Thursday, February 5

Melancholy and the Infinite Winter Sadness


I don't remember in a time in my life where it was February and I wasn't cold. I grew up in Chicago, a land of extremes, where the long, dark, six-month stretch of winter was spent stuffed and layered, children bending over to tie their shoes like small, overstuffed wallets. I don't remember much of what I wore when I was young, but I recall every snowsuit — the pastel one that hung in a cubby in elementary school, the red Obermeyer one from T.J. Maxx that my mom said was much more expensive at the department store. I remember seeing an episode of Laguna Beach as a teen where they stood in front of a Christmas tree at the mall with their legs exposed and realized that until then, I hadn't fully understood that not everybody lives like this.

I'm used to dark days, leaving school when the sky spells nighttime but your watch reads 5:30pm. I'm too familiar with artificial heat, the warmth of a school bus picking you up after practice or a thoughtfully pre-started vehicle dropping you off at a friend's house. The smell of a radiator always brings me back to the long, rectangular one in the basement that made the room liveable, burning with the same bright red light of the electric stove I'd later cook a can of Amy's Low-Sodium Lentil Soup on for dinner every winter night in my tiny East Village apartment.

My hometown is, of course, named The Windy City for its political affairs, but those three words only draw back to the time I nearly fell over while pushing through a gust of sharp, biting air caught between two skyscrapers on a frigid childhood trip downtown. While the summer is, as any Lollapalooza attendee will offer up, unbearably hot, it's the cold that sticks out as unforgettable. The small rotation of stories my mom tells about her pregnancies mostly revolve around the tiny fur coat she'd put on newborn me when I couldn't sleep, or the time she wiped out on the ice while rushing to the hospital to give birth to my brother. (I cannot recall my Twitter password, but know by heart that he was born on "the coldest January day on record") Our memories drip with icicles, just like the roof of our two-story house.

I eventually left the burning cold of the Chicagoland suburbs for college at 18, and headed downstate to Champaign-Urbana, a set of Illinois towns whose summertime benefit of being 10 degrees cooler than than the city was never felt. I created a new lexicon of words to define the whipping cold around us, including "sleeping bag coats", the neck-to-knee insulated protection that nearly every girl on campus wore, and "drunk jacket", the (very, very dumb) process of chugging back-to-back shots of vodka and running to the bar without said coat so we wouldn't be forced to carry it all night or, even worse, have ours mistakenly taken by someone else. (In case I'm not explaining this clearly enough, you couldn't kick a pile of snow without hitting someone wearing a full-length black quilted The North Face coat.)

I experienced windburn often, walked backwards frequently, and learned that, during long walks shuffling boot-clad feet through the iced-over quad, it's always the pinky toes that go numb first.

I moved to New York five years back, when the promise of a more mild winter laid ahead of me. Even my Grandmother, who worked sparingly in the city as the editor of Mobil Travel Guide, frequently recalls of a time when her co-workers cautiously reported of a heavy snowfall outside, and she peeked through the window to just a few snowflakes, hitting the ground and immediately melting away.

But, it's not like that anymore. This — this isn't the New York winter I was promised. The ice stands in rolling mountains on the edge of sidewalks, making it impossible to pass up the slow tourists shuffling down the street, likely craving a few days away from home and not planning on it going like this. The cold is somehow colder, the empty complaints heard in elevators and small talk elevated to a level of confusion and justified exasperation.

I dress like shit now, too. Well, I'll rephrase: I'm wearing a fun outfit, but you just can't see it. Picking out what I'm going to wear, once my favorite part of the day, is now completed by craning my neck upwards towards all the thick things bulging out from the tippy-top of my closet, passing up beloved vintage blouses, threadbare t-shirts, patterned pants and dresses, stretchy jeans and anything else that doesn't serve the carnal purpose of just. staying. warm. I dedicate equal amount of shelf space to underwear and Uniqlo HeatTech products. I own sweatpants for home, sweatpants for outdoors and sweatpants for pulling over my leggings when I go to the gym, none of which are warm enough without a second layer underneath. My fiancee, who runs so hot that we used to sleep with the AC on in December, now owns long johns. Last year, we bragged of the endless stream of heat that conveniently emanated out of our loft apartment's pipes. This year, it's so drafty we're not even sure if they're on.

"But...but you're from Chicago!", everyone spouts back at me. "How can you complain about winter?!" How can I complain about winter? Because I've earned the right to. I ran outside in thermal leggings for track practice, I pulled my tired, hungover ass out of bed, threw a puffy coat on top of it and earned a degree in this nonsense. I have spent 27 years of my life habitually freezing, and I just don't know if I have it in me to do it anymore.

I'm tired of being cold. I'm tired of wanting to carry tea, not to drink, just to keep warm. I'm tired of categorizing shoes by ones I can wear with a thin sock, with tights and a sock, and with two woolen thick socks on really bad days. I'm tired of the fact that I have nostalgia of brands like The North Face, Wigwam and Smartwool, but couldn't even tell you where I bought jean shorts as a kid.

I miss heat coming from the sky like it's some sort of hot boyfriend I let go of and have regretted every sense. I'm so sick of spending money on products that mimic my skin being bronzed with the glow of the outdoors, a lie I tell too often and wish was true. My skin burns, itches in rejection of the dryness, empty lotion bottles pooling in my drawer where sunscreens could have been.

I don't know what the fuck happened to this city. New York is supposed to be a place of style and intrigue and excitement, but now it's just a tundra with its inhabitants scurrying over frozen basement doors, layering like it's a blizzard on a normal Tuesday and bowing at the altar of Netflix seven nights of the week. I don't skip comedy shows and dinners with friends because I'm lazy, I skip them because I physically just can't think about enduring the freezing walk home. Staying inside in this city isn't just standing on this side of a sliding door, looking at pristine white-topped trees and waiting for the snow over the backyard pool to melt, either. It means staring at brick, concrete, brick, concrete, brick, concrete until you force yourself to stare outside, seeing the sunshine and remembering it's a lie, a false promise of warmth, and that it's much better to be trapped in here than shivering out there.

I know the skies will eventually part and the iced coffees will be advertised and soon, I'll be complaining of not being able to find a decent bathing suit in my price range, but it all feels far away. So, so, so, so far away.

Too far away, indeed.


(Image via NY Daily News)

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