She always felt the same toward the end of summer – somewhere between melancholy and resigned. She knew she had to accept that it was over, but she didn’t have to be happy about it.
She tried, various years, to pretend autumn wasn’t coming, insisting it was still early August until well past the 20th, until people started to argue with her. It didn’t matter anyway, how much she tried to deny summer’s end. Even if she stopped looking at the calendar altogether, she felt it in her spirit – the slight shift of energy, that vague sense of impending change, the feeling of veiled urgency in those around her who were trying, as she was, to wring every bit of summer out of what was left. They crowded onto the beach, into the farmers’ market, the pool, the museum, forced jollity thick in the air as everyone tried not to glance over their shoulder at what was coming.
Oddly, this autumn dread was a fairly recent development for her. As a child, she had enjoyed summer, like any kid, swimming and going to camp and chasing fireflies and savoring the faintly naughty feeling of staying up well past her school-year bedtime. But she had also loved autumn – going back-to-school shopping with her mother and sisters, picking out school supplies and stiff new jeans, wondering who her teacher would be, anticipating seeing all her classmates again. Autumn had always felt to her like a clean slate, a chance to start over, to be something she’d never been, and to leave behind all the squirmy stuff she’d rather forget.
But now… well, now she was crowding up on middle age, and autumn was just different. What had once felt like a beginning now was tinged with sadness, finality. She knew, in the part of her brain where she kept her rational thoughts, that the year was a circle, a cycle, and she’d get summer back again in a few months. But like Brussels sprouts standing in the way of ice cream, it wasn’t easy to swallow.
She’d tried, last year, to cheer herself up by buying school supplies. At a tiny, ancient dime store downtown, she’d found a cigar box and filled it with glittery pencils and a rubber eraser and a pen that wrote in pink ink that smelled like bubble gum, and in the very back of the store she discovered, with a little cry of happiness, a Big Chief tablet. Her feeling of elation lasted until she got home. Then she looked at her school supplies, remembered that she was 42, opened a bottle of wine, and spent the evening writing depressing poems and bubble gum-scented expletives in the Big Chief tablet.
She could easily identify when she’d fallen out of love with autumn. She was just never quite sure why.
Maybe it was the reminder that she was getting older, that her own seasons were changing. The color-shifting leaves now just made her dwell on her own mortality, on missed chances and wasted time, on spilled milk and spilled Chanel No. 5, on what had been and what never would be. These days, autumn wrapped her in a feeling of sadness and dread, and in quiet introspection that lasted until the first crocuses made their appearance.
Well this year she wasn’t going to let that happen. It was a spontaneous decision she made one morning as she drank coffee at her kitchen table, absently stroking the cat with her bare foot. This year she was going to learn how to love autumn again. In fact, she was going to start today. In fact, she was going to start right now.
She was filled with a sudden, surprising determination that carried with it a lightness she hadn’t felt in ages. She was relieved, revived, reborn. In five minutes, she was dressed and out the door, her heart pounding hard. She knew what she had to do.