Air Conditioner.

Air Conditioner.

The summers of my childhood were sweltering. The air was thick and sat heavy on my chest. Everything was always damp from the humidity or just plain sticky. It was inescapable.

This rarely bothered me during the day when games and playmates could keep my mind off how uncomfortable I felt. My mother would twist her hair at the nape, secure it with one barrette, and walk around with a wet washcloth around her neck. She would sigh, appearing more tired than usual. If I aggravated her, which was much easier to do in the summer, she’d simply say, “Michelle, it’s hot.” That was my cue to leave her alone.

Without the distractions of the day, I could not shake off how truly miserable I was at night. The second-floor bedroom I shared with my brother was small. If I had to guess, I’d say it was an eight foot by eight foot square. Jim’s bed was a youth size, smaller than your average twin. My bed was a glorified wooden box atop which sat the same crib mattress that I used as a baby and Jim used before that. I couldn’t be sure, but I would guess we weren’t the first babies to sleep on that mattress either. Jim and I each had a small night stand, which wasn’t so much a nightstand as a set of drawers made of cardboard. Mom bought them at Woolworth’s or the five-and-dime, or maybe McCrory’s. We had one small dresser for our clothing. Nothing else could fit.

There was one window in the room where Mom placed a box fan facing out. She placed a similar one in the hall window. She said it pulled the hot air creating circulation to cool the house down. I’m sure this idea makes sense from a scientific standpoint, but as a child whose body was threatening to melt, I just thought she was crazy. When we would go to bed, Mom would say, “Just don’t move and it will feel cooler,” this another logical piece of advice that I thought was pure crap. No matter what, we were roasting in there. There was no breeze and every night felt about a thousand hours long.

One day, an air conditioner appeared. It was just the one, and I had no idea where it came from. Our new-to-us air conditioner wasn’t powerful and no doubt this is why it was cast off by the original owner. But it was better than nothing, and so it was installed in our dining room window. So incapable was this AC of cooling the entire first floor, small as it may have been, that Mom thumb-tacked bed sheets over the doorways to thwart the drift and dissipation of the cooler air. That night, and many otherwise unbearable nights to follow, Jim and I brought our sleeping bags down to the dining room and slept under the table, as this was the only clear spot large enough to accommodate us. The table became a makeshift fort and sleeping beneath it was just another shared story of our youth.

We only had that air conditioner for one summer. It limped along nobly until it finally just gave up.

Jim and I haven’t shared a conversation in years, much less a space as close as that under a dining room table. Since that time, the bridges between us have burned hotter than a New Jersey summer night, the embers smoldering on longer than a hand me down air conditioner ever could.



21 Responses to “Air Conditioner.”

  1. Stacie says:

    Oh wow. I can’t imagine how hot it would be without ac. I didn’t have it in CA either but it always cools down at night there. I love the way you wove this together!

    • michellelongo says:

      It was brutal. I knew that it would cool down a bit around 3am, but I only knew that because I’d be up all night waiting for it to cool down. Glad you like my weavery. Is that a word? It is now!

  2. I’m sweating just thinking of your sweating. and sad that you’re relationship with your brother has cooled so substantially. :(

  3. Jen says:

    I love how you can turn a story about a simple air conditioner (or lack there of) into a piece of pure art. I strive to write like this but can never seem to pull it out quite right. You’ve done it so beautifully!

    Annnnndd… we never had air either. And there are two shades of weather here. Cold and muggy as hell. Ugh. I remember those nights so well!

    • michellelongo says:

      Thank you for such a sweet comment. I’ve been in a real slump lately, so I appreciate your kindness! Muggy. Such an awful word to hear, right?

  4. Linda Roy says:

    Wow, isn’t it funny how we remember things like that? We didn’t have AC, but we had this giant fan built into the wall directly outside my bedroom window and that thing was loud. I can still hear that thing if I think about it. This was so wonderfully descriptive Michelle, I could almost feel the sticky heat.

    • michellelongo says:

      Yes, the noise! Box fans aren’t that loud, but these were the metal ones, not plastic like you get now, so they did make some noise. I hate the sound of fans, this is probably why. Thanks for the kind words!

  5. I like the way you ended this. That last line is perfect.

  6. ardenrr says:

    Our a/c blew up over the weekend; of course during our first heat wave of the ‘summer’. I can’t even imagine what it was like living in South Carolina back in the day when people didn’t have air conditioning. I almost died and it was only about 18 hours I had to suffer. I never would have made it back then.

    • michellelongo says:

      Now that I have one as an adult, I’m way too dependent on it. When I was a kid though, I barely knew what I was missing since it was just not available. But then again, that’s NJ. I can’t imagine being further south.

  7. Meg says:

    Can’t begin to tell you how this took me back to my own childhood. I also couldn’t grasp the logic of facing the fan out when it didn’t make a difference in cooling down our bedroom. I slept in a crib until I was at least five or six years old. The only air conditioner in the house was in my parents’ room. Although we didn’t sleep in there, we did spend a lot of time playing cards on the bed. The ending to this is tragic…but families are complicated. Thanks for sharing — I found it particularly moving.

    • michellelongo says:

      I slept in a crib until I was 5-6, then I had that box bed until I was 10. Just another one of those thing I didn’t really think was strange until I got out among other kids and saw that they had actual beds. Thanks for your comment and for reading. Families really are complicated.

  8. Sam Merel says:

    I love the way you fit these stories together. And I can’t even imagine how hot it must have been without AC.

  9. cshowers says:

    I share very similar memories of those hot summer nights. We too, had an air conditioner in the dining room window that was never quite able to reach our bedrooms, which smoldered. I enjoyed the memories your story stirred up.

    God bless you,

  10. I felt there, in the sticky heat, in the memories of a relationship that is no more. Those are the ones that stick with us, those memories of superlatives.
    Oddly enough, we didn’t need air conditioning growing up because we were close enough to the ocean breeze. Now, though, I would kill for an air conditioner…

    • michellelongo says:

      A breeze really does make all the difference. NJ air just stands there like a brick wall. At least it does in the part of the state where I live.

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