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Not dark yet
What is the pang that autumn brings?
© 2007 Mike D used under a Creative Commons license
I was downtown early on a recent weekday morning, among the sparse commuter ranks. The weather had turned toward autumn, not hard but decisively. Jackets were thicker and buttoned, skirts lengthened; here and there were sweaters and long coats. I didn’t think much about it till I spotted a young woman in a black dress that came almost to her knees but left her arms bare, of thin, tight-fitting material, more suitable to summer or at least spring. She wore medium-heeled shoes and no hat, walked briskly but did not seem chilly. She struck me as very out of place, as if time had torn and she’d stepped through from still-warm September. I watched her walk until she turned a corner and vanished. Now we were all of us dressed for the weather.
It gave me a feeling that I’ve had every autumn that I can remember. But I couldn’t put a name to it. I never could. I stood still a moment on that sidewalk in the bright, cool sun and nurtured the poignance and thought about what it might be.
Was it just annoyance that I couldn’t scope women’s bodies on the street for a few months? Partly, I have to admit. But it’s not as if I couldn't find a way to see them if I wanted to. I could go to a dance recital, for example; I could even sit down and relax as I watched, and have drinks at intermission.
What else, then? Something to do with mortality? That seems obvious.
Well, I’m getting on, I am, but I’m not at the stage where every fallen leaf’s a momento mori. My heart doesn’t sag and creak when the stores turn their air conditioners off. I do mind the shortening days, culminating in the blunt insult of Daylight Unsaving Time when the world is plunged into darkness. But you can see the end of that — you never give up hope for spring. It’s like when you’re stuck at a shelterless bus stop in the cold rain without an umbrella; you hunch your shoulders and shiver but your mind is increasingly on that damned bus that better hurry up and get here.
Maybe that changes, though, when you get far enough along. Maybe it’s changing for me without my being aware of it.
Maybe the day is coming when I’ll wait in the rain for the bus and I won’t be thinking of the bus — I’ll just be thinking of the cold and the rain and how maybe death is like that, cold and damp. Maybe when the air conditioner shuts down the sudden silence will feel like my own heart stopping.
I try to imagine a future day when the coats and covering come out and I actually do worry that I’ve seen my last summer. I can’t quite put myself there. What must that be like?
Is it like what those guys feel who are mad all the time about trans children and Drag Queen Story Hour — that the world is changing in ways they can’t accept but though they fume and foam they know there’s nothing they can do to stop it? But I don’t care about what the world will be when I’m no longer in it. So long, suckers! I don’t care what it will think of me, either. (It’s not like there’ll be a statue of me in the park for people to tear down when they realize what a shit I really was.) In fact I think it would be a great relief to be past caring what anyone thinks of me. All those years I wasted shaving and putting on deodorant! Covering my mouth when I yawned! And for what!
I can’t see the end yet, or even the beginning of the end. Maybe I’ll see it in some doctor’s office, or a prison cell, or a car stalled at a railroad crossing and flooded with light. Maybe it will come from around the same corner the girl in the black dress disappeared behind. In a manner of speaking. Maybe all I’ll ever know of it until it finally arrives is the little poignance that I cradled and shielded like a weak flame that day on the sidewalk, that fascinates me because I don’t yet know enough to fear it, maybe, or because it’s a piece of the great mystery that we all wait to see revealed.
Whatever. I’m in no hurry.