Anna McLoud Gibbs

The last day of summer

On this last day of summer, I count coins. I sit on my childhood bedroom carpet and dump out a few hundred dirt-caked nickels and pennies and dimes and some broken rubber bands. When I was younger, my weekly $3 allowance came in the form of coins. My dad gave me his stash of colorful paper coin sleeves – blue for nickels, red for pennies, green for dimes, and so on. I would sort piles of five or ten, and once I gathered forty nickels or fifty pennies, I’d pinch open the paper tube, stick my thumb in one end, and drop in the coins a few at a time to balance against my thumb on the other side. The paper was old and it sometimes cracked.

I fall into my old routine now, nearly a decade later. I start with dimes. Counting isn’t particularly challenging, yet it effectively restricts other thoughts in a rather beautiful way. It requires singleness and presence of mind. I’ve observed the strength of this counting concentration during summer jobs providing food service at weddings. While setting tables, we counted forks and knives to make sure we took only as many as we needed. If I dared hazard a question or comment to a person counting forks, my impetuousness was met with the silence of focused counting.

Now I sit on the purple carpet that my mom and I picked out when I was eleven, and I count. I count, and I don’t think about the fact that it is the last day of my summer, and consequently the last day of my life as it was. Two decades of life, and 17 years of school. During my senior year of high school, I tormented myself over the gravity of a college decision. I knew that choosing a college could only be based on its size and location and my perception of it after a tour. And thus I also knew that I couldn’t base my decision on the area in which it would have the biggest effect: the relationships I would make. If I went to one college, I would have different friends than if I went to a different college. There was no getting around that. They would simply be different people. How can you decide what you don’t know? Four years later, it’s hard to imagine a reality without my roommates, mentors, boyfriend, best friends, acquaintances, teachers. But I would have never met a single one of them had my heart settled slightly different four years ago, on a late night the day before decisions were due.

For all the uncertainty of college years – choosing classes and a major and activities and friends – it was contained within the net of certainty that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Namely, going to college – attending school as I had for the past 13 years. It was both a social and familial expectation, but it was also a personal one. I never questioned that I wanted to be going to college. My decisions didn’t affect my general path; I sped along steadily on my track. Even though people asked me about the track I wanted in the future, there was no doubt about the track I was currently on.

The end of college hits differently. Everything prior to graduation was about expanding my options, juggling as many as possible so none were out of play. Since the day my classmates and I stepped into kindergarten, we’d been accumulating doorways that we could eventually walk through: soccer, math, trumpet, writing. By the end of college, our worlds look like the Monsters Inc. factory, doors on doors on doors. The day of college graduation made a new demand: Choose one.

This summer, I counted coins. My study-abroad host family visited; my family went to Ireland for two weeks and narrowly survived my dad’s right-side-of-the-road driving; we hosted a student; I went on day trips with my boyfriend; I volunteered as a camp counselor. I met the unknown of my future with the silence of focused counting.

On this particular day, as I stop counting and push my thumb into the cracked paper sleeve to accommodate my dimes, I think about how it has been years since the last time I found myself here, criss-cross on the carpet combining 50 pennies into a tube. It feels fitting for this to be the way I spend the last day of my life.

Tomorrow will be the first day of my life. I will put down my coins and begin to splinter my doors.