October Is the Month of Red Leaves
We had a tree, my friends and I. Our tree. Ours. Ours because it was grand and because it was there, nestled unassumingly in a nook between the Main building and the athletic center. I could see it from my window senior year, that year I lived on campus and had a lofted room to myself. I still miss it sometimes. The tree I mean–and the loft and the friends who gathered there. But I miss the tree almost equally. Is that silly? Yes, of course it is. But it had been there when we were 14, fresh-faced and terrified. It was there when we were 18, a bit more cynical, but a lot more fun. It was there that morning that we woke up early to watch the sunrise from the fire escape, shouting, “You rule, tree!”
We sat there quietly for a while, watching the school awake, the teachers and underformers alike shuffling into the building with groggy indifference. We watched a girl, that weird girl so dedicated to her strangeness that she became such a novelty in a school filled to the brim with Nantucket red waspiness. We watched her gallop across the grass and through the door. Her head thrown back, she was laughing. The sound bounced from the brick buildings after she was gone. No words were exchanged then; we just gripped the metal tighter, wondering how many times our tree had been the sole witness to such joy.
Earlier that year, I found myself in a stuffy room, the sun streaming through the windows and moistening the armpits of the six of us who spent two hours every Monday afternoon dissecting French literature. It was the sort of class that looked good on a college application. The kind that forced you to band together, if only so that you could shoot pitiable ‘kill me’ eyes at one another from across the room. It was long. It was boring. And of course we all secretly loved it, but only in that purely masochistic sort of way.
Three o’clock rolled around and we hurriedly gathered our things together to make our exit as quickly as possible. I happened to be the last one out that day and as I was shuffling out the door, I heard the teacher say my name. He was old, mid sixties, with hair grayed completely white to match his goatee. “Gretchen!” he exclaimed, “Attends!” I turned to see his small frame huddled by the window across the hallway from our classroom. “Regards!” I made my way over and peeked out the tiny window that looked out onto the athletic quad. “Regards cet arbe. Beau, non? La couleur! La rouge!” he said gesturing widely at everything around us. It was foliage season. The tree was at its peak with leaves the brightest red I had ever seen. At that hour, the sun was slowly beginning to stoop, hitting at the perfect angle to bathe the hallway in their vibrancy. I looked around silently; nothing was eclipsed. My shirt and my hands and the walls were all painted crimson with fall. He smiled so brightly and his teeth were stained red, “J’ai du le montrer a quelqu’un. C’est mon arbe favorit.” I looked back through the window at our tree, nodding my head in agreement. “Oui,” I whispered before uttering the only word in the English language that I find more beautiful than its French counterpart, “Magnificent”.
My French has gotten rusty over the years, and I can’t see our tree through my window anymore. Through word of mouth and little sisters of friends and maybe a bit of heresy, I heard they tore it down a little while ago. But it doesn’t matter. I now live in a city that knows not a thing about autumn or foliage or the way a hallway can glow when the sun sets just right. But sometimes I can feel the red on my fingertips and I can remember the cold air that came after and maybe I only paid attention because at that point I knew I was leaving and maybe wasn’t coming back. Because October is only beautiful until it isn’t anymore.