Thursday, September 23, 2010

The fall

Thursday marks the first day of autumn. Summer is dead. And now begins the quiet-slow approach of the Long Dark.

Here on the Island of Rain, where cape-wearing neo-druid loonies use Thursday to commemorate a Welsh bloke, the weather has been autumnal for most of September. As early as the month's first week, conditions were ripe for sitting outside and getting lost in thought. That's what autumn does to me: sends my mind spinning through the golden and melancholy.

Admittedly, I am given to that sort of thing year-round. A smell, or image, or feeling, or sound, or action, or atmospheric condition will spark a forgotten thing to flash through my mind and then lock me into that place. Sometimes the memory is good, sometimes bad, and for a brief moment I am reliving it -- feeling a condensed version of all I felt when it was real.

In autumn, the cycle of those memories seems to accelerate and I spend my days in constant emotional rise and fall. My head heaves with memories, which then grab hold of my thoughts and spin wildly in an exhausting, never-ending dance.

Autumn induces terrible homesickness for Minnesota, where the Minnesota and Mississippi valleys will soon be great corridors of colour -- yellow, orange and red lining the banks of wide, slow rivers. On Saturdays and Sundays friends are now packing into each others' houses to watch football. In Jordan they are picking apples. In northeast Minneapolis they're dancing the polka. In St. Paul they are driving even slower, windows down, savouring their afternoon commute. And at schools and universities all across the state, new boys are falling for new girls and feeling that this is the year when they finally get things right.

Those are memories. In the uncertain present, I am here in Jonesland questioning my uncertain future. At night, I'm awoken by anxiety and loneliness. I lie in bed and listen to the silence, occasionally broken by my neighbour's wind chimes or a car accelerating toward Llantrisant. Sometimes I cry, but mostly I stare at the ceiling, afraid of what's coming: the Long Dark. Another winter.

Emotionally, last winter began exactly 365 days ago Thursday, when this happened, and carried on until early April. It was a terrible winter. Some nights I would think (and quietly hope) the pain was going to kill me, that I would collapse in on myself from all the hollowness inside. I didn't really notice until May it had gone away.

Now summer and its joys have left me too quickly. Autumn is here -- a beautiful season, but one leading to winter. And I am so afraid of another terrible winter I can't sleep. At times I feel sick.

In the autumn 14 years ago I travelled out to Brittany to visit my girlfriend at the time. She lived in a hundreds-of-years-old home with a family that enjoyed staring suspiciously at her visiting boyfriend. She had been provided with a smallish white-painted room with high ceilings and a large French window that looked out over a tree-lined pedestrian mall, where startlingly attractive French mothers would sit on park benches with immaculately well-dressed French children. Actually, they were probably startlingly attractive Welsh au pairs with immaculately well-dressed French children; I know of a number of pretty Welsh girls currently helping to rear another country's future citizens.

I was 20 years old at the time and therefore not given to expressing appreciation for things like French windows. I expressed appreciation for my girlfriend's breasts. That was the beauty that was relevant to me. But the windows somehow worked their way into my memory and I have long wished for a home of my own solely for the purpose of being able to install French windows similar to those in a house where a girlfriend once lived.

The doors were wooden framed and heavy with several years' coats of paint, so they were difficult to force shut. Once that was achieved, they were held closed by a simple cabin-hook latch. Within the windows' frame was a system of curtaining: thin white voile to allow in sun but help keep out insects and casual prying eyes; long curtains to block out the light; and heavy old drapes to be drawn across the windows against autumnal evening chill. In the winter, all three were deployed and thick-painted-white wooden shutter doors were closed over them, held tight by a falling crossbar latch.

I remember lying in bed with her in December -- the duvet pulled up to our chins -- and looking over at the shuttered windows, feeling safe and content to be barricaded in against the icy cold. That's what I wish I could do now. I want to batten heavy doors over each of my windows and defend myself against the approaching attritional British winter and all its misery. I don't want to feel it. I don't want to suffer it. I don't want to be alone and cold.

But perhaps this is not the soggy hill for my last stand. Perhaps, rather than digging in, I should be running. Off to a place where the winters are so much more vicious but there are friends to embrace and to laugh with, so the cold makes one feel alive. It's part of what keeps me up at night; I am paralysed with indecision. Meanwhile, the Long Dark lumbers forward. It is coming either way. It won't wait for me to make up my mind.

I am sure reading this sort of thing grows tiresome. Imagine how exhausting it is to live it.


Annie said...

never tiresome

heatherfeather said...

Never tiresome and, fear not, I understand large swaths of this possibly more than you may realize.

Chris Cope said...

It's good to know I haven't lost y'all yet. Gracias.

Annette Strauch said...

Dear Chris, at last a comment from one of your new readers and followers. Your blog posts make me realize that I am not the only one who feels a bit odd here. I terribly miss a decent autumn with dry and colourful leaves! I have been in Wales for a little bit over ten years now. I am from the middle of Germany originally. I will tell you my story as I go along reading your interesting and very good blog posts. I speak Welsh, too - learnt it like you did. Well, let me rephrase that. I can speak Welsh. No-one speaks it to me where I am. I live in Machynlleth where it is rather depressing. I enjoyed my life in Cardiff very much but had a fall, then things changed re. jobs and move and so on.
If you do not want to move back to Texas there are still other lovely spots in this world you could move to!
I am busy sending application forms but more soon.
Hwyl am y tro. We could dance the polka if I was in Cardiff. Tan toc, Annette ;-)

Annette Strauch said...

I think I understand how exhausting it is to live it....

Most people do not understand, I guess from my experience - neither in Wales or back where I came from.

Anonymous said...

God, Chris, that was an awesome post. As I can't speak or read Welsh, I'm ever so happy you carry on writing in english.
I'm with Annie & heatherfeather:it's not tiresome to read.