Charleston in the Springtime is a Tease
Taylor Kahn-Perry

Charleston in the springtime is a tease. For a moment, each year, the warmth tricks me into loving the climate of the Lowcountry, the sunshine, the persistent but every-so-slight breeze. For a moment, I forget all about the coming humidity, the nearing heavy air, the long and sticky afternoons of July and August that exhaust me with sweat and feverish heat before the day has even begun to begin. Springtime in Charleston tricks me into believing that everything around me can and will and must grow upward—sprout into life from deep inside the earth, stretch root into flower into meadow into garden. Into sunshine and air with the warmth of a hug without the weight of a body collapsing over mine. Everybody welcomes it. The entire Lowcountry breathes the season into life like a religious ritual, the holy months of growth and nourishment, chances to seize each and every day perennial, the cliché no matter to a single soul.

The suggestion that a single thing—plant, root, person, family—would not survive springtime in Charleston has always felt impossible. When I was young, there was not a single person more devoted to this notion than my mother. Despite enough decades of life to expect disappointment or welcome stagnancy throughout the seasons, she clung to the promise of the sunshine with a ferocity even my young and unharmed self could never quite muster. It was as if she believed that if she sat in the sunshine long enough, everything tangible and urgent would bleed to background in the evening sunset or drift away like her exhales with the morning breeze.

Even when springtime faltered, my mother’s faith in it did not. If it rained, she stood by the window awaiting the slightest glow of light from the corner of the sky. If the humidity came months too early, she went to the beach, welcomed the wind, tried her hardest to ignore the mosquitos at dusk, and held tightly in her arms the waves and sand at once like both glitter and light.

I remember one afternoon in particular where, despite the darkness, my mother collected every ounce of sunlight possible, to save for a rainy day, to hold close to her as she fell asleep at night, even as springtime became ever so fleeting.

I was sitting in her car in the driveway, waiting for her to take me to a friend’s house, I suppose. She must have been finishing a load of laundry or searching for her glasses. Either way, I was impatient, frustrated when my mother made a detour to chat with my neighbor (who also, often, felt like my mother) Ms. Katherine between our two front yards. The grass below them was tall and alert, stretching up toward the sun as they exchanged words.

“Sick… your parents?” My mom asked.
Ms. Katherine shook her head. “No. Me.” Her eyes seemed to lurch forward as she spoke, as if they were trying so desperately to reach out and make contact with this earth, this season of expanse and fertility and vigor.
I don’t remember their words after that, only the way my mother reached her hand over to touch Ms. Katherine’s shoulder, the way their eyes looked past one another, into the blue skies of springtime, their jaws clenched and throats tight.

When my mom finally got back in the car, she started to explain to me that Ms. Katherine was sick, but I could tell she could not exhale, and somehow this season of breath had been stolen from her, her words with it, so we just sat in the warm car with no air conditioning and let the warmth of the sunlight fill it up like a giant balloon that would hold us through the thick summer and stiff winter and the rounds of chemo and the empty vessels of people we would all become for the next cycle of seasons, the promise of springtime slipping from our slight all the while.