I love almost everything about Autumn. It’s endlessly romantic. I love the fallen leaves and the quiet remembering that it always seems to bring up for me. I cherish the smells of wet earth, the leathery claps of football games on Saturday afternoons. I love that somehow the light seems different, more golden, that the tastes are sweeter.
It’s a hard time for me, Autumn; not all of it. There is a lot that I love about it, but it is also the anniversary of my sobriety. I think that sobriety is a celebration for most of the people who I know that are in recovery, and it is for me too, but it also comes with a lot of grief, and maybe that’s true for all of us who are sober. Maybe all of us have that one dark day…
Can I be honest? I’ve never really stopped living that night. It actually never goes away. I have lots of happy moments, but that night is buried definitively in everything that I do. Story sits on my lap and I tell her stories and read her books; I’m madly in love with these moments, and I reflect on how one of my victims was only eighteen years old when he got killed. He had stopped to help someone on the side of the road, and now he never gets to have this moment. This moment was stolen from him. I run on a Sunday morning blazing up and down hills with the cool air filling my lungs to capacity, and feeling just so, so alive in the world, and I wonder about a six month old child whose father had lost his life that night, and I just wonder. I just wonder.
So, it’s always there.
It’s not always bad. It was. It was really bad for quite a long time, but at some point I realized that I just couldn’t wake up crying everyday for the rest of my life. At some point I had to dry my tears and get to work. It sounds odd but it really was almost that clear and concise. It was almost like I woke up in my cell one day and felt like the darkness had lifted and it was time to get going. I started laughing again. That was hard. At first I felt really horrible for just having this ability, the ability to laugh. I felt like I should never really feel good again, like if I could just feel bad enough all of the time, then it would mean that I was a good person, but reason kind of won that argument. I started thinking that I owed it to my victims to laugh. In fact, I owed it to them to laugh a lot! I’m sure that this doesn’t make sense, but I really feel like my laughter is an offering that I give back to my victims.
The other hard thing about Autumn, which thankfully is not hard at all anymore, was that in prison as the days got shorter I got less time out on the yard. That may not seem like much, but it was often just so loud inside, it was just such a constant assault on the ears, and being outside at least helped to dampen the noise that when we were allowed those extra hours during the late spring and summer it was just such an absolute relief.
This was how loud it was: At one point I had smuggled in a special set of earplugs. They were the wax kind; that don’t really go into your ear canals but rather, they fit over the outside of them. So, what I would do on a Saturday night would be to put the regular, soft earplugs into my ears. (You could buy those at the canteen for a couple of bucks. The first time I did I swear to you I almost cried with relief. In the county jail these weren’t available and I had taken to stuffing wads of wet newspaper into my ears.) Anyway, I would put the soft kind into my ears and the wax kind on the outside over those and then I had some headphones that I had bought off of someone out on the yard for about twenty bucks (a prison fortune!) that would go over your head, and I would put these on and play the classical station at full-volume in order to drowned out the sound of human voices and clapping and rapping and the slamming of dominoes, and checkers, and cards, and yelling over card games that was a constant background song in my tiny little world. That was how I found relief for just a moment on a Saturday night in prison, and I would lay on my bunk and wonder what the days would be like when they finally did let me go, because really, I had no idea. I had never really been free and sober at the same time, and it scared me a little bit.
But today I took Story to a giant “bouncing pillow” and a corn maze and it was loud too. Children were running and laughing and screaming. They were tumbling violently, and their parents were using loud voices to try to keep them from getting hurt. It is really a different kind of noise. I’m not sure why it is, but it is. IF I had to guess, I’d say that I think it’s because there is joy in it, and that was the one thing that you really couldn’t find much of in prison. You could find laughter, but there wasn’t much joy.
I still have moments where I feel ashamed that my life is so good, and calm, and steady these days.
Today when the days get shorter it means that the holidays are upon us. It’s one of my absolute favorite things about being married to Kara, she insists that we embrace the holidays; we revel in them. Our porch will be filled with pumpkins and our house will smell of cider. At Thanksgiving our house will overflow with food and the Thanksgiving Day Parade will certainly be played in the background. Christmas we will sing songs, and drink eggnog, and make Kara’s mother’s manicotti recipe while we watch Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life. Kara believes in celebration and I believe she’s right.
It all starts happening around October, as the daylight begins to fade, and I start to reflect.
It never goes away. I’ll always regret that horrible night. I’ll always be so sorry that happened. I wish I could take it all away.
But I am thankful.
I am grateful.
I’m thankful for the people in my life.
I’m thankful for the chance to be free again even if I didn’t always deserve it.
I’m thankful that I am sober.
I’m grateful for the quiet.
I’m grateful for the happy noises, grateful for the light.