I am sitting on a picnic blanket with my friends in City Park. It's a bizarre 104 degrees for the fourth day in a row. I've barely enjoyed any free time this summer and I force myself to let go of my worries and just be with my friends, embrace the heat, be under a tree with a Mexican beer and a lime.
Summertime. The living should be easy. I'm not in a refugee camp. I'm not living with an abusive husband. I'm not in a war zone or a famine zone. I have a lot to be content about, relative to the rest of the world.
Yet when I look up at the sky, it is orange with fire from the hills and my nose burns from smoke and some hot, hot wind blows like in a lifeless desert -- blows in such a way that the sounds of the bass and the saxophone off the band shell get scattered around in the air. And the sound becomes unintentionally more like Orentte Coleman than John Coltrane.
We are leaning back on our elbows and eating fresh cherries and I'm taking photos of Carol in my straw hat and listening to Jay, so happy, telling me about the illustrated Blake he found at the used bookstore and some rare perfect vinyl he picked up on his walk about Capitol Hill. "I want to deliberately concentrate on slowing my life down," he says later. I laugh. I come to him to be like it should be, no texts, no emails, no TV, no corporate America. Here's a man who reads poetry aloud in gardens and listens to records and walks everywhere. But he feels the world buzzing around him on our iPhones, posting photos to Instagram, tweeting, and facebooking, and he just wants to be still enough to escape even the idea of it all.
It is good to be with these friends and to be still for hours on end. The wind picks up and dumps seeds from weeds and plants and trees in our hair. We look like nymphs with little seedlings purposely placed for a pastoral lawn painting. Bikes and coolers and umbrellas and little kids in braids, dogs and Frisbees, all colors of people, all sizes, happily splay about the grass. How can such a cheery scene feel so much like it is about to unravel through some uncontrollable force?
The music finishes and we are just lingering on our backs, just enjoying the ground beneath us, when maybe 100 people suddenly rush by us like they are suddenly running from a rainstorm. I look to the clouds for a sign of the storm. But it's not weather that's chasing them. What is it? I ask. I heard gunshots, Jay says. Someone's shooting over there, someone explains. I have a moment where I think, should I run, too? Is there a Virginia Tech-Columbine-Beltway-style sniper in the park? My instinct says no.
We linger longer, watching night descend on the historic electric fountain on the lake, talking about what Denver was like in the 1890s, talking about the old street cars that ran up 17th from Union Station and our old dead relatives who lived here in the generations before us and heard the peacocks crowing in the zoo on the edge of the park. We are vaguely aware of the dozens of cop cars entering the far side of the park. We are watching an ambulance go by, with no siren. That's always a bad sign, when the ambulance doesn't see the need to rush. No lives are at stake anymore. But we do not know until later, one is gone. A police officer breaking up a gang fight is gone and dead.
Today, another heat record is set, but I feel some relief will come as the sky darkens and the rain falls for barely a minute this afternoon. And then I see the lightning popping and hitting the ground. The Flatirons are now on fire. The wind is whipping the smoke through town. I hear more sirens and see more emergency lights. And the summer feels less and less hopeful each day.