Dixie Peach: Golden October

Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Golden October

Today was one of those wonderful days that makes people love October. The sun, even though it hangs lower in the horizon, still has its wonderful warmth and the sky is that brilliant, sharp blue that makes your throat close up a little just to look at it. The leaves are beginning their seasonal change and the air has the bit of crispness that reminds you that colder, bleaker days are soon to follow. People breathe deeper and relish their time outdoors before the winds of winter descend.

And days like today make me meloncholy. While I love their vitality they remind me of a time when their vitality was the only good thing going on in my life.

Twenty-five years ago I was a freshman in college. Looking back on it I should have realized I was destined to make a poor showing of things but I didn't even consider that I had another choice. Going to college was my only option and even though I had absolutely no idea what I wanted from a college education, no focus, no drive and no motivation, it was expected of me.

My first error was living at home and enrolling in a local university. My family was living in Virginia at that time and there was a university five miles from our house that happily accepted me. This seemed like the just right thing to do as I had a boyfriend that I didn't wish to leave behind and staying home to go to college seemed like the best alternative. Unfortunately our relationship was rocky and we were within weeks of breaking up.

I did everything that a college student shouldn't do. I signed up for classes not even knowing what to do with them. I scheduled classes at odd hours that left me with huge gaps of time that I would waste. I was too intimidated by everyone to even speak and I wouldn't even introduce myself to other people. I spent time on campus only long enough to go to class and I never figured out how things operated. I didn't even know how a professor's office hours worked.

I was so completely clueless as to what I was doing that I couldn't make anything go right. I could understand what the instructors were telling me but I didn't know what to do with the information. I had no idea how to study. I couldn't even figure out how to ask someone to help me.

My personal life was in a shambles. I only wanted to spend time with my boyfriend but I was smothering him. I'd shut out old friends and didn't know how to reconnect with them. My parents were too controlling and I couldn't figure out how to assert myself. And over it all was a tragic event involving my closest friend - something so horrific that I virtually never speak of the event to anyone and even now often make a conscious effort to not even think of it. I was so utterly smothered in grief that it didn't even seem recognizable as grief. It was as though every lucid thought I could form was robbed from me and nothing I could say made any sense to anyone but me.

By the time October rolled around I was merely going through the motions of attending college. I'd go to class but had no interested in it. I began skipping class here and there - it didn't seem like much at the time. It finally got to the point where I'd show up for my 8am Anthropology class - a class that I still have no idea why I took it - and then find myself ditching the rest of the day.

Going home wasn't an option as I was still living with my parents. Staying on campus wasn't either - if I was going to be there I may as well go to class. Going to the mall wasn't suitable. I didn't want to be around the noise and the people milling around. So I'd get in the car and just drive.

My first driving escapes kept me in the general area around my home. Or I'd drive by my boyfriend's house to see if he was home even though I knew he wasn't. And then I got comfortable with my driving escape. My trips went out into the country farther and farther until it finally became a routine.

I'd start out driving west on Route 50. I'd get to just before Middleburg and then turn off Route 50 onto a road that I knew would eventually connect to Route 7. That area is horse country and I'd pass farms with low stone walls bordering the road and see in the meadows beautiful horses grazing. I'd pass humble homes of people who probably worked on those horse farms. I'd drive by Philomont and pass through Bluemont and wonder about the ancient black man who would wave at me each time I passed his weathered home.

The road would wind higher and higher up the foothills and as I listened to Van Halen and REO Speedwagon and Bruce Springsteen on the radio, the sun would flicker through the leaves of massive, ancient trees lining the road and I'd begin to anticipate the high point of the drive.

Just before the intersection with Route 7 the road made a hairpin turn - it has a posted speed of 15mph but as my drives became more frequent I began to challenge myself to take it as faster and faster speeds - and as one comes out of the turn one can look down over the valley below. Rust and gold colored leaves lay below like a speckled carpet and it never failed to make me gasp and then smile.

