(NOTE: This is a synchronicity essay. Please play the above track as you begin; I know how fast you read.)
It’s late on a Sunday night. I just watched the Boston Red Sox win Game 4 of the World Series, as well as the Green Bay Packers dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings. I have to be up for work in a few hours, but I’m unconcerned.
It’s been a good month. October is the only month of the year I even consider viewing in a pleasant light, and the week before Halloween fills me with an unshakable optimism and youthful exuberance. There’s a feeling to a Wisconsin Autumn that’s impossible to describe. For years I thought that it had to do with the nostalgia of youth, but I recall that I had this same feeling when I was a youth. Can one feel nostalgia for moments as they’re happening? Not sure, but I’m certain that October alone makes living in the Midwest worth it for the remaining 11 months of snow, humidity and hardship.
If you asked me to remember my childhood in a one-second snapshot, it would be of me in about 1986, laying in a pile of leaves on my family’s large lawn, staring straight into the sky and thinking about how far up it went. I remember that I was nearly exhausted from an afternoon of running around; the sun was slowly starting to set in the distance, bathing the neighborhood with a rosy, purplish hue. I stared up for almost an hour, being as existential as one could be prior to joining Kindergarten. Most of all, I remember feeling as happy and content as I’ve ever been.
I get to hand out candy on Thursday. If I had to list the Top 3 reasons to own a home, it would be for this privilege alone. I won’t wear a costume. I probably won’t even leave the house. But I’m still embracing and respecting the holiday as much as I ever have. Autumn makes me think of family. Rebirth. Sleeping with the windows open a few more times before the frost rolls in. Cinnamon everything. Gourds-a-plenty. A Wisconsinite’s last chance to feel connected with the rest of the world before Winter shuts us completely down until February. A chance to wear the gayest sweaters I own, free of ridicule.
Celia and I experienced a near-perfect Wisconsin October this year. We went to a corn maze. We slingshotted gourds into a lake. We bought several pounds of cheese, pumpkin-scented candles and decorations for the porch. My home is clean and smells amazing. I feel younger than usual. I’ve magically lost three pounds yet strut around like it was 15. I listen to seasonally-relevant, depressing music from my youth, but it only makes me happier. Even though Winter will be here in a snap, even though it will be a chore to so much as reach the mailbox in 30 days time, I’m again unconcerned. That’s tomorrow’s problem.
I kissed Celia goodnight about an hour ago. On my way back downstairs, I made a point to notice all the things in my house that I typically take for granted. I looked at the artwork, pet the cat, straightened out a rug, took a deep breath of the (again) pumpkin-scented first floor, pet another cat, watched two raccoons eat birdseed out of my feeders on the deck, fixed myself a drink and fell onto the couch. I’m proud of the life that I’ve built with my wife, and this time of year forces me to take inventory and (perhaps begrudgingly) let optimism in. Not for what the future holds, but for simply how I feel in this very moment. I feel relaxed. Refreshed.
As usual, money will probably be tight as we head into the holidays. I deserve a raise at work, but it will take me at least three months to work up the nerve to ask for one, a request which will immediately be denied without further discussion. I have projects that will reach a fever pitch as 2014 rolls around, but for now, it’s not a problem. None of this is. Deadlines, stress and drama are in a vacuum until the first of November. I don’t make the rules, I merely exist by them.
My closest friends drop by all the time. We have nothing new to talk about, so we watch television and drink. Last weekend, I got to spend time with friends I’ve known since elementary school. We acted like idiots; like no time had passed, like we hadn’t all become husbands, fathers or both. Everyone made it home safely, but it was touch-and-go towards closing time. We sent someone into a massage parlor with a box of Twinkies and a $20 bill. That kind of idiocy. I laughed so hard that my head hurt for the next two days. I took pictures and didn’t take it for granted. When Winter arrives, the state shuts down and plans need to be rescheduled for March of next year. We all innately know this, even if we don’t mention it.
Celia turns 30 next month. I met her when she was 15. This is a fact more difficult for me to grasp than String Theory. For half of her life, and for nearly half of mine, she has loved and accepted me. We’ve evolved and more than made it work. For 15 years now, we’ve flourished and survived.
When I first met Celia, I worked at a hardware store. I would talk to farmers and retirees. Men who had been married upwards of 50 years at this point. I would talk to widowers. Some men would winkingly grumble about their wives, but their adoration was apparent and fresh. They would tell me that they love their wife, now in their 60s or 70s, more than any day before or since. I didn’t understand what that meant, nor did I necessarily believe it, until it began to happen to me. I feel it. It’s a genuine emotion.
My wife speaks with a heavy Northeastern Wisconsin dialect; there’s no denying her place of birth once you speak to her (‘boat’ is a two-syllable word). Dialect is passed on by mimicking the speech patterns of your community, which is exactly why local dialects continue to exist in a modern age. However, when you were raised by television, DJ’s and Chuck D like I was, your accent becomes non-existent shortly after puberty. I only turn it on when I’m trying to make a connection with a fellow Midwesterner, and even then I’m only faking. Look no further than the way we speak to tell you all you need to know about the two of us. She’s authentic and free of ego; I’m artificial and running from my past. I find this all hilarious.
Some days, Celia and I don’t have much to say to each other. We carpool to work in groggy silence and drive home in exhausted silence. We watch television and fritter away the evening on our phones until we fall asleep. These are not wasted days. These are days we’ve worked hard to experience. Other nights will come where we stay up until sunrise because we’re not done listening to each other’s voices and endlessly learning new things about each other. Each day is equally important, and I’d trade neither of them for anything. 15 years is a meaningless number when every day is special, which is probably why I still cannot grasp that fact that it represents half of my spouse’s life.
Tonight, I’m going to buy significantly too much Halloween candy. Approximately 20% of it will be distributed evenly amongst the costumed youth of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The rest will slowly be consumed by me between now and Christmas. I’m going to watch Ghostbusters and The Adventures of Pete and Pete and The Burbs and The Exorcist for the 30th time each. We’re going to watch all of those paranormal investigation shows and debunk every noise and shadow like the skeptic buzzkills we’ve become. Then I’m going to listen to Art Bell as I fall asleep, and pretend, just for the remainder of the month, that maybe ghosts do exist, just so I can let the feeling of the Unknown back into my body. The same feeling I embraced in 1986, when I laid on a pile of leaves, looked into the sky and thought about how far up it went.
It’s been a good month.