I’ve always loved fall. Some of my reasons are more typical ones: I love the vibrant colors of the leaves, the smell of burning leaves, the cool days where I can wear a sweater and not be too hot or too cold, the abundance of root-vegetable inspired dishes. I love the way the nutmeg and cinnamon-scented candles I use to replace the flowery smells of summer fill my living room, and the way the smoky aroma of grilled meat at football tailgates lingers in the air.
Plus, I am huge dork. Fall has always been synonymous with “Back to School,” and for dorks like me, this is a big event. When I was little, I would start planning my back to school shopping in July—not the clothes, mind you, because I wore a uniform from first grade through high school. No, much to my brothers’ horror, I was focused on such weighty issues as Trapper Keeper versus regular folders, erasable pen versus regular pens, and whether I wanted standard or college-rule lined paper.
And summer reading? I’d have finished it all within the first couple of weeks of summer and would count on the diligent notes I’d taken to refresh my memory in late August.
Obviously the older I got the less critical things like Trapper Keepers and erasable pens became, but fall (and September in particular) continue to have meaning for me, and my reasons for this are less typical.
For starters, the simple act of breathing is easier. True, my temperamental lungs never handle the change in seasons too well, but once we’re firmly entrenched in fall weather and I can say goodbye to the humidity that suffocates me, I am happy. I don’t mind the infections as much if in between them I can actually inhale and exhale without feeling like I will never get enough soupy air.
But beyond pragmatic changes like the weather and going back to school, for as long as I can remember fall has also been synonymous with this thought: “Maybe this year will be my year.” The clean slate I’ve been waiting for, the fresh start every student gets, the year no major calamities occur.
When I was little, “my year” would have looked something like this: No surgeries to accompany almost every holiday and long weekend. No weeks’ long absences. No streams of blood gushing from my ears, ruining my pillowcases and making me hesitant to sleepover friends’ houses. No missing birthday parties and ballet recitals and skating shows because I was too sick. No broken bones and casts with classmates’ signatures, no missing the bus because I needed another nebulizer treatment. No sitting on the sidelines at Field Day every May, watching everyone else run and compete.
In college, “my year” would have looked something like this: No missing weeks of classes each semester due to hospitalizations. No needing my friends to take me to the hospital or visit me during my longer stays. No needing to ask to borrow notes or make up more essays, no needing to conference call the campus newspaper from my hospital bed, oxygen mask and all. No needing to worry my parents with late night calls from the ICU, no getting worse and worse despite the more medication I took. No more feeling like all I did was put my life on hold for illness, and no more feeling like however much I gave up for illness, it would never be enough to make me feel better.
It was a vicious cycle of disappointment I set up for myself. Obviously I never got a year like that, and the more I wished for one and counted on that fresh, clean slate to feel normal, the harder it was when it never happened.
I still get excited for September, and I still get anxious to go back to school. I enjoy my writing students and their work, and I like the structure and routine of semesters. But I no longer count on each September to herald in “my year” and I am much happier because of that.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not that I have become resigned to crises and medical issues, or that I have given up hope that an uncomplicated medical life exists somewhere out there, and I am happy to say that the crises aren’t as pronounced as they used to be. But I’ve stopped setting up expectations that are counterproductive. It’s not about starting over each September with a clean slate or getting back to normal (whatever that normal is); it is about accepting that where I am, disruptions and all, is what is important.