April is not the cruelest month, at least not in the Ohio Valley. February is.
Lilacs don’t grow out of the dead land in February. Nothing grows at all, in February. Even my indoor plants go limp.
Outside is gray on gray– mottled gray sky above, mottled gray snow beneath. The snow isn’t clean enough to suck on, like I did on Snow Days when I was Rosie’s age; not clean enough to make maple candy or to admire the sunshine through a glassy sliver of ice; not clean enough that it looks like a Christmas card. Christmas is over and the Great Fast has not yet begun. Christmas is red and green in the secular world and white and gold in the Church. The Fast starts in March this year; it is royal purple giving way to blood red for the Western Church and purple or black in the East. Easter, when it comes, will be gold and white in the Church and pink and lilac in the world. February is gray on gray on gray.
Every few days there’s a thaw. Sometimes the thaw is freakishly warm– warm enough that the ground steams with gray fog, and the gray snow shrinks away like a slug that’s been given salt. Underneath, the grass is gray-brown. You’d think that Spring was coming. Then it rains, and it freezes, and the whole world is glazed with dirty ice. Boots sink into mud, leaving gaps that turn to hazardous potholes when the mud freezes stiff. People go back and forth shrouded in heavy coats, not graceful enough to look spectral. They do not stop to talk.
I love snow, but I don’t love gray snow.
This is the time of year I can’t sleep at night.
I have a SAD lamp, and it knocks the sharpest teeth out of seasonal depression, but it doesn’t stop the insomnia. I stay up, reading and writing. I read about miserable things like cults and mass shootings, because I can’t very well get more miserable than I am. I tidy the living room at four in the morning. I fall asleep a bit before dawn. I wake up at one o’clock in the afternoon, to gray sun filtering through dirty windows, and lie there until three.
I look at seed catalogs as if they’re missives from a foreign planet. Those messy things depicted on every page are called flowers, and they have a thing called color. Color is what happens what things are alive, and everything is dead right now, because it’s February. The color of February is gray.
I can’t afford any seeds right now.
This happens every February, as predictably as the seasonal depression. The shortest, grayest, most sleepless month of the year is usually the slimmest financially as well. We live minute to minute instead of week to week, and we’re flailing now. The shutoff notices are stacking up. There’s a repair that falls under “responsibility of the tenant” I want to do but can’t this week because we can’t afford to buy the tool I need. There are errands I’d like to run to break up the monotony, but I have no money to buy anything at the stores I visit. An acquaintance I hadn’t heard from in years wrote to me and told me that she informs my grandmother whenever I write about doing badly financially here on the blog, and never informs her about anything else I write. She tells me my grandmother worries about me. I don’t know why she likes to torment my grandmother, but it makes me unwilling to write about how miserable I am on the blog. Still, here we are. It’s February, we have nothing, I worry, my grandmother worries, and the world is gray and dead.
There were thirty dollars in the checking account, not enough to pay a bill or buy a tool, so I went out to get a few groceries to last a bit longer.
I always think of the widow at Zerepath at times like these. She had enough left for one meal– after that, she and her son would die. Elijah showed up and asked her for a pancake, so she gave it to him– her very last pancake, from her last handful of flour. And then she and her son ate, miraculously, and they found that the grain and the oil did not run out until the rains came three years later.
She still had to live through the drought.
She had nothing flavorful to eat, only flour and oil. She likely had nothing beautiful to look at– the drought would have killed the local plants and animals, leaving her with nothing to admire from day to day. She must have been lonely– no one stays in a place like that during a three-year drought. She must have heard tales of horror after horror from anyone who did pass that way. Famine is anything but beautiful.
Living out a drought and a famine in a desert country, with nothing but a miraculous supply of unleavened bread, must be the opposite of nearly everything that an Ohio Valley February is. But maybe the colors are the same.
Maybe the waiting in desperation feels similar.
I soaked my shoes in puddle after puddle and dirtied them in mud patch after mud patch as the rain came down. Those puddles will be gray ice by morning, and perhaps my muddy footprints will become potholes to lame another pedestrian. At last, I ducked into the store, blinking at the sudden change of light. The grocery store was a riot of color: balloons in every variety of pink, a fiery spectrum of roses from bright yellow to orange to scarlet, ruby velvet boxes of chocolate. There were jars of soapy jelly beans in a rainbow of shades. There were teddy bears in metallic gold tutus clutching Midas-gold metallic bouquets. There were plush dogs with blood-red hearts in their jaws, which is supposed to be charming. There were sloths in tan and pink. Whoever decided that sloths were a symbol of Valentine’s Day did so recently; I’m unfamiliar with the custom.
I couldn’t afford any of that, even if it looked appetizing instead of just visually striking. I bought paper towels and rice noodles.
On a whim, I picked up a can of stew on sale to give to the Friendship Room. I was still thinking, superstitiously perhaps, of the Widow of Zerepath. If anyone in this soaking, steaming glacier of a valley might turn out to be a prophet, that person is surely hiding at the Friendship Room. When Elijah returns, he’ll certainly go there, and sit in one of their chairs, and eat whatever they serve him. Maybe he’ll take my stew. Maybe he’ll send a miracle so I live through the rest of February.
Maybe March will come in like a lion and out like a lamb; then April will bring lilacs out of the dead land once again, and I will sleep at night, and there will be color.
For now, February is gray on gray.
(image via Pixabay)