I’m what’s known as “sensitive”. Synonyms for this include compassion and/or empathy, but in the culture of my childhood, it was called being sensitive, as in the Eddie Murphy piss-take about Michael Jackson: “he’s jes so sensitive!”
As a child, I cried over everything. I cried when the denizens of Pooh Corner gave Eeyore a surprise birthday party (friends and followers of this blog will know of my long-standing love of Eeyore). I cried when Dorothy said good-bye to the Scarecrow. And despite a severe fear of spiders, I cried when Charlotte dies at the end Charlotte’s Web (yeah, I know Charlotte is a spider, but she doesn’t count). I can remember my mother discovering me lying across my bed, sobbing over the end of some book. She shook her head and said, sadly, “Lord, chile, you gone have a hard row to hoe in life unless you stop bein’ so sensitive.”
That could be why I’ve never liked fall – autumn, as it’s called in the UK. I have one happy memory of fall: playing the leaf game with my grandfather. When I was a child, my paternal grandparents lived across the street from my childhood home. They had a lovely brick house that was surrounded by a steel fence with a front porch and a sizeable back yard with a brick patio, a barbecue pit, and best of all, a swingset.
Front and back, the house was surrounded by tall trees. I have a love-hate relationship with trees. I like to watch them bloom in the spring, and I adore their green majesty in the summer, but come fall, when the leaves turn color and start to fall off, it saddens me. The sound they make underfoot always makes me think of dead things. It’s in October that the clocks turn back, reminding me that the cold, dark days of winter are about to swallow me.
It was Grandad’s job to rake up the leaves. So I’d be “visiting”, sitting on the front porch with a coloring book or listening to WJMO on the little transistor radio my godmother had given me while Grandad raked the leaves and we chatted of small, inconsequential things. And at some point, he’d always say, “I’m gonna go check on Dousha” (my grandmother’s nickname) and go in the house. Which was my signal to run around the yard like one possessed and scatter the neat piles of leaves he made, ready to be put into garbage bags. When he returned, I’d be innocently sitting on the porch, as if I hadn’t moved.
“Mmmm hmmm,” he’d say, surveying the leaves dotting the yard. “Reckon the wind kicked up a bit. Fall winds, that’s what it is.” And I would nod my agreement, and he would never notice the leaves that clung to my jeans, but smile and commence raking them all over again.
My garden in Dundee doesn’t have that problem, Which is good, cause I never liked raking leaves, a task I place on a par with cleaning the toilet. But I still hate fall. I particularly hate October. I have good reason to.
This October – today in fact – I really hate it, as today marks an anniversary I never wanted, the kind of anniversary I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Twenty-five years ago today, my first love killed himself. He wrapped a heavy-duty electrical extension cord around his neck and hung himself from a beam in the basement of his parent’s house. He was 32. I’m still grieving.
I can hear you now: “Why are you still grieving? You write all these wonderful poems about your current boyfriend – how can you still grieve?”
The operative words here are first love. Think about all the passion involved in that first love – the intensity of everything. Grieving for B takes nothing away from my current boyfriend, who I refer to as my lastlove. I’m 56 – J is literally my last love. He’s also my best, because he understands my grief; I’ve told him the whole story.
Grief has no timetable. And without going into specifics – cause the memory still hurts – my last conversation with B was not nice. Our relationship – which was on and off over 12 years – was complicated, though we loved each other dearly. And this was not his first attempt. Suffice it to say that a week after our final conversation, he was dead. So I grieve.
Twenty-five years have passed. I have lived 25 years longer than I planned to, because I must admit, when B died, I made two (thankfully!) unsuccessful attempts to follow him.
And now, I have another reason to hate October. Yesterday, I received the news that the husband of one of my closest friends from my days at uni had died. And though I have emailed her and spoken to her, there is nothing I can do to help her in her grief. I long to hold her, and stroke her beautiful hair, but an ocean and lack of money makes this impossible. I’ve not even had the money to go home to see my mother in eight years, and I certainly don’t have the money – having been made redundant twice in five years! – that would allow me to fly home now.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. In the midst of life we are in death….blah blah blah. My friend is strong, and she has many people to love and support her in this difficult time. So I have faith that she will go on.
As I do.