Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Indian Summer

Three days ago the sun shone all day and the temperature reached somewhere in the low eighties. That evening I turned the corner and strolled in the direction of the river to buy smokes and felt the day's heat radiating off the brick buildings that line the sidewalk. A three-quarter moon sat just above the spires of the Two-Cent Bridge. It's Indian summer, that stretch of sneaky gorgeous days I can't imagine happening anywhere else but here, at least not with quite the same alacrity. There's an essence to these days that, I kid you not, some part of me longs for the other three-hundred-sixty or so days of the year. Not even the most tranquil summer afternoon reaches me the same way as these un-fall days. It is autumn interrupted, the annual promise of slow death and deep freeze punked, if only briefly. If I believed in Mother Nature or god-hands of any ilk, I would be hard pressed not to admire her/their whimsical exuberance in the midst of Indian summer.

And so it is October, a month that, for as far back as I can recall, has always sort of sung for me. It's the month when baseball crowns its champion, and half the times my beloved Red Sox have found their way to the World Series in my lifetime, they've won -- way better numbers than either my grandfather or my father could have dreamt of. It is the month of frost rising from the grass in the morning and wood smoke hanging heavy in the suddenly dark early evening. It's the month in which I met, over the span of eight years, my first great love, my last college girlfriend, and the mother of my daughter, and although all of those relationships faltered and ultimately blew apart against the rocky shores of conflicting desires, something important came out of each one: teenage sex, a taste of grown-up life, and my absolute favorite person in the world (respectively). And each of those experiences began with an encounter that will always be inexorably linked to the light and sound and smell and feel of October. I am built for this month, it is my speed. I've sported some form of beard most of my life. I favor pants over shorts, shoes that lace and tie and have soles with treads in them, shirts that button, with worn, rumpled collars that flop almost impudently over the neckline of a sweater. I like throwing on a sweater. I like knowing I'm almost certainly going to need a jacket. October, you are my jam.

This is a new kind of October, though. This is an October of grim and bitter first anniversaries. In the twelve intervening months, the details -- as they should and must -- have grown less interesting, less compelling, and yet we are a culture that marks time by the recollection of events both good and bad. We grow collectively pensive on September 11, just as our grandparents once did on December 7. I've witnessed couples gazing unabashedly blissfully into each other's eyes twenty-five years to the day after they were married. Every June 15 at eight-forty-three in the morning for the past sixteen years, I've tipped my hat to the universe for an experience that left an indelible mark on me. As the years roll by, we raise glasses to fallen friends and parents, to lasting joy, to the sacred and the mysterious, the sublime and the inexplicable. However we choose to do so, and whatever our reasons, we take note of the days that stand in our past like signposts on roads that have long since been paved over.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I spent much of last October engaged in a cycle that, with little variation, looked like this: drink beer, smoke cigarettes, listen to sad or angry music, punch holes in walls, smash things with a baseball bat. I did mix it up a little. When my Louisville Slugger splintered upon meeting, for about the twentieth time, a once solid doorframe, I replaced it with a wooden softball bat I don't even know why I owned. I broke that one, too. I spent a delightful evening heaving a cupboard full of teacups and saucers against the wall of the smallest room in my apartment. It was glorious. Some days, just to get out of the house (and thereby avoid going crazy), I carted my laptop down to my favorite bar and sat with my headphones on, listening to the same songs I'd been listening to at home, drinking PBR and playing online sudoku. For hours. Also glorious. That party started right around this time last year and went on, almost unabated, into mid-November. Then it got bad.

As early October got going, a friend who'd been there for the whole ride asked how things are going, and I told him I wasn't looking forward to the inevitable trip through those memories the month would bring. "Nah," he replied, "you've got to deal with it one way or another. Can't have that sort of experience and then pretend it doesn't have resonance later on. But it's not much resonance. You made a mistake, fell in with the wrong girl, let her scramble your brain, and ended up in a psych ward for a few days. It's heavy, but it's not the end of the world. It's not even the end of the story. So, you know, buck up." I thought about that for a while before I hit "reply" and wrote a one-word response that to anyone else might have sounded flip, but which I suspect my friend understood expressed everything that needed to be said: "Indeed."

There was a time, of course, when it did feel like the end of the world. Felt like, but wasn't. I like to say I'd rather be lucky than good every day of the week, but of course that's me being grotesquely glib. I was (and continue to be) lucky, and for that I'll always be grateful. But the words I just quoted remind me of something else that same friend said to me some months after everything went very quickly to hell. It was early March by then, and somehow on the heels of having so successfully shoved my head up my own ass, I'd managed to write a book. The aforementioned friend wrote these words to me shortly after I'd finished: "Remember, (she's) a bitch and she nearly killed you, but without her, you don't have a book." I wouldn't have put it in precisely those terms, but the sentiment was spot on, and that's why these dark days of October, as well as the darker days of November still to come, deserve the same solemn recognition as all the days of joy: because without last October 3rd, 4th, 12th, 14th, and 23rd, there never would have been last March 6th. And without last March 6th, there might well not be today, or tomorrow, or next year. Again, I was lucky, but truth be told, I'm awfully glad to be able to say I'm also pretty goddamned good.

By the way, if you look it up, you'll see there's a secondary definition of Indian summer: "A period of happiness or success occurring late in life."

Welcome to the autumn of my content.

No comments:

Post a Comment