October Fifteenth

I remember first moving to Florida from California. The kids and I arrived late evening August 10, 2007. We drove from the airport in Orlando, and by the time we reached Vero Beach, it was dark outside. I had no bearings, no real experience of Florida. Nothing looked even remotely familiar. Mostly I remember how stifling the humidity was getting off the plane across the sky bridge. The heat greeted us with a hostility I will never forget, those first few steps into MCO.

The air was thick as cotton and felt just as fibrous as it passed my lungs. We unloaded suitcases from the car, tired from the flight. I could not get over how hot it was, even after the sun had long set. I felt as though the heat might suffocate me when I woke the next morning in an unfamiliar house. It was a beautiful one, on the beach, but nothing about it was me. I slept late that first morning, tying to adjust to the time change, but wanting desperately to cling to the one familiar thing I knew. Running.

I laced up my shoes, kissed my people goodbye and headed out along a route I knew nothing about. I remember being greeted by the grip of the August heat as soon as I passed through the threshold. The ocean was an emerald green, nothing like the sapphire Pacific I grew up with. The air was far too thick to entertain the briny smell of the seashore I knew my whole life. The palm trees were a very different species from one coast to another. Nothing about the landscape reminded me of home, but I was sure I would find my stride–as long as I could run.

I soon learned, however, just how difficult it was to workout in the heat. The humidity was staggering. The heat index was over 100 that August morning. I just couldn’t breathe. I think I ran a pathetic five miles, stubbornly refusing to walk even a step. After a discouraging out-and-back under as many overgrown oaks I could find for coveted shade, I stumbled back through my front door, falling through the foyer into air conditioning, crawling through the living room and right back out the French doors where I collapsed into the pool in every stitch of my sweat-soaked clothing. Expecting instant refreshment, I learned even the water wasn’t cool. The sun had spoiled it to an easy 89 degrees. I remember lying on the bottom of the pool–fully clothed–trying to return my heart rate to something acceptable. At least it was wet.

Days went by and I wondered if I would ever climatize to this unfamiliar tropical life. The Sunshine State was an understatement. The heat was relentless. Hostile. Hateful to newcomers. Having lived in the temperate Mediterranean climate of Southern California my whole life, I could hardly walk from my car into the climate controlled grocery store without feeling like I might succumb to heat stroke. The wall of heat that greeted us every time we stepped outside, day after day, was just so miserable to me. It was an awful enigma I could not make sense of, that people would choose to live this way.

August burned on. School started for my daughter and I began to meet other moms at her elementary school. I felt paralyzed by the sauna all around me. Everything about the weather influenced our new routine. What was a way of life for the locals was downright distressing for me. More time spent indoors as a means of heat avoidance was foreign–fearful even. I voiced this concern to others and was told the same repeatedly.

“Just wait until October 15th.”

“Something magical happens on October 15th.”

“It’s like a switch flips and it becomes fall overnight October 15th.”

I felt a faint sense of hope. Surely the PTA Moms must know what they’re talking about. Most of them were born and raised here.

I joined a local running group, the Sunrunners (how appropriate). Unfettered by the climate, they ran year-round. Most of them didn’t even carry water for the standing six-mile weekday bridge loop. I struggled under the unbearable weight of excessive warmth. I drummed up the courage to express this to my innermost running circle after our first week together.

“October 15th is coming,” one said.

“Instantly it gets cooler,” another agreed.

“Hold on until October 15th,” said a third.

I looked around at the emphatic nodding heads. It was like they were imparting common knowledge I most certainly must already know. I figured if my new running friends swore by this sacred date, it must be true. I began to mark down the days on my calendar.

August passed, and the heat remained relentless into September. I would walk out to my mailbox to pick up the post and the mailman–sweat dripping from his brow–would greet me.

“I’m really looking forward to October 15th.”

I pitied his unfortunate predicament: an open-air Jeep, doorless, offering him no solace from the searing sun.

The grocery store clerks would chirp happily at checkout as means of small talk as the weeks wore on.

“I sure am tired of this heat. I can’t wait until October 15th.”

I took my kids to the pediatrician for their back-to-school well checks. The medical staff in the office spoke amongst themselves about October 15th almost upon us. It was mid-September by now and still just so miserable outside. The red Xs on my calendar continued the countdown. I started experiencing stomach issues while running in the sweltering heat. I felt as though I lived in a constant state of dehydration and my digestive track was rebelling. 

September finally passed and the cicadas seemed to express their discontent, growing increasingly angry in their obnoxious protest of incessant chatter. I began running with electrolytes, something I had never done before. I wasn’t any closer to acclimating to my new life. In addition to ever-present humidity was another calamity I had not been previously acquainted with: rain. Almost as relentless as the heat, it seemed to always be pouring with rain–but only when I was loading groceries into the car, or navigating the library parking lot with small children and an armload of books to return, or whenever heading out for a run.

October 1st arrived at last and when it was not raining, it was hot as ever outdoors. As we inched closer to the anticipated date, I became increasingly anxious, just simply tired of the oppressive heat outside. All. The. Time. I woefully missed my old life of living outdoors year round without a thought of high temperatures or torrential downpour or mosquitos. The PTA Moms were planning Halloween parties, excited for October 15th to officially usher in the fall season. 

I woke up with so much hope that first October 15th, but the thermometer registered 80 degrees before the sun even came up. The mercury climbed to above 90 that day, and I assessed everyone around me a liar. October 15th was no different than the oppressive day before it, and the forecast called for several more days of the same heat. Why did these people all fool themselves into believing that somehow October 15th would be more manageable? It was a conspiracy. A boldfaced lie. There was nothing magical about October 15th. I had no choice but to continue my death marches in the Amazon heat indefinitely.

As the years have gone by in Vero, I’ve come to understand that every year brings with it something new each October 15th. Call it “climate change” or “weather patterns” but the truth is Florida just hands us whatever it feels like giving on any given day, any given year. Some years since my first as a Florida resident, October 15th has been cooler and suggests the start of a more reasonable season. Other years, it’s been the ongoing familiar scorching heat to which I am now accustomed, and we are resigned to sweating well beyond workouts. We make our way to work sticking in skirts, our backs cemented to dress shirts. Habitually, I shower three times daily, at minimum.

Life marches on, and as the years pass, I have all but forgotten what it’s like to run in cooler climate. I’ve somehow learned to embrace the heat and all its misery. Stomach issues have become my reliable training partner and heat exhaustion is just part of any race. I dare say it’s almost a tolerable challenge to religiously run even when the heat index is upward of 106. If I am honest, I sort of even enjoy the suffering by now. I have learned to love the landscape.

This morning I woke up earlier than usual and let the dogs out back. October 15th and the air was a cherished cool. There was a faint hint of a breeze. After nursing a quiet cup of coffee, lost in my head about the workday ahead, I headed out to meet Lisa for our standing run. Under a clear, starry sky, it was 71 glorious degrees. There was a day in my former life that I used to think 71 was too hot to run, but now I welcome it as an unexpected gift. And with the beautiful sliver of a silver moon that hung in the still-dark sky, I couldn’t help but believe the cooler air was an agreement to begin a more reasonable season as we head into fall when all things begin to turn. 

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