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.
I think about kissing you sometimes.
It’s not, realistically, going to happen.
But, I still think about it.
You have nice eyes.
And I feel comfortable around you.
And getting a snap from you is always a little bit exciting.
And I can’t help but wonder if it would be a good idea.
You see, my feelings at the moment are a bit confused.
Maybe I do actually like you.
Maybe this is the next logical step in our relationship.
My friends certainly think so.
Apparently we already look like a couple.
When I went to that party with you, people kept calling me “your girl”.
Was that supposed to be some sort of date?
I can be pretty oblivious at times.
Or did they only say that because guys and girls aren’t usually just friends?
But we are. At least, I think we are.
At the same time, though, my friends are betting on the odds.
They keep asking me what exactly is going on between us. I don’t exactly know how to answer.
Your friend asked me the other day if you were still hitting on me.
Were you ever hitting on me? And are you now?
Sometimes, I think so. But then, you send me a text saying that you’re really glad we’re friends.
However, I ‘m sensing that maybe that’s not all you’re thinking.
And I tend to be pretty perceptive.
I’m pretty sure that you have some sort of feelings for me.
But where does that leave me?
I’m really not sure.
I could actually like you.
Or, I might just be curious.
And that’s what pulls me back every time.
Because I’m not sure what would happen next.
A kiss is not an isolated event.
Neither one of us could forget that it had happened.
It would be there, between us, from then on out.
And I don’t know what that would mean.
I know that the dynamic between us would change.
Things don’t stay the same once you’ve kissed someone.
Would this mean we would start dating? Would we become a couple?
Because I don’t see that working out.
I’m too stressed. You’re too volatile. I don’t think we could find a balance.
But I’m curious.
And I want to kiss you.
Maybe it’ll turn out well.
But somehow I can’t picture that.
All I see are endings.
I’ll be awkward about it.
And you’ll be hurt that I’m being awkward about it.
Or you’ll be pissed and I’ll look stupid.
Or maybe you’ll give me a triumphant “finally” look and I’ll panic because now you expect something from me.
And I don’t know what I’d do in any of these situations.
So instead, I’ll do nothing.
We’ll remain in murky, confusing limbo.
I might just be lonely.
I don’t want to lead you on.
But I want something, anything, to happen.
It’s close to midnight. I’m walking to the only coffee shop on campus that’s open past 9 pm during the summer. I’m not really paying attention to what’s going on around me, so when I see a guy rolling toward me on his bike, I wordlessly move to other side of the sidewalk so he can pass by. He’s a big guy, blond and fratty. I glance at him as he passes.
“How you doin’ hun?” His voice is low and confident and it chills me to the bone.
I felt violated. He clearly had no intention of actually talking to me. He wasn’t interested in how I was doing. He just wanted to make his presence known. As much as that rankled me, his comment also terrified me. There was no one else in sight. No one would notice if he turned around and came back toward me.
I didn’t run, but I did walk as fast as I possibly could, looking over my shoulder every few steps to make sure that he continued to glide away. I turned on the next street and practically ran two blocks to the coffee shop. Once I was within the warm golden lights of the café, with an iced coffee in hand, I felt safe.
It really shouldn’t be this way. A random guy biking down the street shouldn’t be able to scare me as much as this one did. Even if he didn’t actually mean any harm, there was a chance that he did. Because I’m female, I have been trained to always be careful. I’ve been told that I need to be wary, that I have to watch out, that I’m a potential victim. Last night, I was walking back to my apartment from a friend’s place at around 2:45 in the morning. Despite the fact that I didn’t see a single person, I practically ran home.
I want to be free from all of this. I want to be able to take midnight walks when I need to clear my head. I would love to feel the cool air of early morning without that constant, niggling concern for my safety. I’d rather not constantly eye my fellow travelers when I walk through town after 10 pm.
I want to be free to wander.
I wrote this after a grey, rainy day on campus that I spent almost completely alone.
Loneliness is a hard knot at the back of your throat and a persistent ache in your chest.
Loneliness is getting dressed and walking to the farthest coffee shop on campus, just so you can hear another person’s voice. It doesn’t matter that all you’ll say is “Can I get a small iced coffee?” and “thanks.” Ninety seconds of human contact is better than nothing. The coffee doesn’t drown the lump in your throat and you walk out, wondering what you should do now.
You cross the street and wander into a part of town you’ve never visited. Admiring the ivy-covered houses and slightly decrepit apartment buildings, you imagine living there. You’d probably have a cat. And friends.
While you’re thinking about friends, you pull out your phone to see if anyone’s texted you. They haven’t. You text everyone you might possibly want to hang out with. “What are you up to?” You put your phone back in your pocket and continue walking.
Loneliness is pulling your phone out of your pocket twenty minutes later and seeing that only two people responded. They’re both busy. Loneliness is the blurriness behind your eyes as you pause to reply, “Never mind.”
You walk back home.
Loneliness is spending two hours cleaning your kitchen, even though no one’s going to see it. While you’re cleaning, you think up imaginary conversations with the friends who probably aren’t going to visit you and the neighbors you haven’t met yet. By the time you’ve finished, you’ve chipped your nail polish, rubbed your hands raw, and sweated through your shirt.
Loneliness is sitting on the floor, drenched in sweat, and eating cookies. When the cookies are gone, you open one of the books that you bought yesterday. You read it straight through and feel empty when you’ve turned the last page.
