It seems always to be ninety degrees, thunderclouds building up behind the San Gabriel Mountains, which are pink or purple in the distance. Pasadena summers are long and suffocating. My husband and I eat outside because it’s cooler on the driveway than it is in the apartment. We sit in folding chairs beside our car, beneath a large disheveled oak, drinking cheap French white wines and eating a salad my sister made for us when last she visited: lots of arugula, parmesan cheese, toasted almonds, fresh buttered peas with a dressing of mostly garlic, olive oil, and a little balsamic vinegar.
We are waiting for the sun to set, when the palms along Holliston Avenue will turn blue and the Summer Triangle will appear in the night sky: Altair and Deneb at its base, Vega, that blue-tinged white star, at its peak. Together, they make up an approximate right triangle cutting through the Milky Way.
While we wait, my husband reads aloud from The Nature of Time by the mathematician Raymond Flood. Are you listening? he asks, and when I say yes, he continues: You can directly experience the immediate past, but not either the future or the distant past.
Can that be true? We are coming up on six years in our Pasadena apartment. I try to think how I might one day remember it: the neighbors with their thin, muted smiles, how they never show their teeth. Yes, hello, we’re eating outside again. Isn’t it hot? And how at night we can hear their intimate sounds: snoring, jerking off, one neighbor clearing his throat, phones dropping, alarms ringing—on weekends, blenders for margaritas. There are babies on either side, one of those yappy dogs making a fuss over squirrels, the mocking and scrub jays—and don’t forget the raccoons and cats who prowl, making a fuss in the dark, dark night.
My husband tells me to pay attention.
The amygdala, he’s reading now, is an almond-shaped structure deep in the base of the brain. It creates those visceral memories. He taps his head.
I nod, make a sound that means I’m interested—mmhmm.
The first stars begin to show themselves. Vega will be the brightest until the moon rises later tonight. It will be a supermoon, and it will rise in the east and turn red from a partial lunar eclipse. I remember my first moonrise, or at least I think I do. I tell my amygdala to work harder: I’m somewhere dark enough for the heavens to be exposed completely, and young enough to think that if I were just a bit taller I could reach out and touch the stars. Maybe six or seven, and I’m in the back of a truck, the night sky—a desert scene—the moon rising large enough to crush the horizon. I’ve seen the moon rise since, but never as large, never as otherworldly.
I asked my parents once about this memory and they agreed we were in Agua Dulce for the Perseid meteor shower, but neither could remember who owned the truck. My father claimed it was his; my mother said he never had one. How could something that at one time was a decided fact be, twenty-five years later, up for debate?
My husband has paused long enough for me to notice. He’s frowning at his computer screen. Time does not exist without events, he says, and looks at me with significance. So if there are no events to fill it up, you won’t remember—it will just slip away. He makes a motion with his hand.
What a terrifying thought, especially now, in this year when time seems to be at a standstill and yet cranking fast. Wasn’t it just March? Maybe it still is. I’ve been head down, willing days and weeks, entire months to pass. Marching to some unknown date when I can look up and recognize the world again.
But I don’t want to forget any of it. Not really. Time has swallowed so much already. Our past apartments have grown fuzzy, most of our neighbors faceless. The couple who moved back to Ohio? That was Mar Vista, where we sometimes drank on the porch together. She played piano, and on lazy afternoons, it was Chopin’s Nocturnes. All the windows open because there was no air conditioning.
When did we live there? Between 2007 and 2012—something like that. It was before Pasadena, back when I worked at the Getty. Or no, that overlapped with living in Westwood, when I was still in school at UCLA.
And before Westwood, there was the place in Mid-City, where an old man smoked fish on his balcony. I knew his name at one time. The neighbor above us, a private eye, let her dog shit outside our bedroom window—but here, I’m embellishing where the memory slips. Was it her dog? I can’t remember. But there was definitely, maybe, a dog.
Think of them viscerally, work that amygdala: Mar Vista with its pale blues and cream because the marina is nearby, because the breeze is salty and the days are bright—the kind of bright white sails make on a blue, blue sea. All I can recall of Mid-City is the smell of dog shit, the fresh cut lawns, and bus exhaust.
