Walking out of yoga the other morning, into the bright sun and cool breeze, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. I couldn’t pinpoint any specific memory though; instead a feeling of youth and excitement came over me. The same feeling that sneaks up on me every autumn, every year when the temperatures stop trying so hard to make us sweat and the trees let go of what they’ve been holding on to. Every year this feeling, which starts to fade as soon as I try to name it, reminds me of the past in ways that no other season — not the blistering heat of July or the crisp cold air of Christmas morning — ever manages to. And every year, I struggle to grasp it, hold onto it long enough to figure out what exactly it is I’m remembering.
Trick-or-treating with my little brother. Road-tripping to Nashville to spend Thanksgiving with family. Lion King sweatshirts and sleepovers. Hocus Pocus. Hot chocolate. Playing hot lava on the swing set with my neighbor. Jumping in piles of freshly raked leaves. Wishing I were on the Hogwarts Express.
Mostly, the things I latch onto in the moment are vague and general, like needing a hoodie as I walk across campus, or driving with the windows down blasting Wicked, things I know I did at one point but not necessarily a specific memory. The cool, crispness of fall conjures not a specific recollection but a feeling, a mood. I feel as if I should always have a hot cup of coffee in hand, my body shrouded in an old comfy sweatshirt, my bag full of French flashcards, and my mind concerned with Halloween costumes and winter break plans. My fingers itch to take notes, and instead of turning to go home, I want to keep driving, windows down, hand floating on the wind.
I moved to Nashville in August of 2008, leaving behind the sticky, sweaty summer of central Florida and settling into the seasonal weather Tennessee offered. The leaves changed color and fell to the ground, crunching satisfyingly under my feet as I walked to my car parked in front of my parents’ house. The lake they lived on became more visible as the trees shed their summer fashions, and for the first time, I had to buy closed toe shoes in preparation for a season I’d previously not experienced: winter.*
That autumn was a period of great change in my life. I’d just graduated and my post-college experience was not going exactly as planned. The gig I’d secured, working as a video editing assistant, lasted all of 2 weeks because the guy who hired me realized he didn’t have enough cashflow to actually pay me. I was living with my parents, not in my childhood home, in a city where I only knew family, so I spent my nights watching Star Trek Enterprise with my mom and dad, or working on my sci fi YA novel. My long-distance relationship with a man 16 years my senior was on the verge of imploding, unbeknownst to him. I was probably depressed, and getting a crappy retail job at a bookstore didn’t help things. But at least I started making friends. And I started getting to know Justin, my future husband.
So while fall makes me think about Hogwarts and recess and running around with my brother as carefree kids, it also stirs up an unsettling mix of quarter-life crisis feels: uncertainty, doubt, sadness. After five and a half years** of coasting through college, so sure about myself and my future, it felt as if I could do nothing but stumble, tripping down a staircase I had worked so hard to climb. What was I going to do with my life? What was I doing at that moment? Working as a cashier at a bookstore, spending my evenings with my parents or by myself, letting a relationship go on that had clearly expired, and trudging through my ever blue mood.
Winter came, a year new blossomed, and I made a bunch of changes in hopes of finding a more positive path: I broke up with the guy back in FL; I went to my first SCBWI writing conference; I quit my shitty retail job and started working for my dad full-time, putting my degree to use. I remember that I had decided that 2009 would be my Year of Yes, and as winter melted into spring, I got my groove back.
Spring has an uncanny rejuvenating effect, making you feel as if in shedding your winter coat, you’re losing more dead weight than just extra layers of fabric. But fall, with its chilly night air and slow decay of the landscape, has its own rejuvenation techniques. Even though I cant shake that weird mix of twenty-something despair and youthful cheerfulness, I find myself smiling more often than not when I step outside into autumn’s offerings — smiling as I remember my days on campus or afternoons spent playing outside with my brother — because I’m reminded of times that are starting to feel farther and farther away, and, for the briefest of moments, I’m transported away from my current mood, my current worries, my current nearly 33-year-old self and reminded of a younger, simpler time.
But then it’s over. And I’m back, grateful for those youthful experiences, good and bad, that put me on the path that led me here.
What season is your favorite or evokes the most memories for you? Where do you like to spend your autumns? What are your favorite fall traditions or characteristics? (And don’t say pumpkin spice lattés!)
*Of course, I’m kidding. I’d spent many Christmases in Nashville, but growing up with warm Decembers, I had never owned a pair of boots and usually got through the whole year wearing just flip flops. Let me have my hyperbole for the moment.