Loneliness is sitting at the kitchen table of your hot, sticky apartment and eating leftovers for dinner. You check Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and your email, knowing that nothing’s changed since you checked them three hours ago.
Loneliness is spending your Friday night alone in your apartment, watching The Hunger Games off of a questionably legal website. When the movie is over and the credits are rolling up the screen, you walk out onto your balcony. It’s raining out, so you spend a few minutes basking in the damp, fragrant air.
You go back inside and open up your computer. The clicking of the keys echoes through the dark room as you mindlessly browse the internet. You’ll be up until your vision blurs and your eyelids start to droop, when you’ll collapse onto your bed and fall into a dreamless stupor.
Loneliness is a deserted campus, an empty apartment, a hollow chest.
There are certain things expected of the students who announce that they are “pre-med” in undergrad. You are supposed to be frighteningly intelligent. When I go to parties or bars and mention the fact that I’m pre-med, guys tend to have the same response. It tends to involve something like this: “oh, you must be smart” and slowly backing away, searching for a more appropriately ditzy girl to dance with.
You’re also expected to have research experience, despite the fact that research has little to nothing to do with clinical medicine. However, because the majority of premeds think that they need research experience, it’s become something that’s expected of us, yet another item to check off the list. You will never get nearly as many weird looks as when you tell a group of pre-med biology majors that you are hoping to go to medical school but that you’re not a biology major and that you’re not working in anyone’s lab this semester.
That brings me to another expectation that straight up bothers me. We’re actually not all majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry. I spent my first three semesters of college studying “Earth, Society and the Environment” and taking pre-med classes on the side. If you’re planning on going to medical school, your major in undergrad really doesn’t matter that much. So many people decide to study biology just because that’s ‘what you do’ if you want to be a doctor. I came into college studying environmental science because I loved it. Of course, once I got to college and started taking the biology classes that I would need to apply to medical school, I realized that I really enjoy as well. After looking at my four-year plan earlier this semester, I realized that I could easily fit in a biology major as well, so I decided to double major. Even with the added validation of a biology major, I still get funny looks when I tell people that I’m studying environmental science as well.
I’ve taken to telling people that, if you’re going to grad school, undergrad isn’t about what you want to do, it’s about figuring out who you want to be. After graduation, if you’ve planned well enough, you can focus on what you want to do with your life, but college gives you a chance to sort out who exactly you are.
After I’ve told everyone that I’m premed, not doing research, and majoring in biology and environmental science, they ask which hospital I’m volunteering at. This is one that I actually think is pretty important. I’ve been volunteering for two semesters at a hospital near campus, and it has definitely been an experience. I’ve given people baths, dealt with patients who are literally crazy, and have tiptoed around family members grieving for their dying relatives. A hospital is not an easy place to be. Almost no one actually wants to be there, and you know that the people you are taking care of are sick in some way. It’s difficult, as a healthy young girl, to stand in front of a patient who can’t walk and ask if there’s anything you can do for them. If I can’t give them their health back, what really matters?
Giving people back their health, or at least doing my very best to do so, is the reason that I want to go into medicine. It’s a very tangible way to make the world a better place, at least for the patients that I’ll be helping. I’m not in it for the money, or the prestige. I just want to end up where I can make a difference in people’s lives. I don’t know where that’ll be, but I really hope it happens. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to get through another two years of nosy questions and silent sizing-ups until I get to med school. I guess there’s some sacrifice involved in everything, right?
I’m sure that practically everyone, regardless of their religion, has been bombarded with news about the new pope, elected yesterday. Even if you’re not Catholic, it’s a pretty big deal. Catholics make up about 1.2 billion of the 6.9 billion people in the world. That’s about 17% of the world’s population. Even if you don’t happen to be Catholic yourself, you probably know quite a few of them.
I’m not particularly showy about it, but I was raised Catholic, went to CCD (which I just discovered stands for “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine”) for all of elementary and middle school, and was confirmed at 13. Even if I’m not the best Catholic out there, and even if there are some things about the Church that I’m not particularly fond of, I still identify as a Catholic and don’t plan on leaving the church anytime soon.
Obviously, I care about the new pope and feel the same mix of nervous anticipation and inexplicable excitement about Pope Francis that I’m sure many Catholics share. Even if he’s supposedly directed by God and the Holy Spirit, every pope has a different way of going about things, and their beliefs and loyalties can change the direction of the Catholic Church. The last two popes, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, were both pretty conservative, favoring tradition. On the other hand, John XXIII was more liberal. He decided to hold Vatican II, which is the reason that mass is no longer said in Latin.
I’m excited about Pope Francis, because he’s a Jesuit, a South American, and the first pope to choose the name “Francis”. For those who aren’t Catholic, Jesuits are an order of priests and brothers that are known for their focus on education (you’ve probably heard of Georgetown, Boston College, etc) and research. Even though the Jesuits haven’t always been particularly popular, they’re known as scholars, and I like that.
I’m pretty much indifferent about the fact that he’s from South America. It’s kind of cool, but location really shouldn’t determine that much about a person. I like the fact that he picked Francis as a name though. I guess he’s cool with being different.
We can’t really tell what’s coming, or what direction things are going to go, but it will certainly be different. No two leaders are the same, and that goes for popes as well as everyone else.