I always loved the summertime.
Elaina Martin, my dearest friend, used to come visit me during the long summers. We met in private school. Although she was of a well-to-do, wealthy family from the Cape and I, of a small farming community on a scholarship, we became fast friends.
The first time Elaina came to stay at my family’s farm we were fifteen. She looked lovely, riding up in the back seat of her family’s buggy. She had on a white lace trimmed dress and a pearl necklace that likely cost about as much as my family made in a good harvest year. Her hair was the color of the golden wheat fields and her eyes were a clear blue. I’ll never forget the joy in her eyes as she smiled at me on that bright summer day.
We spent each day of that summer together. I showed her the orchards and fields my family worked throughout the year. I even managed to teach her the basics of farm work, though that had taken a bit more effort. She was used to having an attendant. Someone who washed her down and helped her dress. Someone who fanned away the little beads of sweat that form on the brow during the days where the sun insists on baking the earth. Although my sweet Elaina was privileged, she was nothing if not high spirited. Against her parents wishes, she had insisted on coming for the summer without an attendant to worry over her. She wrote them letters though, telling them of the miraculous things she had discovered during her time at a farmhouse, like how to gather eggs from the hens and how to dig in the soft mud for tubers.
I am quite sure her parents were appalled.
The end of that first summer came too quickly. Elaina left just as she had come, wearing that white dress with a bright, beaming smile across her face.
That was the last day I saw her smile in quite that way.
During the holiday between semesters that year, I was invited over for a long weekend at Elaina’s home. When she smiled there, it didn’t meet her eyes. We sipped tea on the patio and went for long afternoon strolls on stone paths some poor fellow had spent long hours polishing clean. We spoke of our studies and of our plans for the next summer. Her parents were going to let her stay again she told me. That had been a surprise, but with her father’s political career and her mother’s charity work, Elaina told me they didn’t much notice if she was gone.
On the last night I was there, I heard shouting down the stairs by my door. I tried to ignore the curses of Elaina’s father and the crying of her mother. I tried not to think of the bruises I had seen on her mother’s face that morning or the way she flinched when her father spoke. In my hometown, people always said never to involve yourself in the business of others.
Elaina came to my room that night. I held her close as she cried and told her that summer would be here soon. She asked me to run away with her.
I don’t recall ever giving her an answer.
Summertime came again, but this time when Elaina came to my family’s home, there was a deep, quiet sadness in her eyes. We worked the farm every day. Elaina insisted that we stay busy. At night, we sat beneath the stars and talked. She spoke freely then. There was so much anger and sadness now in the sweet girl from the summer before. It was in those long conversations that she found happiness amongst the shadows.
That was the summer Elaina Martin told me she loved me. I wish I could say that the love we shared blossomed. I wish I could have taken the sadness from her eyes and the anger from her heart.
Elaina was just shy of her eighteenth birthday when she killed herself. The letter sent by her mother told me that she was dead. No more. No less. I discovered later that she had left a note. Not at her family’s home where she’d died, but wrapped up in the blanket we laid on during those long, quiet nights, the blanket she’d helped me tuck away in the barn the night before she’d left. It said simply:
In death, summer is eternal.