Was Mid-City our first married apartment? It must have been because when we married, I had just been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease—and I remember driving home from the doctor, his words still ringing loud. It’s degenerative, it’s pain, push through it, and me thinking, when I get home, I’ll drown myself in the tub—and that has to be Mid-City because it was the only apartment with a good-sized bathtub. That was back when I took the 305 bus to UCLA, passing Cedars-Sinai, where I was born—back when I would take one Vicodin for the back pain and another because I hadn’t gone far enough away from where I started.
What year was that, 2006? And what about before that? There were the six or so months in Boston, living with a group of girls in Roxbury Crossing. The biting cold, the twisting colored leaves—hot drinks and afternoons working in the Museum of Fine Art. I remember entering through an underground passage, where an Egyptian tomb sat in the dark, damp hallway. Nothing protected it. I could reach out and touch the crumbling rock, the carved face of someone so long dead.
There were years at community colleges, traveling the 23 freeway, farmland on either side—matchstick dry so that in the fall, the hills glowed amber and ash fell on car windows, laid thick across my mom’s potted hydrangeas. My husband and I were only dating then, and we stayed at my father’s house until we didn’t because he was a sad alcoholic. Because too many times he came home drunk and we found him crying on the kitchen floor, face or hands bleeding, something lying broken on the floor beside him. And then there was living at my mom’s—and also, briefly, at his parents, but they made us sleep in separate rooms.
And don’t forget the years before my husband: rehab in Port Hueneme, the plastic beds, bedrooms pastel pink and green, the men much, much older, all wanting a piece. Those pre-dawn mornings when I had the first cigarette of the day, the sky turning white and then blue, the smell of the sea almost repulsive in the heat. Was it summer? No, because I was supposed to be in school. I was missing senior year. High school is wrapped in a cloud of drugs. Days, sometimes weeks, just lost. Waking up in someone’s bed, Oh, good morning, what’s your name? House parties, always at night, always somewhere close to the Santa Monica Mountains, so you could smell the chaparral, the sage, hear the coyotes. In junior high, my parents fight—let’s skip all that, but no—I have to remember, otherwise it’s lost. Like 2020, every moment willed over and done with. Remember the broken dishes, the slammed doors. Threats of violence, accusations of infidelity, and finally a divorce that takes almost as long to complete as their marriage. Humans are very good at tearing each other apart.
Before that was the Valley, my childhood: elementary school, the blacktop just as hot in the summer as it was in winter. Remember playing handball with the handsome P.E. teacher? I skinned my knee and he carried me across the blacktop—in my memory, it was acres and acres, and all the other students stopped to watch me get carried like some ailing princess. Is this a real memory? Or is it like the desert moonrise, something made soft by time, and a bit brighter from imagination?
I remember being Citizen of the Month, that I was in a special program for gifted kids, that the library was small and pencil shavings got all over everything. I was once the Tin Man in a play—my hat an upside down funnel covered in foil, me in a silver bodysuit, singing. In the nurse’s office there were plastic beds, and if you were sick, you could lie down and the nurse would close the curtains and let you sleep. How often I pretended to be sick.
Now it’s getting hard: a house with a rose garden. We had geese that were not friendly. One Christmas we cooked a goose—Dad hacking through the neck, bloody feathers everywhere. Who cleaned up? Mom probably. Pretty pastel shoes with tiny gold buckles, my baby sister being born—taking afternoon naps—a faint mobile. My twin and I must have been brought home in early April from Cedars-Sinai, the same hospital I will later ride past on the 305 bus.
Timelines, my husband is saying now. I hear the word artifice and construct but I’m ignoring him. Superficial, he’s insisting.
Where does time go? Back to Pasadena, to this endless year, this hot summer that has been like all the others in Los Angeles. We tell ourselves to be patient, wash your hands, wear a mask. Next month, after November, in the New Year. Time slipping by as a means to cope. After summer, it will cool down. Don’t worry, spring will bring rain. Next winter already planned out. We’ll travel abroad in 2022. Whole years, lost. Reductionism, comes my husband’s voice.
I’ve missed his final point, but the article has ended. He’s shut his computer, refilled our glasses. Above us is the Summer Triangle, Vega pulsing like a tiny rhinestone. I want to ask how we will remember this moment, because it is happening now—gone too quickly. There is nothing to make it special, to make it last.
Light from Vega, my husband says, takes 25.6 years to reach Earth.
We watch it for a moment, in our folding chairs out on the driveway, drinking French white wine that I will remember as Sancerre. There are crickets somewhere in the dark, their forlorn violin plucking up to meet the moon. It is just beginning to shine.