It’s another Sunday night in Ann Arbor so cold it gives a body the flesh-creep.
The hairs in my nostrils have been replaced with broken shards of stained glass from Satan’s cathedral.
I stumble down into my low-light winter basement.
I dislodge the icicle buried in my skull.
I peel off my frozen, crusty eyelids.
I wring the wind chill out of my coat.
I try to resist the temptation to ask my iPhone what it feels like outside. (Because we already know: it feels really fucking awful.)
I think of a warmer place.
I think of home.
I think of sunny, stupid Florida.
And then I realize: I have become my own worst enemy.
Home isn’t home anymore, it’s a destination. I’m not a local. I’m just like everyone else: a slow-moving target with Michigan plates, looking for a good place to wear my socks on the beach.
I have become a snowbird.
I am the ruby-crowned kinglet, except I’m enrolled in 18 credits. When the rest of the snowbirds chirp their ways south, I’m here, studying for finals.
But don’t worry, I’ll catch up with the rest!
I just have to spend a little more time working through exhaustion in a fluorescent studio or library. Cramming, cramming. Waiting until a paper’s morning deadline has its white, xeroxy hand around my throat. The word count ticks up along with my feelings of self-doubt and fraudulence. I’m groping toward a thesis, but in its absence I hope I will be redeemed by innovation with adjectives and my ability to make a summary sound like analysis.
I don’t want to be here.
I can think only of the ruby-crowned kinglet. He’s free of these human distractions, this oppressive arctic air.
What do you think the ruby-crowned kinglet is doing right now? He’s strutting his stuff for all the other pretty little birdies in the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. He’s probably getting laid in broad daylight. Some kind aunt from Toledo looks on reverently. She decides that, after all, the $6 toll for the Sanibel Causeway was worth it.
“That ruby-crowned kinglet has game. They don’t do it like that back in Ohio,” she says (ever-so-quietly so as not to disturb the great blue heron to her left).
And I am here. Drinking very sorry brown water from an on-campus coffee shop. I have been laid low by the analysis of biblical themes in the film “The Road” adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name. I come up with two thousand words about the color gray.
I wouldn’t mind getting on the Road myself right now. I’ll take my chances with the cannibals.
Anything to be warm. Anything to spread my wings.
Anything to make that aunt from Toledo blush.
But the cold draft dripping down my back from a bad window brings another realization.
I have become a snowbird in reverse. I’m the worst, most busted snowbird you could imagine.
I don’t spend all my spring breaks in Florida. The big stretch of time I get to be home is the summer.
I am not the ruby-crowned kinglet. I don’t leave for the winter.
I haven’t learned my lesson yet. I stay!
I am still the same brown pelican I have always been. Except now it’s perpetually February and I’m sitting on the bank of the Huron River holding a margarita in my mittened hand wondering, on repeat — muttering to myself:
What for? What for? What for?
Willie Filkowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.