I’ve never loved fall. I’ve always thought of autumn as a season of endings. Love, freedom, and bare feet give way to school supplies, responsibilities and heating bills. I close my windows to keep out the cold and abandon my near-daily walks. The farmers’ market shifts from tomatoes and berries to squash and eggplant and eventually shuts down altogether. People are busier, more anxious, and more worried about the future. Every four years, autumn is swallowed up by vitriol-filled presidential elections that leaves half the country dejected and the other half tauntingly victorious. Fall is a melancholy season.
My grandma’s birthday was on the first day of autumn. She loved the changing trees and chilly air. She used to say that there was nothing quite like Boston in the fall. She’d visit my aunt there every year in September or October and come back with a digital camera overflowing with pictures of leaves that I would click through while I sat at the kitchen table and listened to her remembrance of her trip. It doesn’t seem like it’s been five years that she’s been gone, but a lot has changed since the last time I talked to her. I’m not the shy fifteen-year-old girl that she knew back then.
I think about her more in the fall. I still occasionally pull out the last birthday card she gave me, signed in her big, loopy handwriting, and telling me how grown-up I was. Looking back, I know I wasn’t grown up at all. I’ve changed a lot since 2008, but she hasn’t had the chance to. In my mind, she exists as she did before her diagnosis: pale blue eyes shining through the thick glasses needed to correct the lazy eye that I inherited. She told me where her favorite spots to see the leaves were, but I rarely visited them.
Autumn has never been my favorite season. I’ve always resented the slowly fading greenery, the slippery dead leaves coating the sidewalk, the sudden and unexpected coolness outside when I woke up early. At the earliest sign of a chill in the air, I would pull out my sweaters and jeans and wool socks and glower at the goosebumps that rose on my arms when I stepped outside. The golden hue of sunlight unique to autumn days and summer evenings only reminded me that it would soon be replaced by impenetrable gray skies.
I would wrap myself in blankets to do my homework and eat too much Halloween candy. Getting out of bed became a chore. Little things set me off far more than they should have. A missed bus, a stubbed toe, a forgotten assignment: these were the sorts of things that could ruin my day. In September, I dreaded October. In October, I dreaded November. I was convinced that nothing was worse than November. At least winter is transparent about how miserable it is. Fall likes to pretend that it’s a good thing. I rushed from class to class with my head ducked against the cold and my hands jammed angrily into my pockets.
This fall has been different. For the first time, I’ve been watching the fall colors with the wonder that I usually reserve for springtime’s flowering crabapples and redbuds. I’ve enjoyed seeing the ombré-ed trees slowly reveal their skeletal frames. I am awestruck, not depressed by the yellow and red patchwork that is visible from the eleventh floor of the hospital where I volunteer. The fat, anxious squirrels that are so prevalent around here make me laugh instead of scowl.
Admittedly, I haven’t been completely won over. I’m still affected by the shorter days and colder weather. I still wear blankets around the house and eat too much chocolate. The angst and depression that creeps up on me every year around this time is here, and I won’t be entirely free of it until around April. I still hate being constantly cold and the persistent cough that comes with this drier weather. I haven’t yet been transformed into a lover of all things fall. You won’t find me playing in leaf piles while clutching a pumpkin spice latte between my fingerless-gloved hands. However, I might just be found inside my favorite coffee shop, sitting by the window, wearing two sweaters, a scarf and a hat, and watching the leaves fall with a smile on my face.