The winter that never came finally got here last night.
We had a dreadfully cold Christmas, followed by a rainy and muddy January, followed by the sunniest, warmest February of my lifetime, bleeding right into a soft gentle March. The daffodils were out and the crocuses were already past their peak. Buds were on all the trees and the birds were singing merrily. Then, suddenly, it started to snow.
It kept snowing as night fell, covering the parked car I can’t drive, glazing the sidewalk and the street in white.
When I woke up, it was dark, not from the time of day but from the cloud cover. It has been dark all day long. It has been blowing snow all day long. but the snow didn’t stick and make the ground beautiful. It just blew.
I’d forgotten how much I despise the late winter. It’s the worst possible time of year.
Adrienne slept in, well into the afternoon. I shouldn’t have let her, I’ve been working on getting her up, but the cold and dark made me so depressed I let it slide. We did our spelling for the day, and then I assigned her the next several pages in the history text.
Michael realized we were out of coffee, so he ran to Kroger for minimal groceries on the bus, and brought be a black cold brew from the Starbucks counter as a treat. Later, he realized he’d dropped his annual bus pass on the bus and would have to buy a new one. They’re cheap in Steubenville, but it amounted to paying for groceries and coffee twice.
I found my coat, the gently used one I treated myself to four years ago when we were on food stamps and the old one disintegrated. It’s gotten awfully shabby. I was holding out on buying a new one since things are so tight and it’s almost spring– I was looking forward to throwing this one in the trash this summer. I hate coat shopping. I hate coats. I hate the late winter.
The coat has a broken button which lets the cold air in. I buttoned it over my jacket, stuffed my hands into mismatched gloves, and went for my walk.
Snow flew at my face like a flock of birds ready to pick my eyes out.
The daffodils and crocuses were shriveled, frozen to death.
The forsythia had just begun to bloom a few days ago, tufts of yellow on scrubby gray sticks. My father used to say that when the forsythia bloom, that means it’s three more snows until the spring. I had seen the forsythia blooming on a walk on Saturday, and thought to myself that this year he’d be wrong. It had been warm for too long. There was no way we’d have even one snow. Yet here I was. The forsythia blossoms were nodding back and forth as the snow blew by.
I began to imagine things.
I wrapped myself up in Walter Mitty fantasies, pretending to be somebody hopeful and important. For awhile I was that obnoxious Mary Sue fanfiction Tolkein character I made up when I was twelve, an energetic tomboy elf who lives in Rivendell and is better at anything than anybody else. I was a child who found a doorway from our own world into Narnia and didn’t let tiresome Aslan send her back to grow up and become an Anglican, I just stayed there having adventures. I was a beautiful Cinderella dancing at the ball with the prince, played by Tom Hiddleston. I was a conductor on the Underground Railroad or a member of the Resistance in World War Two, hiding fugitives in my basement and being terribly clever and courageous about it. I was a movie star. I was a wealthy philanthropist spending billions of dollars to stop climate change and save the world, and the world wanted to thank me for it. I was a wealthy heiress who lived someplace interesting and Tom Hiddleston was flying over for a visit to my mansion for high tea on the veranda. I was rescuing a domestic violence victim in my nice new shiny car, driving her and her children from Columbus to Pittsburgh where she could stay safely with family, a hero. Tom Hiddleston was sitting in the passenger seat for that fantasy as well. He’d never been to Pittsburgh before and I was going to take him to the Carnegie to see the dinosaurs after our friend was safe.
That’s what my mind does when I go for a walk. In fact, it’s what my mind does all the time. Sometimes it presents me with horrible scenario after horrible scenario, sickness and litigation and jail and other calamities, until I have a panic attack. Sometimes it presents me with happy fantasies instead. But I’m never just in one place, being myself. I am always somewhere else, being somebody else.
When I came home, my face and hands were freezing but my heart felt warm. My mind had been torturing me for days, but on my walk it had cheered me right up. I was going to get through the sudden winter and have a good time when the real spring came. Things always get better. I would find a way.
I was taking off the despised coat when Michael came in with awkward news.
Last year the bank had offered us a little line of credit we could borrow from that would have no interest and be good for our credit rating, as long as we paid it back on time, which we did. We took a few hundred for a utility bill here and there and paid it back soon as we could. We paid it back in full just a little bit ago, so it would be available later in the month for the rent if we needed. I live on tips for my writing– I have book royalties and I get paid for some of the articles I write, but gratuities are still what we live on from day to day, and they don’t come in predictable amounts. Some weeks we’re rich and some weeks we have nothing. Being able to borrow and pay back a little bit creates an illusion of stability which I like. But it turned out that after we paid them back this time, the bank decided we we weren’t depositing enough money in the checking account lately to be worth their time, and dropped our line of credit from a thousand dollars to a hundred. This was a bad week for that to happen. The money was already spoken for.
We were going to have to politely ask the landlord for a few more days on the rent. Our landlord likes us and will understand. The gas company will be another story.
For a moment I just blinked. I didn’t have time for this. There were orcs to fight in the Misty Mountains and my favorite actor was expecting tea. But somehow I didn’t think the landlord wanted to hear that.
It’s awful how a calamity will bring me back to myself. I don’t want to be myself. I want to be someone interesting. But at that moment, I had no choice to be Mary Pezzulo, a failure and an embarrassment with an ugly coat, in a rickety rental house in the worst part of the country in the very nastiest time of the year.
I hate winter.
Winter always comes to an end, eventually. I’ve gotten through every hard time so far.
And then I will go for another walk.