Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All Fall Down

As I stepped through the doors of La Guardia and into the New York air last night, I detected the change instantly - it was fall.  When I left for California, it had still been the tail-end of summer.  But even through the exhaust of a thousand cabs and the smog of low-flying planes, the shift was unmistakable.  The air had changed, bringing with it my favorite season.  September has always felt like the harbinger of new beginnings to me far more than January, or even late March, the very beginning of spring here in New England.  If I made New Year’s resolutions, I would make them now, not in the middle of a seemingly endless winter that stretches ahead of January 1st for at least another three months.  Though autumn has always brought with it a fresh school year (well, until I graduated from college, that is), beginning in 2007, it has also been the time of heartbreak, sadness, and despair.  Why it’s still my favorite season is a question that deserves an answer: because, for as many times as fall has been the season of things that knocked me down, it has also been the season during which I inevitably get back up.

In the autumn of my sophomore year of college, my first serious relationship went up in flames.  It was a long, drawn-out, messy affair, the pain of which I refuse to trivialize, despite the temptation to dismiss it as the inevitability of first love and all that crap.  I was with a person with whom I believed I wanted to spend the rest of my life.  She felt the same way.  Until, one day, I realized with gut-wrenching finality that I didn’t love her anymore.  So, it ended, and it was awful, and it was sad, and then it got darker and more twisted as we got back together and fell apart again.  We stomped over each other’s hearts, both of us too scared of life without the other to realize we were killing what we were so desperate to save.  Winter turned to spring and spring to summer, and it seemed that things were better, that they were okay.

In the autumn of my junior year, I fell hard, headlong, and dangerously quickly into rapidly cycling mania and depression.  Frantically, I tried to dig my way up and out of the hole I was in, only to feel like the more frenetic my pace grew, the sicker and sicker I became.  Eventually, I collapsed, hollow-eyed and utterly hopeless into a bed behind the locked windows of the local hospital’s psychiatric ward.  Slowly, ever so slowly, I picked myself up and dusted myself off.  I had help, or it never would have happened.  Doctors who listened, nurses who gave me extra socks, mental health aides who woke me gently from my nightmares, fellow patients who knew without the need for words what an awful, overwhelming, and terrifying task it was to simply exist some days.  My friends and family stood by my side, until, finally, the day came when I walked through the doors of the hospital and cried as I breathed fresh air.  Three weeks later, my fragile world crashed in on itself once more when the doomed relationship from the previous fall ended again, this time for good.  Sickness like mine was too much for her to handle and she made her exit with haste.  Barely, I’m still not sure how, I hung on.  I went to therapy.  I cried.  I needed my mom.  I cried some more.  I went to class.  I clung to Tucker.  I cried.  I took my medication.  I watched mindless television, huddled under mountains of blankets.  Eventually, I cried the last of the tears that she could ever possibly deserve, and I got on with my life.  Winter turned to spring and spring to summer, and light shone through the clouds because then, I met Alix.

In the autumn of my senior year, an ugly drama arose in my idyllic Smith world that threatened to ruin my senior year.  It didn’t, thankfully, and I escaped as often as I could to the haven of Alix’s New York apartment.  I hated that something so petty and ugly could take from me the cautious hopes I’d had for a better fall than the previous two, but again, eventually, winter came, then spring, and finally, graduation.

Last fall, Alix and I were weathering a terrifying health scare (for her) that left us both shaken and all too aware of life's fragility.  The word "tumor" that rested so innocently on the printed page of a biopsy report was the same that crashed unceremoniously and unwelcomed into our young, young lives.  The tiny mass was removed with surgery and classified as benign after toxicology testing; a freak development that will almost definitely never return, thanks to the thorough removal performed by Alix's surgeon.  The first night she was home post-surgery, I was frozen, numbed by exhaustion and fear.  I sat at our kitchen table in the gleam of a weak bulb, listening to her breathe, and I finally broke down and cried.  It hit me all at once that I could have lost the person I love most in the world.  Granted, the mass was small and completely benign.  But the fear was real, alive, and pulsing that night and for many nights afterward until it gradually subsided.

And this year?  This year, this fall, I’m alone.  In some ways, it’s the hardest yet.  In other ways, it’s the year when I look back at all the pain of years past and I am damn grateful to be where I am now.  There are days when I can see that where I am now, right here, is exactly where I am supposed to be.  There’s a quote by George Santayana that I love:
The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns.

 There are days when I feel like I’m running barefoot over those thorns, trying to get to the light shining through.  But I won’t stop running, this I know.  Those glints of beauty, love, and laughter are worth every sad autumn it took to get me to today.


Noelle said...

Real life can be awfully severe sometimes. Keep moving forward, and hold onto the good stuff!

Fake Name said...

from a fellow bp chick--I'm so glad you share. It's so good to read stories that read almost identically to mine.

All we can do is keep going. When we fall, stand back up again...

Anonymous said...

Just wondering... I found you from nanny diaries... Where is alix? Are y'all together? Is she coming back? Hope this is ok to ask?

Cait said...

Thanks, Noelle and FN. Writing it out seems to help and it's even better if it helps someone else too.

Anon - it's totally okay to ask. Alix and I are definitely still together, she's away for a few months dealing with some health problems of her own. Here's hoping she'll be home sooner rather than later!

Fake Name said...

I was wondering about Alix. Hoping she's home soon with you!