I am dreaming of a fall that will never arrive, at least not here in Texas. Of all the things that I gave up to move to this land of forever summer, I think autumn, at least my ideal of autumn, is the one I miss the most (excluding people, of course. I love you, readers!). It’s cliche, I know, but fall is my favorite season in Chicago and Michigan, and I imagine most Midwesterners, natives and transplants, feel the same way. The season is addictive in the best way, a series of delicious contrasts. There’s the air, rich with the smell of leaves and earth and alternately warmed by the sun and chilled by its absence. Then there’s the light itself, rich and golden in the mornings, pale in the evenings as it casts long shadows in anticipation of night. The food is, of course, fabulous—apples and squashes and pears and a good excuse to turn on the oven and bake. All of this adds up to a feeling of fall that is cozy and refreshing, delightful and heartbreaking all in one fell swoop. It’s hard not to be in love with fall.
Interestingly, until Matt came along, my romances always started in the summer. With him, we’d been building the fire, so to speak, for a while, but sparks flew one October that I’ll always remember fondly for a weekend that felt magical and so right to me. Like a Midwestern fall, I was a jumble of contrasts. I felt nervous and safe, happy and scared, confident and anxious. I wanted to hold him tight, even as I knew I had to let him go. When I think about that weekend now, I wish that I could transport myself back in time and tell my 26-year-old self, “Everything is going to be okay. And I mean everything—not just things with Matt. Everything. Keep enjoying your everyday life, even when you are anxious or scared or mad as hell. Keep cooking. Keep eating. In the end, the life we live every day is our life. Oh, and buy yourself some smoked paprika. You’re going to fall in love with that stuff!”
It’s been a long summer, harder than I thought it would be. There have been moments of crisis at work, a summer spent not writing any grants because my data just didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped and planned. I feel much less secure in my job than I did in May, which is alternately scary and liberating. Mentally, emotionally, and financially, I’ve been taking stock in the event that I do not stay in this position for much longer. Now, I’m not giving up—oh no. I’m much too stubborn for that, much too hopeful even in the face of failure. And I love the people with whom I work, the ones who make me laugh and offer advice and whose faces are the bright spots in my workdays. But my sense of security has been shaken, and I remain vigilant about the unknown-ness of the future.
There are, however, other things about which I feel increasingly certain. For example, I am confident, absolutely confident, that whatever happens with my job, things will work out for me. I will make it work. I feel more secure in my relationships with Matt, my friends, and my family. I feel more sure of myself in the kitchen, as though my cooking intuition is blossoming and guiding me every day. These certainties feel like gifts, like they are the ground on which I stand and the force that steadies me as I try to regain my footing in this new phase of my life.
It’s time for me to go home and see my family again, to remind them that even though I live very far away, I have not abandoned them. I am to my family what Matt is to me: the loved one who is set free and always returns. I haven’t seen the family since December, since those days when I slept under the blue lights and outside there was snow on the ground. We’ll be celebrating my niece’s birthday, and I’m even scheduled for a night of baby-sitting before I leave! This weekend I get to purchase a birthday present and new wrapping paper and begin making my preparations for a week spent out of town. I can’t wait.
And when I return, the calendar will tell us that autumn has begun, but it will still feel like summer in Texas. But maybe, just maybe, with enough apples and roasted squash and woodsmoke drifting on the evening breeze, I’ll be able to convince myself that another fall spent in Texas won’t be so bad. At the very least, I will look forward to a visit with my favorite dining companion in October.