The artificial pumpkin syrup twirls like a cyclone in my coffee. It settles unevenly, giving it the look of the yellowing leaves of the hostas outside the library. As I sip my brew, a vaguely spicy sweetness rests on my tongue. Corn syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger: Café Mac’s simulacrum for the gourds that stand out in lonesome fields, braving the frost. I, too, will soon brave frost, snow, sleet, nose-hair-freezing cold—numbed hands clenching my copy of The Norton Psychology Reader with the cover torn off.
I think it was a week ago, when I trudged home from the library in the dead of night in sleet. That same day I received an email from Wayne, the RHD for Doty/Turck, telling me that as it gets colder, I need to be sure to close my dorm window unless I want to pay to fix frozen pipes. “Don’t worry, man,” my roommate said only hours before the sleet, “It’s not going to freeze for a while.” That was also the first night of the season where I could see my own breath—wisps of white floating into the night sky. I could feel part of my soul, the part that wants to lie in the grass, the part that loves to hear stones plop into water on sunny days, go south for the winter.
On Monday, November 2nd it was sunny, warm and pleasant. As my slowly chapping skin soaked in the sun, my mind was in agony. How many November 2nds had I experienced where there was frost caked in the grass and ice glazed on the street? What have we done to deserve a reprieve today from winter’s slow advance? In fall we live our lives ignorant of what tomorrow directly holds while fully aware that things will be getting progressively worse. Even on nice days, it never fails to get darker earlier than the day before. When a relentlessly hot summer sticks around, every day is like waiting on death row.
“The trees aren’t dying, they’re going to sleep,” people always say to me in an effort to sway me when I voice my misgivings about fall. Yes, I know they’ll come back (saying nothing of the annuals who are dying a horrid, frigid death in a foreign land). But in what kind of sleep does one lose their eyeballs, skin, hair fingers—leaving you standing there, a skeleton, immobilized. Suppose for a second that this year, the trees won’t come back. Spring comes around and the trees don’t return. Rotting pillars in the quad. I know it’s silly, but it could happen. We let the whole living world around us slip away, trusting that they will return.
In this way, fall is chiefly a season of uncertainty, though nobody will ever admit it. Our anxiety over the weather’s inconsistent plummet is cloaked through Halloween, Thanksgiving and photos of falling leaves on social media. But winter winds can penetrate through the façade. Gulping down that last Snickers bar left over from the party, caramel stuck in the crevices of your teeth. Shoes sliding on wet, slippery, ran-over leaves. If you turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in a couple of weeks, you’ll find a pop star you’ve never heard of next to TV characters from a show you’ve never seen talking about how a product you don’t care about is “making the world a better place.” People romanticize fall to hide the truth of how miserable we are. Hot in a coat, cold in a sweater. No snow yet to hide the miles of mud submerging strands of withering grass. That, or because they’re trying to sell you something pumpkin-flavored.