I'd make the drive back home down Route 7. I began to look forward to driving through Lovettsville - still a sleepy town back then with its neat homes and small businesses. It reminded me of my hometown in Mississippi and there was one large white victorian house with a glorious maple tree in the front yard that had leaves of such brilliant color it seemed to nearly vibrate. I'd continue on to Leesburg and made a point to drive through the town itself instead of staying on the bypass. I'd sometimes stop while in Leesburg to get some lunch or do some shopping, else I'd continue on until I reached Route 28 and then on again to Route 50 and back home.

I never told anyone about my drives. I'd tell everyone that I'd been in class all day and the lie would slip easily from my lips. Of course in a couple months my grades would tell another story but I still never told anyone about my drives that eventually became as frequent as three times a week until late November stole the remaining autumn leaves and the trees became unfriendly and uninviting.

I wasted so much time. So many hours spent doing nothing but driving. Money wasted on classes I wouldn't attend and books I would seldom open. Opportunity squandered and an education lost. I'll never get those hours back and I'll not have another opportunity to go to college. Oh I did eventually transfer to another university and I did better but I never finished. Years of my life where I didn't get anywhere.

But it was a time when I began to listen to myself. When I began to start feeling comfortable with myself. It was a process that went on for another fifteen years but it was the beginning. On those drives that lasted hours the seed was planted. I started to get an inkling of the idea that I will never know others and they will never know me until I begin to know myself. I would drive and think and sing loudly. I would cry over my losses and I would remember happier days. I would grieve and I would feel my heart ache and I would think that I would never have the pain leave me. And I would sometimes finally have my mind cleared of all thought even if it was for only a few fleeting moments.

Whenever I see a tree filled with brilliant yellow leaves it nearly always makes me cry for that poor bewildered girl in a Ford Fiesta who tried to drive herself into some clarity.


Blogger sari said...

I always ended up at the library, somehow. I spent hours there, soaking up whatever happened to strike my fancy. At one point, I had convinced myself I would teach myself Italian, fly to Italy and meet some fabulous Italian prince and live happily ever after. Or something.

Eventually my dad caught on and I ended up shelving the Stephen King/Jackie Collins/Judith Kranz-fest I'd been having and I got myself a job. Since I had no clue what I was doing anyway, I didn't really care. It was kind of a relief to have a specific place to go every day.

Looking back, I wish I would have stuck it out in college, but then again, one little change and your whole life changes.

1:34 AM  
Anonymous Jen said...

Thank you for such a beautiful post!

4:34 AM  
Blogger thatfarmgirl said...

I could have been reading my own story here.

6:24 AM  
Blogger still life said...

That was great Dixie. There really is something about Autumn which can make you feel lost in the possibilities and almost melancholy. And then there's also something about getting in your car and driving with the top down, singing music at the top of your voice which helps you to discover yourself. Great post.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Lorrie said...

Thank you for sharing that experience, Dix. It was beautiful...maybe I'll make that drive this weekend and think of you. :)

8:21 PM  
Blogger BarefootCajun said...

That was beautiful, Dix. It made me with I was in Virginia to see the leaves turn since we have no real fall here.

Man, except for the driving part, that could have been me talking about college. But I wasted my time partying with friends. I lived on campus and felt the first bit of freedom I had from strict parents.

It lasted three semesters for me. A lost year and a half and a lost education. It is the one true regret of my life.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Dixie said...

Just think, and I were dicking around in college at the exact same time!

11:37 PM  
Anonymous ashley said...

i really loved this.

6:01 AM  
Blogger equeyaya said...

I was probably dicking around in college around that time, too, Dixie and Barefoot -- 1981-85.

I also chose to commute to a nearby school to stay close to the boyfriend (now yahoo). But my college years were when I became anal. My entire focus was on the academics - no friendships or extracurricular involvement. I sometimes think I missed out there.

And I'm with you on the autumn memories bringing you back to college times. The campus at West Chester was beautiful in October.

I love to read what you write, Dixie.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Dix, that was beautiful. The melancholy of those days was palpable in your words, and brought back all of my own melancholy college days. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this and share it with us.


3:21 AM  

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