Do you feel it? That little chill in the air? In between the hot sun and the quick rain showers? You know what that is? That, my friends, is FALL!
Fall is my very favorite season. As much as I love swimming in the summer and snowstorms in the winter, it’s fall that I love the most. I love the falling leaves and the corn stalks and the pumpkins. I love harvest colors and hot soup and mashed potatoes. I love warm cider and sweaters and campfires. And even though it breaks my heart into a million tiny pieces to have to give up sandals, I still love fall. Actually, who am I kidding? I wear sandals until my toes turn blue. And then I’ll throw on my rainbow toe-socks and my Birkenstocks and my family will all distance themselves from me in public and then I’ll sing Friend of the Devil at full volume so they stay away for a while longer and give me a few minutes of peace. Hee. Except the girl, that is. She doesn’t give a shit if her mom looks like a deranged blind woman who got dressed while drunk and apparently poked out her eardrums in the process, what with the embarrassingly loud and off-key singing. Nope, she just cares that I am soft (which I am) and have snacks (which I do). So we’ll hold hands, wear matching rainbow toe socks and we’ll go jump in the leaves. Because I Love Fall!
Fall is a nostalgic time for me, and though it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, it also brings on some sort of sad feelings as well. Actually, I don’t know if they’re sad exactly. More like bittersweet. Fall makes me feel young and makes me feel old. Mostly, Fall takes me back to college. Not the semester after I screwed up, when I lived at home. Not the following years, living in the city and working and finishing up. Don’t get me wrong, there were great things about those times, but I am talking about College. When you leave home for the first time and live in a dorm and have real honest-to-goodness ivy covered walls and you feel like a grown up. That college. I went to a very small, private college in an Amish town. It was heaven, except for when it was hell. The hell part is where the bittersweet part comes in.
I was always the really smart and fun-loving, well-liked but never quite in the “in-crowd” types. I expected to breeze through college the way I did high school. And I would have, too, if it hadn’t been for the freedom. After years of being entirely controlled by my mother, the damned freedom got me. The staying out and partying and eating whatever the hell I want without looking over my shoulder got the better of me. I was having the time of my life, but I had no idea where to draw the line. All my life so far, I had lived under her thumb. I never really had much choice in what I ate, or wore, or where I went and with whom. I had an early curfew and little trust, although unwarranted. And suddenly, I was On My Own. Oh Yeah.
At first, I was a typical college freshman. I missed some early classes and went to parties and drank too much and acted stupid. Just like everyone else. But in time, the parties and the fun became the primary activity and the actual schooling secondary. I think the shit really started to hit the fan when I took a class on Victorian Literature, or The Most Boring Class in the Entire World, Ever. It was at 2:30 in the afternoon, in Old Main. And too often, as I would be walking across the quad, I’d see my fairy godfather in the distance, who would spot me and yell, “Hey Gina! Let’s go drink a bottle of Black Velvet!” And off I would go. There was the campus weed dealer who had the market cornered on freshman girls. He would always have it at the parties. He would never smoke any himself, but he was very generous with the freshman girls. The whole first couple of months of school, it was always there, always free. Then, when those girls started seeking it out, he started charging. He must have made a mint that way. He was a great salesman, really.
So the partying started to take the front seat, but I still managed. Then, my sophomore year, things went downhill even faster. My two good friends, who partied with me but also kept me a bit reined in, both graduated. I had joined a sorority, and even though I loved those girls, I never quite felt like I fit in. I always felt like I was on the outside. My really good friend from freshman year ended up in a different sorority and suddenly she was better than me. Another good friend dropped out. So there I was, a loner. An overprotected child who never quite lived up to her mother’s standards. A sad girl who felt entirely alone in the world. A lost soul who wanted to feel accepted and loved but never did. I know, everyone feels that way. But still, it dominated me. An injury had me on a break from the swim team, and when I went back, I felt like an outcast. So I quit. I quit the majorettes. I quit life.
I looked for love in every guy who looked my way. I drank, I got high, I escaped. I made some new friends and made excess my middle name. I had a ton of fun, but when I think back on it, I feel as much sadness as happiness. I thought I was finding myself, but it turned out I was losing myself.
I can’t help to catch myself occasionally wondering “what if…” What if I had just kept it under control? What if I had been stronger? What if I had met the right person instead of all of the wrong ones? Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. I love my husband and kids and if things had been different, I wouldn’t have them right now. But the “what ifs” still plague me. I wonder what people really thought of me. Probably not much. I was the class clown. The fun-lover. The party girl. But I wasn’t the girl you took to the formal. Or home to meet mom. I was the one you could count on to drop everything and make a beer run. I was the one who was always up for just one more. I was the one you could tell little lies to and would pretend to believe them, just because it felt good. At least in that moment.
And still, somehow, I love Fall. It’s a new beginning – new chance. It’s canoeing on the lake and outdoor parties and walks in the woods and shooting cows with Nerf darts. It’s Wish You Were Here and dorm fridges and care packages. It’s rainbow vanilla at the ice cream parlor and undercooked pepperoni rolls. It’s sweetness and romance and lying on a blanket watching clouds. It’s the crunch of leaves and the sound of a marching band. It’s brand new notebooks and pencils. It’s flannel shirts, it’s toasted marshmallows. It’s the past. It’s the future. It’s ivory silk and burgundy velvet. It’s bringing them home for the first time. It’s the first day of school and hayrides and little boy smiles. It’s fairies and goblins. It’s football and hot chocolate and little girl giggles. It’s swinging in a hammock with your son and daughter, wondering why you ever thought “what if…”
I love Fall.