Every inch of the thin patch of woods seems to be alive. The wind breathes into the canopies, the bright green leaves sprouting anew, with spring slowly rising and falling with its exhale. Squirrels scurry amid the trees, hopping from limb to limb like the deft acrobats they are. Birds flit between the ground and the sky to grab at brush for their nests and worms for their chirping offspring.
Solana finds herself at the center of it all, stationed in a black, collapsible camping chair her dad gave her this morning along with a shoulder squeeze. She cranes her head up towards the treetops, taking in the breeze and beat. It’s a beautiful sight, but she’s not here to observe it in its totality. She’s here for one specific purpose, the source of the irritating drone ringing in her ears.
“I think they sound more like a loud techno whisper.” Solana looks to her left where Jeremiah, in his khaki shorts, evergreen t-shirt, and baseball cap is sprawled out in a chair identical to hers.
If she’s getting even more specific, her boyfriend, Jeremiah, also known lovingly as Miah, is the reason she’s here. Growing up on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, Miah soaked up all he could about anything that had fur, wings, or slithered, like he was one of the sea sponges he had once photographed snorkeling.
There’s a certain beauty to them, sure, in their leaded glass wings and coloring. But their bodies are thick, wax-like, and bigger than a fingertip, which Solana has deemed as way too large for an insect. She’s convinced the only thing louder than their call would be the crunch of their bodies if she stepped on one—a thought that makes her cringe.
Not that Miah sees that. He’s staring upwards, his mouth shaped in the “o” of awe. “It’s awesome,” he says, in his own whisper, minus the techno element.
He sits up in his chair and the sun crosses over his features, making the caramel of his eyes even warmer. Based on his skin olive tone, you’d think that he spent hours in rays like this, but his complexion stays with him throughout the year.
“How do you stay so tan?” she had once asked him.
“Because I bask in my solana,” he smiled, playing on the meaning of her name: sunlight. She laughed and pushed a hand into his chest, mocking him for his cheesiness; but she loved it.
He aims a finger at the massive tree diagonal to them. “Look at that. It’s literally crawling with cicadas.”
“Cool,” she says, placatingly drawing out the word. Miah jumps up from the chair to get a closer look at what looks like a layer of bark on the move. He turns back towards her, excitedly maintaining the hop in his step.
“It really is. Look at them! They live underground for 17 years and then when they come up, it’s this massive event like nothing else. I mean, their calls can reach 100 decibels. That’s like a jet flyover,” he says, throwing his hands as if he’s marshalling said jet in. “Tell me that’s not the least bit cool.”
“You’re a nerd.” Solana smiles despite herself, and, if she’s honest, in spite of him. It’s the first to grace her face in a long time, and the recognition of that makes it disappear as quickly as it appears.
“I know.” He’d been tracking this brood of cicadas for the past year and when he learned the timeframe they would begin to emerge, the dork sent her a Google Calendar invite, along with a map to this line of trees. Screw baseball practice, he said, these cicadas were born when we were. It’s like the insect Halley’s Comet, and I’m not missing it.
In the few weeks since that calendar invite came through, she’s realized that their birth year is not all they and other teenagers have in common with the cicadas. After shedding the skin of their childhood, they both emerge into the world with more freedom than they’ve known before and want to run wild. They move as fast as their appendages allow. Their hearts seek out love amidst the urge to sleep with anything they can.
In the case of the cicadas, that is a very imminent death. They live like there is no tomorrow because there literally isn’t.
It’s where the similarities end. Unlike the cicadas, teenagers are supposed to outlive their stupid decisions to learn from them into adulthood and pass down that knowledge. Supposed to.
They aren’t supposed to collapse on the baseball diamond as they sprint to steal second base. Their coach isn’t supposed to be unable to find a pulse as he kneels in the dirt, the bleached white pants turning brown at the knee. Their families aren’t supposed to watch from the bleachers, from the field, from the parking lot as their loved one leaves them, taken away by a heart condition no one knew about or would think would befall someone so youthful, so vibrant.
Miah is supposed to be more than a figment of imagination to ease her pain, a flame of a memory that she knows one day will fade to only a flicker.
The chair beside her is empty, his baseball cap propped up on the headrest like she had left it in tribute. It’s been three weeks, and each thing she does without him for the first time feels like another goodbye. Today, it’s a goodbye to all the plans they made together, and it’s the worst of them so far.
Plucking the hat off the chair, she fits it onto her head, tilting the brim down to shield her tears. From whom, she doesn’t know. All that’s out here is wildlife, but she feels the need to anyway.
Someone told her when you lose someone you love, your heart is forever changed, but she doesn’t feel that goes far enough. When the doctor sat down in front of her and his family and said that there was nothing they could do for Miah, she no longer was the person she was before those words.
Surprisingly, Solana found the most accurate metaphor for her suffering in the cicadas. Her grief is the years they spend in darkness, burrowing their way through dirt as they grow and develop. When they surface, they are fundamentally different than when they entered the earth. Time has transformed them into another iteration of themselves—golden color and wings. It will be the same from her. It already is.
Solana wipes at her eyes, and turns them back towards the trees abuzz with life. As she listens to their call and watches them climb the bark in the hope of prolonging their species, she finds herself agreeing with Miah. Cicadas are the smallest bit of cool. In doing so, Solana marks another similarity between the cicadas and the boy who was captivated by them: both were not long for this world, but beautiful to witness while they were here.