Tonight, before I drift off to sleep, I am looking out my window at the moon, remembering an incident that I have forgotten for years. As I lie here in the moonlight, the significance of that certain event becomes clearer than ever before, and I allow my thoughts to venture back.
It occurred at the end of a magical summer. The sort everyone has at least once, when with a flourish of carefree adolescence one has a last fling with childhood. It was a summer of first discovering the joys of independence without being burdened by its responsibilities. And it was a summer of friends.
First there was me. A fairly skinny, slightly boy-crazy high school graduate who, guitar in hand, was just trying on the ''flower child'' identity for size. Working as a waitress at an old Victorian inn in the mountains of Pennyslvania with its many secret rooms, expansive lawns, and enchanted woods was just the sort of thing to romanticize my already romantic nature. It should be emphasized too that I was still very much a little girl.
Then there was Doug. Doug was still growing into his feet at that time. (I imagine he still is.) He was a year or two younger than I, which, at an age when that sort of thing mattered, oddly didn't matter at all. He was a journalkeeper, a practical joker, and above all a laugher. He was what some would call a ''rich kid,'' but he was not a snob. On the contrary, he was all but oblivious to his station in life, and that, coupled with his youth and boyish charm, gave him quite a disarming air. He too had a romantic streak and, considering how strong mine was, it's a wonder there wasn't a romance between us. But he was Peter Pan and I was Wendy and as such we were strictly friends.
Julie was the other member of our trio. She had enormous brown eyes in a round oval face, and a velveteen voice. The bathroom in the ''help's quarters'' above the kitchen rang with our two-part harmony whenever we were not writing poems, or sending letters to old boyfriends at home, or bathing in the sun on the roof outside our window.
Julie was in many ways a true beauty. She was also the oldest of us, both physically and mentally. She fully expected to grow up and become a woman, whereas I figured I never would (an assumption that later proved false). Julie was the most sophisticated of us, though not in any overt way. Our little world at the inn on top of an isolated hilltop was wonderful, but it was more of a diversion for Julie - the breathing space between high school and college.
There were others: the cooks, the maids, the other waiters and waitresses, the various guests, all of whom provided background and touches of spice to our adventures. But mainly it was the three of us.
Together we washed the silverware and made the salads. We stole cream puffs from the pantry to eat in the stairwell after working dinner. We had shaving cream fights and we sang for the guests on occasion.
And in among the working hours, we found time to watch magnificent sunsets and sometimes northern lights from the roof of our enormous playground, the inn. If we were not sleeping out on the lawn under the stars we were roaming the woods singing from the rocky ledges we discovered. Or we were hiking into town for a visit to the Sweet Shop and the legendary hot fudge sauce.
You see, we had it all. Youth, companionship, summer, romantic surroundings. In off hours Julie and I could often be found planning the details of our respective weddings, which would take place (of course) under the huge oak tree that arched over the lawn and overlooked the shimmering lake.
I could not know then about how we would drift apart. I could not know how university life would swallow Julie whole, including the poetic threads that held my concept of her together. I couldn't know how Doug would migrate to Arizona to pursue one of his many careers. I couldn't know that indeed the inn itself would be razed to the ground within five years. If I had, I'm sure my young idealistic heart would have broken.
I could not know then, either, how ultimately none of this would matter and that, even as my childhood merged into young adulthood and was seemingly lost, what really mattered out of it all would still remain. But I did get some instinctive hint of it on one of our last evenings together at the inn: the incident I recall now.
Julie had gone home for a week of orientation at Kent State. On her return we celebrated by a trip up to the rooftop to watch one of our last sunsets of the season. After the moon rose we sauntered over to the swing set in the small playground near the tennis court. Without a word we, all three, sat down and began to pump. The swings squeaked softly on their hinges as we began, but it was a familiar sound and it did nothing to destroy the mood.
Slowly we began to swing higher, and from the moment we started to the moment we stopped we were in perfect unison. We all held our breath as we rose higher, expecting one of us to fall back or forward or out of rhythm, but not one of us did. I don't know how long we swung together there in the moonlight, without speaking, before we began to die down. But as we did, it was with that same connection, the same unison and oneness, as if we somehow sensed each other's movements and anticipated the rhythm of one another's thoughts, like a school of fish or a flock of goldfinches.
And then, with the gentle scuffing of our feet in the dust, we stopped. It was enough. No hugs, no reminiscing, or teary goodbyes, not even words, were needed as we made our way back to our rooms with the moon following along.