Don’t Look back in October

I never really liked October. I like the look of the word, but that’s it. When I was (much) younger, October marked the end of the fun bits about going back to school after the long summer holiday: officially settled into the new term routine and well over the excitement of new clothes and reconnecting with class-mates. Way off in the distance were the Christmas holidays. Basically, in my school days, the beginning of October felt like the start of a very long cross-country race. I hated cross-country more than anything then and still hate running to nowhere now.

Later, as a poor student waiting tables on rich tourists in a Covent Garden restaurant, October was always the driest of months for tips. I’d top up with shifts in Waterstones, which I loved, to be fair. Working in a bookshop felt almost decadent. I so clearly remember feeling peaceful and just happy, sitting behind the till with piles of shiny new books all around me. I wasn’t particularly good at recognising what made me happy back then. But I knew that I felt contentedly alone in those moments. I wish I’d been able to hold on to that : feeling no need to justify the joy of being quite solitary.

October hails the end of light evenings as the skies dim ever earlier. Gloomy grey evenings so well reflected my misery when working as a trainee solicitor. I’d never been interested in practising law. Not for a big corporate anyway. I was slowly suffocating in that dream job. All the final year students had battled for the best positions in one of the top 10 London law firms. Excellent starting salary and even better career prospects. I was on the fast track to “success” and I hated it as much as I knew I would when I applied. I wanted my family to be proud of me and they were. But my pride in their pride wasn’t enough for me to fake it well. I resigned on the last day of my traineeship. It was a Tuesday in October when I walked free.

Halloween is the high point of the long month of October. Let’s be honest, Halloween is but a massive, commercial topper-upper. It’s purpose is to keep the gift card, fancy dress, party decoration and confectionary industries propped up until it’s time to flood the shops with Christmas clobber. Fun of course, if you like orange, fizzy, tongue-shaped sweet treats, but essentially just a distraction before attention (and cash) turns to the winter headline act. Not to put too strong a Halloween Scrooge slant on it but I cannot stand Halloween. Out of all the made-up, celebration of someone or something or other, commercial high holy days, I reckon Halloween is right up there at the top of my ‘most hated’ list: I’ve never been a costume fan: fantasy horror (as opposed to real paranormal stuff, which does hold my attention) is 1000% not my thing; I’m not excited about striking up conversation with people I don’t know; I really really don’t like the cold; and frankly I’m not a huge fan of the colour orange. Halloween is about dressing up as ghouls and witches and parading about in the cold for hours, banging on total strangers’ doors to beg for orange sweets and in these health-conscious times, actual oranges.

With age and children working against me (basically with no time to waste on anything pointless), my damnation of October pretty much chilled in recent years. Having swept so many October horrors into my brain’s archive folder, combined with a very real and sometimes quite terrifying tendency to literally erase traumatic experiences from my memory, I’d more or less made peace with Autumn time (not Halloween), until last Ocober’s curve ball knocked me backwards and into a place where, frankly, I’d have been ok to never see another October again. It was August before the sensory numbness dimmed enough for me to feel some joy, without pain, once again : major progress considering the several months spent feeling too vulnerable to even sleep without the comfort of a hood of some kind.

No prizes for guessing then, that this final anniversary, the 365th day since that day in October, is on my mind. But in a very different way than anticipated. I see beauty in the sky that I’ve stared at every morning and evening, from the same perch that I returned to as a broken human being, a year ago. I feel safe again in my little world, far far from the madness that almost possessed me to the point of no return.

New beginnings as the leaves fall from the trees this precious month of October. New beginnings indeed.

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