"April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain."
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land: I. Burial of the Dead
Of all the seasons, autumn is the most dangerous. There is something chilling in the glorious beauty of a dying world, where every leaf and every tree reaches its pinnacle of beauty as it passes away. All this beauty born of downfall, a season in a glorious fall from grace. Everything vivid and sacred from the summer months, fallen to the clear cold blue skies of April. As chilling as an eloquent suicide note. As silent as a tomb.
Be on your way south from Sydney in autumn, and follow the winding roads near Wheatley, through the mountain ranges and into the valleys beyond. All of a sudden there it is before you, as far as the eye can see, fields of golden wheat and cerulean sky, all edged by dark mountains that rise into the air. Whenever I travel though Wheatley, I always want to get out of the car and run, just run as far as I can into the wheat and the gold and the blue. In March, I dream of it daily. Autumn drives me to madness like this, and it doesn't matter where I go - it's always the same. Deadly autumn weather. I just feel it more when I'm in Sydney.
Imagine Washington in spring; it must be heavenly to see a whole city made of cherry blossoms. How graceful a gift that Japan gave America, scores of cherry trees for the summer avenues. In Canberra, Walter Burleigh Griffin arranged cork trees along the outer avenues so that their bark could be harvested and sold to vineyards and wineries. A cork tree in spring is a simple thing indeed. But Sydney ....
All of Sydney's beauty is incidental .... off the cuff .... quirky and distant. When Sydney dies every autumn, it is like making love one last time to a lover who has to leave and never return. It's that kind of beauty - the beauty of a sharp blade swung with both hands.
My affair with Brian Kinney (for that's what we'll call him) ended in the autumn; at least, I knew in autumn that it was ending.
When things first fell apart with Brian Kinney, I felt betrayed by my city. Everything I saw, everywhere I went, reminded me of him. The earth was tainted with memories of him. I saw his face on every street. The scent of the city brought back rolling waves of bittersweetness. I believed it was the end of my love affair with the city itself, for nothing was sacred, and nothing was mine. Every part of the city had been consecrated to him with memories of the past.
The last time we were together, I drove through Cleveland Street in Surry Hills, past the rows of sandstone buildings that line up neatly by the road. It was a perfect autumn day in Sydney - the only sound was the southerly wind and the echo of red leaves falling to the ground. Above us, the sky was bright blue and cold. The sunlight was warm and strong and thick to the touch like clover honey, until it finally settled into dusk, hours and hours later, upon the perfect horizon of red roofs and bare trees. Whenever I think of the end of the relationship (and it is not often, but it does happen) I think of how startling that afternoon was. The beautiful, beautiful autumn.
I spent months trying to reclaim the city from him and his memories. In the end, I had to sacrifice autumn to do it. Summer and winter and spring were mine; new memories grew like blossoms and then like icicles upon the eaves. But I never reclaimed autumn; the memories were too strong, the sensations too overwhelming. To be honest, I thought that I would never enjoy another autumn in Sydney because it reminded me so much of him... not just him, but then, that time where there was him, and there was a different me, and all the other things that were.
But I was willing to take whatever I could, to cleanse myself of the memories and regain my life. So I gave him autumn, and kept the rest for me.
Part II: The Memory Palace of the Mind