Well, that was a short summer!
Here in Connecticut, the weather has turned, well, not cold, but at least cool. The nights are in the 40s and the days, anything from 60-ish on up. Trees are just starting to change color. Wind and rain have started showing up as well. Monday and today I walked out the door to a red sky. You know the old saying “red sky at night, sailor’s delight/red sky at morning, sailor take warning”? I don’t know about the first part, but the second is a pretty good bet in my experience.
The summer seemed especially short this year, perhaps because I spent a big part of it in the hospital and the rehab. Anyway, at least I finished the build on my new bike (and got myself to the point of being able to ride) in time for Autumn.
Autumn has always been a bittersweet time for me. They say Spring is the season for new beginnings, and it certainly looks like it, but Autumn was always when school started, when classes went back into session. It was always the start of the year for me; in fact, I used to use little pocket calendars that started not with January, but with August. With the school year (before electronics finally supplanted pocket calendars a couple of years ago). So Autumn meant new backpack or portfolio, new folders and paper, new books. It meant seeing people I hadn’t seen in months. It was a fresh start.
But if Autumn was a season of beginnings, it was also always, for me, a season of endings. Summer jobs and internships ended; a certain amount of freedom ended; and, from about the time I was 16 until I was 26, relationships ended in Autumn. I remember learning to look with dread on the starting of the school year, because I knew my girlfriend was going to break up with me, or because I knew (in my heart) that I was getting bored, and it was time for me to move on. I guess the resumption of high school always played a role, since there were more possibilities when you were immersed in a school full of hormones.
Anyway, around ‘78 or so, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds, incorporating the bittersweet “Forever Autumn,” hit the air. I fell in love with the song then, and I remain in love with it today. For me it has a special meaning; the Autumn of 1984 was the first one in which a relationship didn’t dissolve, and the bitter of the song changed to indescribable sweetness. Oh, the relationship was sometimes rocky, and might have fallen apart at any point but for the next Autumn, a bank parking lot, a dark October night, and the swirling of leaves.
T and I lived in Hyde Park on Chicago’s south side, where we were both grad students at the University of Chicago. We did the usual things—dinners at each others’ apartments, hanging out with mutual friends, movies at the Hyde Park Cinema, Doc Films and Law School Films. I found a bike for T and we rode together along the lakefront to downtown Chicago and went shopping at Water Tower Place and across the street at Crate & Barrel (before it became the enormous thing that it is now!).
Then, one cool October night, we were walking back to the apartment T shared with three roommates. We headed north across 55th Street, then cut diagonally through the parking lot behind a bank (it was either University Bank or the Hyde Park Bank, I forget which) toward Kenwood Ave, on the east side of Nichols Park. T and her roommates shared an apartment on the third floor of a building that overlooked the Park. As we walked, the wind swirled a layer of yellow and red leaves around our feet and legs, and it came down on me like a ton of bricks.
I knew, in a way I don’t know things, that I wanted to spend this rest of my life with this woman. That this was truly a beginning and not an end, and that I was never going to stop feeling this way. It felt like my heart was exploding, and the weight of the Universe pushing down and… (Late in Dhalgren, there is a passage where an astronaut tries to tell a drifter what walking on the moon felt like. The astronaut says he he can’t communicate it, because he can only talk about it in terms of the drifter’s experience. He can say what it felt like, but not how it felt. That’s how this was.)
We were married less than a year later.
And so Autumn is and will always be special to me. But you have to notice it. Once you stop going to school, Autumn doesn’t mean as much. It’s just that period between when they start putting candy displays in the stores and when they start selling the candy at a discount after Halloween. This year, for me, I notice it more—I’ve been riding through “Autumn’s golden gown” for the past few days, and I notice it.
This morning Autumn bringing back that event that I cannot describe. I hope for you that you also have had such a feeling, and that something brings it back for you. And my wish for you is that, whatever it is that brings that feeling to you, whatever constitutes your Autumn, that it’s forever Autumn for you, too.