Every so often I re-read The Awakening by Kate Chopin. This novel, alongside the short stories “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, were about as feminist an education my conservative Texas middle school was going to give.
It’s a good book for the changing of the seasons. Each time I re-read Chopin’s book, I am reminded of the pleasures of reading something with a glorious rhythm, as gentle as the countryside of the Louisiana coastline it describes—the characters of this book spend a memorable summer here, eat good fish, lay out blankets on the beach, and eventually, go home to drink wine out of glasses that make it shine like garnet jewels.
Chopin’s book isn’t about motherhood. It isn’t about suicide. It’s about the seduction of life passing you by without even managing to keep a piece of yourself for yourself.
I know the fragility of this feeling, of how I’ll go absolutely crazy if I don’t get to be alone for at least ten minutes. In my life, I have experienced vast measures of loneliness beyond the scope of the imagination—my first winter in Omaha, where I didn’t know anybody well enough yet to trick them into shoveling my driveway, so instead, I would spend entire afternoons watching shifting clouds against my walls until the sky blackened into evenings dotted with stars against the simple geometry of the flat plains against it. I’d sit in grocery store cafes and at movie theaters and at the park in my neighborhood called Dundee (where Warren Buffett lived!), and could not say that I was unhappy.
Chopin’s book is about the agony of waking up from the long dream of life, and choosing herself from the trap of a life she didn’t know she didn’t want until she saw it from the outside.
It actually read very close to Edith Wharton’s Summer this time around, which was wonderful. I have fond memories of reading this on our exercise bike a year ago (or was it two?) as tears streamed down my face and the first snow fell outside, though I was oblivious.
This fall, I patiently rejoiced in leaving the whole weird summer behind us, in buying bayberry candles and picking up leaves to inspect. There’s something calmer in me this time around as I anticipate winter—this change is something I didn’t feel as presently in Texas. Getting older, slowing down, and reflecting on the past year while hunkered down next to the heaters drinking hot chocolate and wearing fuzzy socks. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll become a winter person like your dad, whose been asking Siri if it’s going to snow every week since the weather turned.
The closing lines of The Awakening:
She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for an instant, then sank again. Edna heard her father’s voice and her sister Margaret’s. She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the porch. There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.