This winter’s beginning was familiar. Snow fell — first in coveted flurries, and then as inescapable heaps. My aloe plant turned leathery on my windowsill. My housemates and I muddied our kitchen floor with sloppy boot tracks. Canada geese, who always seem to stick around long after they logically should, probed the frozen ground for morsels each day before tucking their faces under their wings at night.
As my senior year plodded along, the consistently negative temperatures made my every outdoor movement robotic and hasty. My friends and I would help each other across glinting layers of sidewalk ice, laughing in disbelief as we slipped and gripped each other’s arms. We became both quick-footed and cautious, learning to exploit areas with the most traction — the blotches of new-fallen snow, the places where slush had formed around footprints and then refrozen.
Our bodies ached from struggling with gravity — spines twisted after retracting missteps, hips wrenched from halting mid-fall — and we bitched over beers about kinks in our necks like the arthritic members of a Red Hat Society. We cobbled together poetry portfolios, and wrote lengthy theses about security checkpoints and feminist anarchy, but even our most vibrant conversations always turned back to the snow.
Time compounded, as it tends to do — days diffusing into weeks and then into months. Months of lungs lined with stubborn phlegm; months of fingers fumbling with keys in the cold; months of smug couples strolling around campus with their hands tucked sweetly in each other’s parka pockets. Meanwhile, loneliness slowed my blood flow; warmth barely worked through me, like a weak current trickling over a frozen river, turning my skin gray and chilly to the touch. Any time I left the house, I kept my head down to protect my raw cheeks from the wind; I didn’t look at the sky all winter.
Some moments inspired the exaggerations I’ll feed my children when they complain about having to don their coats on Halloween. I’ll mention the most frigid night of the year, when my housemates and I stayed up singing and sucking down pulls of whiskey, afraid the heat would silently fail and give us over to hypothermia as we slept. I’ll tell them about how my parents feared their roof would collapse under the weight of its ice blanket, and in the mornings, in that moment between dream and waking, I imagined my childhood home as a mound of white rubble, the family dog barking and digging desperately through the snow.
But, despite all doubts, this morning I looked out my window to find March waiting for me — as she always does at this time of year — with the gift of thaw in her hands.
The sidewalk ice is receding to reveal lost treasures — car keys, lipstick tubes, pushpins, dropped tampons, hubcaps, that lone and forsaken mitten. The geese survived. My parents’ roof is still intact. But as its shingles reemerge, and the mountains of plowed snow on the Diag shrink to nothing, all of that weight remains.
Though I’m no longer skidding down these streets, bent and braced for the cold, my shoulders don’t seem any looser or lighter. While I should be rejoicing — cartwheeling across the prickly grass and inhaling a little sunshine — I actually feel heavier than I did in the midst of the Polar Vortex.
The weight of ice has been replaced by the reality of spring, the reality that this is my last month of living my current life. The monotony that was encouraged by this urban tundra — circuits between class, work, bar, sleep, class, work, bar, sleep — seduced me into this city’s collective hibernation, and tricked me into thinking time had slowed. But now that my internal calendar is thawing out with the rest of our campus, it feels like I’ve overslept for months and missed every class, every deadline, every party, every interview, every Sunday brunch.
Of course, this isn’t a new discovery; all students fear the end of school, and a little panic nourishes both ambition and the soul.
However, wisdom and reason don’t seem to take the edge off of this trepidation, or make me any more sure-footed as I polish off the year. Like every senior class before us, we face a future full of winters. Like every class before us, we will slip before catching ourselves on a good friend’s shoulder. Eventually, we will land firmly on the ground, though whether we make contact with our feet or asses first depends entirely on the way we fall. Either way, it will hurt — our bodies will ache along with our hearts. But our lives are changing as quickly as ice can melt out of existence, and we have to brace ourselves for the sudden heat of it all.
Emily Pittinos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.