|Helena Fitzgerald||Sep 12|
There's too much to say about back to school season and everyone is expected to care too much about it, but at least we don’t have to be hot anymore. On the way home the subway is full of people in plunging necklines and glittery shoes. A woman in a lime green chiffon mini dresses chews on her lip and cranes her neck around to look at the upcoming stations. I wonder where they’re all going. I watch people get on and off the train and I remember being very young and changing my clothes in the elevator of students’ buildings, on my way from being a teacher to being a party, the chill in the air calling for new clothes, calling for reinvention. My friends and I would text each other “formal for fall,” as though we could put on heels or a cheap suit and be remade wholly new. On the street in Soho, everyone is in boots and short skirts and glossy lacquered faces already. “What are you doing,” I want to say, “don’t you know that summer is over and we don’t have to try to be hot anymore? Aren’t you relieved?” But they aren’t relieved. Nobody ever really stops trying. Fall is here and we’re free of the burden of our own skin, but we’re on to other things. Halloween is still far off, but this whole season is about costumes.
The air gets chilly and nights get blue slightly earlier, cutting a color like paint down between buildings. Against it everything else stands out brighter. Cold weather highlights the city, illuminates faces, sharpens details. This is the best time of year for other people’s windows, the yellow lamplit squares leaking light onto the street, delineating warmth and cold, mapping out the skyline in a beehive of everywhere you can’t go. It is the house blazing out of the darkness, smelling like fireplaces and blankets and a warm meal; it is when people start to look like that kind of home, too, a season against the strident loneliness of summer, sending us all indoors, turning us toward one another.
It would be easy to say that fall is about keeping secrets - doors and windows shut against the cold, clothing further and further hiding bodies, the externalities of summer undone, exchanged for the internal -- but in fact it is about telling them. This is the season for parties, and the season for parties is the season for gossip. The people on the train in their shoes and their necklines and their eyeliner whisper and then laugh sharply. We invite friends inside, into the warm rooms of our confidence. When I was a kid and I would visit a large city where I did not live, at night sometimes walking with my parents through a residential neighborhood, a clatter of noise would draw my eye to a bright window near street level and I’d glimpse a party going on inside, a fragmented scene framed by the dark around it, shiny dresses and champagne flutes, other people’s friends and other people’s lives. Fall is that feeling, and gossip is that feeling, too -- not the party but the kid outside of it, walking by on a dark street in a city where she does not live and does not have any friends, just barely too young to go to parties at all. This outside-the-windows feeling drives us to cluster in our puffed-up outfits in corners of crowded rooms, warming ourselves at the small fires of other people’s lives.
Despite having been in the same relationship for well over six years now, I still don't think of myself as the kind of person who gets into relationships. At this time of year I feel like I am faking it, standing in a line where I don’t belong and hoping no one will notice. The chill in the air highlights everyone else’s relationships, too. Cities are museums of other people’s lives and the special exhibit is now all at once about love, new and bragging and exuberant, couples on dates walking down the street and stopping in doorways, everyone paired, everyone coming home to someone.
Even inside of it, I feel profoundly outside of it. It is not that anything is particularly lacking in my relationship, or that anything could be fixed that would change this feeling; it is merely that the coupled nature of this time of year may be an experience that only exists from the outside, looking in, and that going inside rarely diminishes the desire to go inside. Being invited to a party does not often change the feeling of wishing someone would invite you to a party. Witnessing everyone else’s love at this time of year is that same sense of walking by the yellow lights of other people's homes. Behind every one of those windows is the party I wanted to be invited to when I was a kid, as though each home glimpsed from the street is indoors in a way that every indoors in my very indoors life is not. Everyone else's love is actually love; mine is just something I have fallen sideways into, something meant for someone else, something in which I am an impostor.
But fall is about wanting to try. This is a time to dress up and believe that with a good enough costume you could convince everyone that the costume is who you are. The women on the subway in their huge hair and their glossy lipstick and their dresses like a high-stakes bet dash from local train to express train across the platform in that awkward, amphibian-on-land clomp people do trying to run in heels in which no one can run. Love is like this too, or at least it has been for me, a costume I am wearing defiantly, unsteady in the shoes, hoping that if I present myself this way long enough, I might convince myself that I deserve it, that these yellow-lit indoor days count, that they are as real as everyone else’s, lighting up the map of the night sky around me.
I came to New York in the fall so the two forever seem linked for me. I got here and immediately got into a relationship. Maybe it was the weather, the oncoming cold. He was boring, and we didn’t really like each other; it was almost the exact definition of the kind of relationship you get into because the other person is there, heraldically emblematic of cuffing season, before I had ever heard the term. We were place holders for each other; we wanted to be having these feelings, so we guessed we might as well have them about each other. Having a boyfriend meant there were more warm rooms to go into and more secrets to tell and to learn; it opened up the bright corners of parties in which people clustered and giggled. We broke up because fall is also a time to break up with people. I stayed here in this city with which I had also rushed to get into a relationship in the fall, with which I had also hyperbolically convinced myself I was in love.
No other time of year reminds me so much that love is a choice, a thing that we decide on; no other time of year summons up so many ghosts. Carrying ghosts means having gossip. If my heart has been broken I have something to whisper about, I have stories to tell at parties. Accumulate enough ghosts in a city and you have your own house party; you can always go inside somewhere, in a fancy dress under a coat, you can always arrive at a door and be immediately handed a drink, reuniting with everyone you’ve ever lost, all dressed up in a costume of yourself, ready for love, formal for fall.
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