Taking Back September

For a long time, I despised the month of September. Loathed. Hated. Which, when I stop to think about it, is an odd thing to hate. An entire month – really? Sure, it’s not a particularly exciting month. For me, September is always that awkward time between summer and fall when it’s too early to put out Halloween decorations but seems weird to keep lying by the pool in a swimsuit.

I believed I had my reasons to detest September so much. I will start with the most prevalent from this week: 9/11. I was twelve. I remember my school making an announcement, followed by my worried-looking history teacher turning on the boxy TV that sat in the corner of our classroom. I didn’t quite understand what was happening, but I knew it was something bad by the faces of the reporters and the astoundingly large, billowing clouds of smoke coming from buildings far from my Texas suburb.

Later that evening, I was home and my parents had turned on the news. They made phone call after phone call, and it seemed like our landline never stopped ringing. Finally, my mom turned to me.

“Uncle Scott’s in New York today, honey.”

I blinked. Was that why my dad was crying? Did something happen to him?

Luck, for whatever reason, smiled on my family that day in 2001. My uncle escaped the second tower before that plane hit. But I’ll never forget the torrent of emotions that swept my family, and thousands of others, into a terrible storm that stamped itself in our memories forever.

A few years later – September 7, 2005 to be exact – was another unforgettable day. A quick background: I grew up next door to an amazing family. I tell people I have two sisters, but I really have three. My best friend lived next door, and she quickly became a part of our family over the years. Her brother was my age, and when we were younger, we were wonderful friends. As it happens, he and I drifted apart, falling into different social circles. No matter how we changed, though, we always had that backyard fence we could climb over at a moment’s notice.

My senior year of high school, I was in the locker room with my soccer teammates getting ready for practice. A school administrator came in and whispered something to our coach. I’d noticed already my best friend – a fellow member of the team – had left school early, but I hadn’t thought anything of it.

Our coach’s eyes stared at a spot on the ground as he nodded, and the administrator left. He cleared his throat as sixteen teenage girls eyed him warily. When he told us my best friend’s brother had passed away, you could hear a pin drop. I tried not to cry in front of my teammates, but it was no use. Choking sobs wracked my body as I crumpled onto the locker room floor. I remember my teammates watching me. Why is she so upset? their curious eyes asked. They never said two words to each other. Were they even friends? But I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. I knew the boy I’d grown up with, and the young man tragically lost to suicide would always be with me.

For nearly ten years since then, I swore to myself I was September’s #1 Enemy. I glared each time I flipped the calendar over. I blasted Green Day’s song like there was no tomorrow. I even went so far as to avoid scheduling anything fun during those four weeks, all the while telling people, “I just don’t like September, I don’t know.” Because that’s the thing – I never talked about it. I never talked about the fact that two events from my teenage years left such strong impressions in my mind that an entire month was tarnished.

After high school, I let the tarnish turn to rust. I used those awful moments in my life as an excuse to hole up each Labor Day weekend and stay locked away until October. I’d been scorched by the changing of the leaves, and I was willing to burn.

Finally, eventually, things changed. I woke up and looked back and saw nearly a year’s worth of combined time spent spewing negative energy. It’s funny what our mind locks on to. Yes, what happened on both accounts was absolutely terrible and frightening. But did that warrant my blaming an entire month for those happenings? I don’t think so.

Perhaps it was because I was a teenager, when emotions are wild and unforgiving and rarely yield to reason. Perhaps I was never really that great at processing the sad and unfair things life threw at me when I was young. I’m still not really sure.

Either way, I have started to take back September. Admittedly, I still return to those memories when the calendar changes. But in the last few years I’ve tried to turn the tables on this time of year. Instead of wallowing, I work on things that bring me joy. I write. I go out. I talk about what I’m feeling. I try to reach out to my friends and family, though I do fall short. I don’t always make the time to pick up the phone or send a text. But I try.

As Green Day’s song goes:

As my memory rests

But never forgets what I lost

Wake me up when September ends

I’m happy to say that this September, I’m awake.

2 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this part of your life’s experience, Sam. It sounds like you’re winning the tug-of-war with your sad memories. It’s tough to overcome the blues associated with those “anniversaries of loss and sorrow,” but you’re doing it. May this school year be a good one for you and your students.

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