Autumn, the season, teaches about the beauty of letting go but Autumn, the person closing in on her 30th birthday, has held onto everything and feels ugly for it. Her body tied in knots, too ashamed of her body to seek a professional masseuse, she is thankful for her husband’s magical way with his fingers as they worked to temporarily squeeze out the bricks she always seems to be carrying.
“Why don’t you see a professional,” Chris would often ask. Autumn was never certain if he meant a masseuse or a therapist but assumed he meant both. He knew of her troubled past, she was transparent in her family dynamic. She owed her loved ones that much and vowed to never be as violent as her father.
It started when she was just eight years old, learning to ride a bike. Autumn was thrilled to finally get her first bike and it was all of her favourite colours – a tie dyed mix of purples, pinks and yellows. She didn’t even care what the helmet did to her curls, she was eager to be just like her friends and be able to soon pedal to school or to the playground just a block away. Learning to ride, without training wheels, was everything to Autumn so she pestered her father every day after school for some lessons.
Her father, Bill, was always distracted though. On his phone, fighting with someone. He had a stressful job that took a lot of his time but her mother was away, at a conference and she was an only child. He had to be with her after school but he was never really paying attention.
“Dad, just thirty minutes. Please. Once I learn I’ll be out of your hair. I promise to learn quickly.” She begged and talked to her mom. Her father took the phone from her, mumbled something to her mother, hung up and said “Let’s go then. Half an hour.”
Even with her determination and focus Autumn couldn’t balance herself on the new bike. Within minutes she fell into the road and scraped her knee, nearly being hit by a passing car. “Just get back on the bike, Autumn,” Bill mumbled as he held his phone a little bit from his mouth. She did and he turned his back to her for just a second as she crashed again to the sidewalk and let out a curdling scream. When she ran out of air she heard her father say, “Jesus, I’ll need to call you back. I gotta take her to the hospital.”
Turning to me he sighed, yelling at me to get in the car and, the entire way to the hospital which felt like an eternity to Autumn, he yelled that this would be taking a lot longer than thirty minutes. “I had meetings today, important ones and now even your bike might be ruined. I’ll need to lock it up as you don’t seem ready for it.” He continued the insults, the loud, harsh words until they pulled into the parking lot. Autumn continued to cry, unsure if it was now from the pain of her fall or the words of her father. She never wanted to disappoint anyone.
Before letting her out of the car Bill told her to shut up, to wipe the tears and grow up. Whispered, of course, because life was all about perception and people couldn’t see him being mean to his daughter. Even at eight years old Autumn understood that.
Autumn’s personal growth was always stunted because of that day and those that followed. She felt unworthy, masked, and silenced for fear of feeling too much passion, she carried on her days barely living and not thinking of the future. Birthdays were especially hard, even when celebrating with everyone but her father.
She endured ten more years of her father’s abuse and then, after moving out, vowed to never speak to him again so she wondered why she was now sitting at his funeral, listening to people say how great of man he was. She was wearing a skirt just long enough that the scar on her knee still showed. Absent mindedly she rubbed it with her left hand while Chris held her right.
Even with countless hours of therapy, Autumn still couldn’t fight the need to bury her past inside her and hold tightly to the anger her family caused. Buried deep but boiling to the surface at the most inopportune times, because really, there is never really a good time to erupt, Autumn understands something has to break but hope it's not her. But, like her father, she was about perception and not going to her father’s funeral, his burial, seemed wrong. It helped tremendously that Chris was beside her but also supported her in whatever she decided to do.
Sitting quite still and feeling very numb, Autumn sat in the front pew between her husband and her mother, listening to his friends and co-workers talk of his pride, strength and courage. She looked to her mother to see tears, genuine tears, fall from her face and suddenly realized she, too, has good memories of him and, while they don't outweigh the bad, they are something. And there, in the funeral home, in front of loved ones, Autumn stood at the mic and let go, feeling the best she has ever felt.
Chris tried to hold her back, hesitant at letting her take to the stage but in the end let her go. Felt she would regret it, blame him, if she didn’t do what she needed and say a few words, even if they came out cruel and unusual for a funeral.
“My father, Bill, wasn’t always a kind man like you all say he is.” Autumn continued to tell of the time he tried to teach her to ride a bike. Just the one time, she still didn’t know how because she never bothered to ask again. Through tears, Autumn spoke of the time he made her go to bed without supper and to school the next day without breakfast because she forgot her homework at school. She told of the hard life lessons he instilled in her, of the terrible manner he tried to teach her and high expectations he had for her to run his company when he retired. As his only child he would not entertain the fact that she wanted to go into music.
But Autumn also told those who listened about his strength, passion and determination to succeed and how he always made sure she had the best dress for school dances. How she didn’t have to work because he wanted her to focus on her studies but gave her an allowance regularly.
Before long the tears stopped and the stories of good memories with her father continued. After twenty minutes she took her seat between her mother and husband again and watched as the funeral concluded.
When her father was carried out of the church she whispered to Chris that she was ready to go. Without another word to anyone they walked out and she asked Chris for the car keys. “I’d like to drive. I need to go somewhere.” Though she was dressed for a funeral, Autumn went to the local sports store and bought a bicycle. She gave Chris back the car keys and told him she would bike to the cemetery and would meet him there. Despite the discomfort from the skirt which left little flexibility to move and the rain now pouring down and soaking her through, Autumn proudly but awkwardly learned to ride a bike. She rode through busy streets and nature paths successfully to the cemetery and, upon reaching the path to where her family stood, raised both hands, continued to bike and finally, on her thirtieth birthday and the day of her father’s funeral and burial, smiled and let go.