In September things begin to change. People become idle and reflective. The whole world takes on a more relaxed and contemplative view. In September, the fall begins. The weather begins to cool off, and life starts to carry on. In September the calm, cool breeze is master, blowing across the lake uncaring and unforbidden. This breeze is the coming of the fall and the return to real life after the long, hot, partied-out summer. This breeze is the breeze of school, and work, and responsibility. This breeze is the end of burned out summer romance and the start of something new blowing in from some blind horizon. This breeze is the tell-tale sign that another new year is getting ready to begin.
I have always loved the fall. For as long as I can remember I have looked forward to the coming of September and all of the great things that came with it: new people in school, a new grade to master, my birthday, and most importantly, the turning of the leaves. My friends and I used to go sit in the ravine near my house for hours and just lounge around in the natural beauty of it all and stare at the green as it slowly started giving way to yellow, orange, and red. Surrounded by this lush beauty we would speak of dreams and schemes and girls and worlds of our hungry imagination. We would lie back in the thick grass and tell each other of our problems, and of how we missed the carefree life of summer with nothing else to do except just be, but all the while we were secretly content to be back in school and to have something to do. One can only do nothing for so long before going completely off the wall.
We would sit down there smoking and laughing and watching the days grow shorter. Bryan would swear, Jackson would complain about his love life, Barry would spout off about his views of the world and how we were in an inevitable downward spiral, I would talk of summer conquests and regrets and the many more missed opportunities, Mack would tell tales about his work as a Junior Forest Ranger in the deep north woods and his recurring nightmare of black-flies and mosquitoes as big as your mama, and poor little Kevin would complain about he’d still never even kissed a girl. Not that he didn’t want to kiss one. Kevin’s biggest problem was basically that no one wanted to kiss him. Like, no one at all. Not one single girl through all of our first three years of high school. Kevin is a little bit strange, I guess, but I think if any girl actually took the time to get to know him that they would have to love him because he’s so great and innocent. Kevin has the true artist’s heart: untouched and broken all at the same time.
Bobby would come down to the clearing a little while later with his guitar and we would all serenade the changing leaves as Tony would tie his hair back in a ponytail and just sit quietly. A lot of people don’t think that Tony’s very bright because he doesn’t say much most of the time, but I tend to disagree. I just think that he doesn’t like to waste his words on trivialities. He’s got a lot on his mind. He always has and he always will, and I know that for a fact. Poor old tragic Tony.
When the sun would start to set, Stevey would always show up with a couple of the new girls – usually the best looking ones that the others of us would dare not approach – and he would bring beer with him to add to our smoke, and we would drink until we were done and then we’d sing some more. To use a very tired and old cliché, those really were the days.
After the darkness hit, Hank would come down and tell us whatever else was going on in the world, parties, gossip, things to do on the weekend, whatever. But let’s be serious, whatever other parties may have been happening, the real party was us and our little brotherhood in the ravine. Hank would inevitably join our little sing-along, our lament for the summer and our welcoming of the fall, and there we were, all my friends, happy and together and getting along. We were tight, like a clan, a tribe, and nothing could separate us. Until age came along and butted its stub-ugly nose into everything.
It all started with me and Stevey. His girlfriend was sick of the way that he would constantly put her second to everything else in his life (which if my math is any good would actually put her way below second), and she found her way into my arms for comfort and solace. Or maybe it was Stevey and Bobby who would fight over every single girl they ever met from that day we all started hanging out and ever on until long after we graduated. Or maybe it started with Bryan and Hank who could just never get along. Maybe it was Tony and Bobby who, although both were very close friends of mine since childhood, mixed about as well as fire and ice, cracked and melting and never finding common ground.
I think now that time just kind of screws things up for people, it changes things, and once things change, (this sounds so inanely stupid but sadly so true) they can never be the same. Whatever the reasons, our little tribe began to die. We were being picked off one by one by invisible snipers named Time and Change. Most of us stayed friends, or rebuilt the friendships we had let drift over some silly slight or another, but the whole tribal atmosphere of our little clan slowly peeled away and revealed the layers of individuality that inevitably came between us. Where once there was brotherly love there was now only friendly acquaintance; where there was once side-splitting laughter there were now only slyly shared smiles; where there were once tears shared willingly and without shame there was now only cold comfort and something that resembled judgement and pity more than sympathy and caring.
If our friendship was a great tree and we the leaves that were the symbol of life for this tree, then age was our autumn and it brought about a great fall. After high school we all went our separate ways. I think that was a good thing. The saying isn’t that absence makes the heart grow fungus, right? The first summer back we were tight again, minus a couple of exceptions like Tony who just couldn’t stand the simple sight of Bobby after a year of rooming with him at college. We would head on down into the vibrant green of the summer ravine and drink and tell each other of our adventures in life away from that sacred small spot of the earth where we’d all grown up, and we would actually laugh with each other, all prior trespasses and trials now forgotten and forgiven. We were no longer little boys clinging to each other for a sense of security and belonging. No, now we were men who had shared a large and monumentally important section of our lives together, who knew and respected each other like family. Maybe not brothers any longer, but still really close cousins.
That is the best thing about the fall. The fall is just part of the never-ending cycle of seasons, and everything always comes full circle. We may never be amongst each other for another fall again, but hey, that’s okay. We’ve shared our time, and we still have our love, and besides, one final trite expression here, but we all know that the leaves never fall too far from the tree.
DEDICATED TO MY OLDEST FRIENDS – CLANSMANSHIP HAS ITS PRIVILEGES
Since moving to our new place in May we relocated all of my old writing from a drawer in our closet to the shelves in my desk. There’s not a ton in there – ancient poems full of late 1980’s teenaged angst, aborted stories, abandoned manuscripts, some of the better essays I wrote in University, dusty old journal entries… Okay, so maybe there is a ton of stuff. But most of it deserves to be burned out of sheer embarrassment, of that I assure you. Some of it, though, some of it makes me smile. Some of it is actually kind of nice, and maybe even kind of good. And none of it is saved electronically anywhere and I think I’d like it to be so that I can for sure come back and look at it later.
This is the first of those things I’ve deemed worth saving, and hopefully worth reading. From the date on it, this is the first or second draft I wrote in Summer Session of my Freshman year, so if memory serves this was for a creative writing class maybe taught by that wonderful old lady with the most amazing long white braid always slung over her shoulder, Dr. Patton. She was great. I’m not going to repeat the comments she wrote on it or the grade she gave it because that’s between her, me, and history, and besides, I never write for marks anyhow so no matter what she gave me wouldn’t have made a difference because I write whatever I write and I can’t really help whatever comes out and I’m generally not shy about sharing it no matter what it is. Regardless, I’m sure you can figure out on your own that Dr. Patton was obviously encouraging or I wouldn’t be looking at it again here and that’s enough said about that.
Anyhow, the pages have “Draft” scribbled across the top, and it’s dated June 14, 1995, and was handed in as Essay #4. Maybe it wasn’t for Creative Writing after all because why would I write an essay for Creative Writing and not a story? Although this does read well as a pointless little story. The only major difference here is that I changed a few of the names from the paper draft for this version because, hey, it’s a draft and maybe the names I liked when I was twenty two don’t work as well for me now that I’m forty-two.
Or maybe I’m just trying to protect the innocent from their younger selves.