I know many people love Fall: the cool, crisp air, the leaves as they change, the smoky smell of them burning, or of marshmallows roasting over fire pits, football and tailgating, playoff baseball...
I love those things, too. But this time of year always brings with it the bittersweet taste of tears for me. It was 29 years ago, and the Cardinals were playing Milwaukee (then an American League team) in the World Series. They won Game 7 on Wednesday, October 20, 1982 - I remember the evening well. I was home with my Dad, typing a paper on Euclid for my Geometry class and watching the game. (Mom was out of town for work -- ironically, in Milwaukee.) We were elated with the win. Later that night, though, would come a terrible loss. I wrote a poem about it some months later for my English class. If you'll indulge me, I think I'll let the 14 year old me tell the story:
Death of a Dream
Death is cruel and unrelenting;
Its hand reaches all ends of the earth.
It lurks around every corner,
Present from the time of our birth.
Its victims are not those who it claims,
For the pain ends for them once they die.
It stays, though, forever with those of us
Who find it so hard to say goodbye.
I, too, have known this awful pain.
I've felt it three times this past year.
First Grandpa, then Rich, then my cat.
Rich's story I'll tell with a tear:
He was my dear sister's boyfriend.
I know he meant everything to her.
And though I met him just a few times,
He was right for her, I was sure.
He was warm, and cute, and funny.
Her love for him was strong and true.
And I saw her happiness mount
As their love for each other grew.
The Cardinals won the World Series
On that horrible night that he died.
When I found out about it the next day,
I just ran to my friend's house and cried.
I remember finding out on a Thursday.
We'd had a sock-hop at school after a game.
I got home and knew something was wrong
When I heard my Mom call my name.
She'd been out of town on business,
And was, I thought, in Milwaukee that day.
When I saw her my heart leapt in fear
As I noted her state of dismay.
I asked what was wrong and she told me.
Her voice cracked and a tear shone in her eye.
And all I could do for a long time
Was ask, "Why, oh why, did he die?"
His death had shattered a dream,
A dream that could never be mended.
It was killed along with him in that car
When his precious life was ended.
And so, death claimed my dear sister's boyfriend,
And with him a part of her, too.
Yes death is cruel and unrelenting.
This fact I now know to be true.
That experience was, without question, a watershed for me. I've often wondered why it affected me as profoundly as it did. I suspect it was the fact that the loss came so suddenly and without warning. That's a harsh lesson to learn at that age -- maybe at any age. And knowing -- feeling -- the pain it caused my sister. It was a soul crushing thing, and, in truth, it affected my whole family -- my grandmother, my parents, my siblings. After, we were simply...different. Wounded, saddened, but closer and stronger in some ways -- like a tree that has survived a damaging blow and found a way to grow over and around it.
Though it did heal over time, that wound that has never been forgotten, and each year, as Summer says goodbye and October approaches, I feel a certain sense of foreboding. Is that simply superstition? I'm not sure. Logical or no, October since then has always been about love and loss to me. It was in October, a couple years later, that I met a boy to whom I would forever lose my heart, and about whom, there would always be a sense of missed opportunities and might-have-beens. It was in October, several years after that, that I began dating my (now ex) husband. (And for all the good that came of that -- most notably, the amazingly wonderful Riley -- there later came the undeniable loss of divorce.) It was in October that we lost his dear sister when she was far too young to leave us. It was in October, a year ago, that I encountered yet another loss -- one which, in retrospect, ought not to have seemed quite so devastating, but given its suddenness and circumstances, nevertheless knocked me utterly flat.
So, here we are once again in October. The Cardinals are in the World Series, and there is much for which to be thankful -- even joyful. But it is, indeed, bittersweet. I have several friends who've recently lost loved ones, and others with loved ones who are gravely ill. And there's a chill in the air that I can't quite chase away. For all the beauty this time of year can hold, to me, October will always be a reminder of love and lives lost.