Regret: In Seasonshttps://i1.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/ETCHED.jpg?fit=1920%2C1006&ssl=119201006Holly SpencerHolly Spencerhttps://i1.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/hollyspencer.png?fit=96%2C96&ssl=1
Deciduous trees slow down photosynthesis and rely on stored nutrients at their roots, below ground. Nutrients in the bark are only waiting, encased in snow, as icicles hang on branches, molecules slowed to near death.
Still, not sterile.
It’s just a matter of time, this waiting.
Photosynthesis is completed in advance, as preparation for the winter.
I still haven’t figured out how to do this, to slow down and lay dormant, to reconcile myself with an acceptance of my winters. My contact with the cold has not stratified, even though I’ve known its purpose is to preserve for as long as I’ve known what it was I am missing.
Longing is such a cold and lonely place, a frost inside the body, inside this body.
I weaken in the spring, at the knees, not the heart. I know what is coming, tiny buds, a warm, wild passing breeze through the pistil. And, still, it’s not hope I feel.
It is excitement, an exuberance that comes from knowing life will continue in Celebration. Even as I have never known how it feels to make life, I am caught up in nature’s resurgence. This Gaia of life reawakening around me, nature’s hormones triggered, gets me every time. I am still capable of exhilaration, thrilled for new life, even though it’s not my own.
When birth is certain, when renewal is inevitable, there is no need for hope. These branches will reconvene communion with the seasons, birth the spring as the style, stalk, and stigma pollinate the next season’s food, fiber, and fuel.
The number of trees that do not provide pollen is small and barely worth mentioning.
I tell myself to pay attention, because things will change, will appear where there was nothing only seconds, minutes, or days before. It’s going to seem sudden, but it isn’t. Yet, I never manage this vivid attention. The full canopy, curtains of stems and veins thick with color, will wave as fully formed leaves green with chlorophyll, velvet to the touch.
No amount of attention paid will allow a slow transition.
One day, I suddenly see it all.
The lush volume of promise: a lusty, fleeting beauty, alive with predestined death.
This is how summer catches me by surprise.
This is when futility doesn’t bother as much.
So much of life is vibrant, full, and blossoming that I find a way to make the world around me mean more than my empty womb.
Every year, I worry I will be robbed of a real autumn by an overzealous winter.
This past year, I worried for naught.
The trees looked on fire. Scorching reds and oranges, haloed by vibrant yellows, burned on each brown branch. They waved in the wind, like licking flames.
I reached for my phone, my instinct to call 911, and then I saw.
Regret looks like a pile of kindling, of flammable things. The time that I broke up with a good guy for a bad one, the time that the editor of Pittsburgh Magazine accepted my article query on spec in ’93 or ’94, and I failed to mail the edits, or instead, the time I spent in inner-city hovels while life passed in a blur of bad decisions.
But my biggest regret, the absolute monstrosity of regret, is in how my body has failed me.
This regret doesn’t peek at me from a partially veiled memory. It is not one that burns like hot ash falling from a cigarette tip onto bare skin, exquisitely painful until it isn’t, scabbed over and scarred.
This regret follows me.
This regret has taken up residence.
This regret smells like baby powder.
It tastes like tea without sugar.
This regret looks like a hidden closet, an extra book, an elective class at college, a stolen allotment of time not spent with tiny hands in mine.
This regret is a pile of leaves, rustling to the earth as a funeral pyre, during the sweetest time of year when plants convert starch to storage, slow down their metabolism, become more splendid as they die, and make way for winter’s misleading barrenness.
 Used with permission by Susan Rukeyser, Not On Fire, Only Dying
Holly Spencer lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her three dogs and two cats. She attends Chatham University’s grad program as the Words Without Walls Fellowship Awardee. She has been published in Jet Fuel Review, Rise Up Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Pink Panther Magazine, Feckless C*nt Anthology, and F(r)iction Literary Magazine. Her creative nonfiction piece, “Stuck,” was nominated by Jet Fuel Review for The Best of the Net, 2016.