November, the window to winter, the shutters closing on autumn. The days diminishing with the solstice still weeks away. From trees afire in glorious hues to a bare tangle of brittle branches as deciduous trees set their leaves free into the wind, into the cold, into the gutter. Other flora and fauna shake off their glory, take in the last bit of sustenance and horde it away before falling into their long sleep. Others put on thick coats of white or brown to dull winter’s bitter bite. Yet in even the deepest recesses of the cold darkness life is never snuffed out but patiently bides its time. Sleeping mothers birthing blind babies in their dark warm dens.
Memories of November in my Shenandoah Valley home, the smell of wood smoke hovering in the frigid air, the butchering of hogs and watching football at the neighbor’s house that had a color television, a television room, a patio, hot running water and indoor plumbing. The distance between our house and theirs was less than a block and the width of a gaping abyss that could never be bridged.
The November of 1971 was both the closing act of a patricide and the beginning of a troubled time in my life, the start of a long decline, a seemingly ceaseless struggle to know why my father died. At 36. I know how, I really need to know why. I was 11. As night strikes the colors and day takes the helm, on the eve of Thanksgiving you gave up the/your ghost. Did you not love us enough to set the bottle aside? Was life so painful that even the agony of delirium tremens became the better option? Or were you sick with a disease you did not understand and from which you could not escape?
Memories. Too many and not enough. Fighting, staggering, falling, filth. An artist consumed, a craftsman crushed. Or am I dwelling on the vision of a father with control wrested from his grasp while avoiding the reality that he had choices to make. And we/I lost out. Could it be he was enough of a bastard to deliberately push us aside?
My father’s journey took him through hospitals, in and out of prison, into the hell of psychiatric wards, through years of drool and piss, living through the death of dreams and the birth of nightmares with a wife/my mother who pirouetted in the same fatal dance and enabled him into his grave. In November.
Ah November, novem, nine but eleven. All Saints Day, Election Day, Veterans Day, my father's dying day, Thanksgiving Day, my brother’s birthday and the birthday of the Marine Corps, chrysanthemums and our Chrismation.
Herman Melville, in his, “…damp drizzly November in my soul…” from the opening paragraph of Moby Dick; or The Whale (one of our great novels which should be mandatory reading) at least to my mind, captures the feeling, the smell, the loneliness, the essence of November.
Still, here I sit. Making do while I make it up, the summer of my life fading to the autumn of middle age. Avoiding the shadows, the cold corners. The mask of happiness masking the demon of despair. Waiting for the fall into the long sleep. Here I sit. Come November.