Falling Back

By Charlotte Hollingsworth

It’s a funny sort of irony that the kickoff of my very favorite time of year is marked by anniversaries of the worst times of my life.

Since childhood, fall has always had a more rejuvenating feel to it than spring for me. The beginning of the school year, that ultimate symbol of a fresh start for a perpetual new kid, still seems to hold weight years after I stopped attending school. My birthday in November also holds weight on to fall as a beginning and not an end. The demise of my engagement one year ago and the end of my father’s life eight years before that both took place in the first week of September, leaving this time of personal renewal scarred by abrupt and traumatic ends.

In some ways the death of my relationship feels like a continuation of that older hurt, there is a logic to their shared timing. My former partner, through bad luck and bad planning, turned out to be more like my father than I ever thought I’d allow in. Our relationship was marked by casual neglect, selfishness (on both sides), distance, and a slow steady destruction of my self-esteem. My relationship with my father, for its inconsistent place in my life, affected me the same way. Being ignored and convinced I deserved it was a hallmark of both. My father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, with borderline personality disorder, he was a drug addict, he was a neglected child. My ex was simply not capable of the attention and affection I deeply needed, and couldn’t help that I was using this very thing as a way to fitfully exorcise my own demons. If I could make this immature, negligent, withholding man love me; or better yet, if I could simply be happy with someone who ignored me for video games, denied me affection, withheld compliments or shows of pride, then clearly I had no issues with my father. Turns out I couldn’t, and I do.

I love autumn. I love the falling away of what has aged, what has had its time. The coming indoors of the world, cozy nights and intimate gatherings take the place of the large spread out events of summer. There is a shaking off of expectation, a freedom to fold back inside of yourself like a flower after sunset.

I am a late season fruit. I reach my prime as the world cools down and prepares its wintery cocoon. And now, I must also fight through an emotional forest fire to reach that autumnal ripening. It’s sick, really, that as I prepare to settle in and rest I am turned upside down and shaken violently by my own brain.

Obviously I had no control over the timing of my father’s death. He chose that for me. But any armchair psychiatrist could tie together why the final impulse that got me out of the door of my relationship happened mere days before the anniversary of my father’s end. Without considering it, some part of me wanted to face my season alone and free of the baggage that had defined so many of my entanglements. I wanted everything that made me feel so utterly unloved to die at once. Dad was already dead, perfect timing to kill my engagement. Besides, if you’re going to be a tear soaked mess of limbs about more than one thing, may as well heap them all up on top of each other to create an impossible mountain of suffocating loneliness under which to bury yourself in hopes of some butterfly-like reemergence, am I right?

I can’t blame my ex. It’s not his fault, not really. He wasn’t in a place emotionally to be giving, and I will never be in a place to be so detached. I tried so hard to help him, I lost all sense of myself and got so far away from who I was, and I blamed him for it. It was a sickening mess. Looking back, it’s clear to me how deeply rooted in my issues with my dad that whole relationship was. I can’t possibly blame him for that, though I can hope that he learned as much as I did about how to exist as a pair. Everyone is a bit broken, and we were broken in ways that fed in to each other instead of mending the gaps. Hindsight, etc.

So here I am, facing the next few days in what feels like the healthiest state I have ever been in. Still, I took the day off work and a have a few friends on hand in case it all overwhelms me. I don’t know what I am actually going to do on the day, the death of my father still being the heavier of the two anniversaries. I’ve been feeling ok, but adding in the memories of what was happening a year ago is making me blue. A lot has happened since then. And I’ve got a lot to mourn.

But that’s what fall is. It’s death, it’s an end, it’s a closing up. All in the name of making room for what is coming next, for taking time to let go of what was built before. Always we are sure to keep hold of the things we like, pressed in books and framed on walls, but the rest falls to the ground and is swept away to repeat the building after we rest and reflect. Last fall I took a more literal step to this end, writing the end to a five-year love story and closing the door on the person who had taken me over. This year I get to analyze what grew out of that death. And with that I can’t help but also analyze the person that came out of that older, darker death. In the year since I left my fiancé, I’ve grown in uncountable ways. So to try and break apart how much I have grown since my dad decided to end his story, that is the important work that lays ahead of me. But it’s time to shake off those useless dead leaves, let my branches breathe on their own, and get ready to great the newness of spring.

It can be very hard to stay positive at a time of year where I am reminded of the inevitability of all things ending. But that’s another thing I love about autumn, staying indoors is completely acceptable. Being introspective, taking long solitary walks under decaying foliage, embracing a modicum of the macabre, that’s part and parcel of the whole autumnal mood. When I get through this time every year, I am rewarded with hot apple cider and cable knit sweaters and all the things that bring me the most joy. So I’ll get through it. I always do.