“That’s going to be the name of our band,” Topher said, nudging his sunglasses up on his nose with the back of a hand holding a Corona. He was standing at the grill flipping burgers, wearing a “No Divorce for Straights” shirt with the sleeves cut off, the late afternoon summer sun warming his shoulders. “Rainy Day BBQ. I love it. We’ll be like a hard-core twee band.”
I was standing beside him, taking long swallows from my own Corona, fished out of the bottom of a cooler now full of half-melted ice from the bodega downstairs. It was my summer of rooftops, of watching the sun set while a cloud of pot smoke floated around me. It was the summer of recovery after the worst heartbreak of my life. It was the kind of summer people dream of—the heat forcing us outside and up, our youth tumbling us into bed with one another, the perfect combination of friends and lovers and hamburgers and New York City for one miraculous but brief collection of weeks.
Topher threw a single portobello cap onto the grill, brushing it with balsamic vinegar and listening to the drips hiss against the burning coals. The mushroom was for David, the vegan of our menagerie. David of the fingernail polish, with whom I would talk about poetry and pigeons. Aden was standing at a far ledge of the roof, smoking a cigarette with his friend Nicco and laughing with wide-open mouths. The two of them looked perfect against that orange-blue sky. Shannon and Jacqui and Damien were sitting in lawn chairs, their heads lolling back in a gentle doze as they waited, pleasantly hungry, for the grilling to be done.
Topher gracefully pinched the mushroom between a set of long metal tongs, flipping it and taking another drink from his beer. “We would totally have a tap dancer as the percussionist.”
I never thought I’d have a rooftop summer. I’ve always been oddly serious, no fun at all—I never felt compelled to do things like drink beer in the middle of the day with a bunch of friends, or ride bikes, or laugh too long and too loud. I’ve always been the workingest one, uncomfortable at parties and too awkward for casual dating. Fun has always scared me, like how I imagine it must scare very religious people—the kind with the no dancing and the no Halloween.
Fun is how you get hurt. Even more hurt than simply living a life of ambition and responsibility.
I came into that summer already hurting, however. My girlfriend had dumped me in March, and I’d spent the spring in a misery of rain and carbs and drinking alone, going to work early and coming home late, not leaving my room on weekends and eating an entire loaf of bread and half a jar of peanut butter at one go. April and May passed before I woke up from the stunning shock of loss and depression, and I stepped into the sun for the first time that June, to meet up with Aden and the girl he was seeing. I climbed three flights to her apartment, and the moment she opened the door to my knocking I knew something had shifted. She smiled so wide I felt like I could crawl into the corner of her happy mouth and live the rest of my days there. She threw her arms around me and squeezed, as though she’d been waiting her whole life to meet me, and led me into her apartment like an old friend much missed.
Topher was her roommate: He bounded up to me as soon as I came in and grabbed me by the shoulders. “Hello!” he said, beaming. Who were these smiling people? Aden stood off to the side watching me be introduced around to the people he’d discovered, smirking in his sweet and sideways way.
Almost immediately, I was one of them: We went to the park together, or shopping, we cooked meals and watched movies. We sat on Topher’s bed playing Grand Theft Auto for hours, playfully shoving each other. We kissed. We more than kissed. We spent evenings on the roof, watching the sun set and playing music over a cheap iPod speaker into the night air over Brooklyn. We got drunk. We held each other close. We loved each other.
I stood by as Topher placed a tight foil packet on the grill: Dessert, peaches with balsamic, everything with balsamic, everything sweet and sour. I turned my face toward the water and looked out over the bride, looking out over Manhattan. In a few hours, the fireworks would start. It was the Fourth of July. I closed my eyes and breathed in the smell of grilled meat and sweaty skin and the cheapest, coldest, most refreshing beer we could find. Someone turned the music up, and Topher started to dance; he and I pressed close together, but he was careful not to hit me with the tongs. I was careful not to spill my beer. The sun slowly went down.
In August, everyone broke up. Two of the roommates moved out, and Aden’s fling and my fling and everybody’s fling was over; we slunk back into the rainy, windy fall to hide under the blankets on the couch and go back to eating peanut butter on bread. We never formed a hard-core twee band.
I miss that summer every summer. I’ll miss that summer every time I miss New York City.