Tonight is the first snowfall of the year and the atmosphere reminds me of an evening last December. A blizzard had begun to roll in as the sun set and I felt a freedom in my small walk to the 7-Eleven down the block, knowing that the Lower East Side was vacant, all my friends having gone home for the holidays. I picked up a bag of unsalted peanut butter pretzels and returned to the Delancey apartment, an excuse to relish in the stark chill that filled the empty street.
This time last winter, I had felt unattached to my new life, as though I was admiring the mundane rather than being a part of it. Now, the everyday surrounds me, as I have the small regularities that are acquired with familiarity of place and people, of trusting that it’s okay to stand still. I find myself grappling with the “point” of routine and stifling those thoughts; afraid to think of anything in the worry that my wandering mind and feet will overlap with some important meeting and this fragile fort I crafted will swiftly tumble. I care so much about the people I have relationships with that I have returned to a place of fear, one that pushes me to perfection and leaves ugly sores. I feign ignorance at how much things matter to me.
Remaining present has grown harder to mask as I watch myself sever my most cherished ties in preparation to move abroad in the coming month. I have grown handy with the knife, but my blade is duller than ever.
At least for today, this small recollection of last winter allows me sanctuary enough to remember more, just for a minute.
What strikes me first is a day that I’m not entirely sure happened. At least, if it happened as I recall. I have a tendency to remember fragments rather than sequences and sometimes various pieces fit together better than what actually occurred, and the mosaic becomes reality, the story I tell myself. I discovered this about myself in conversation, whereupon those around me often correct my series, and I must reform timelines as they occur in my mind, always shuffling somebody else’s fact over my fiction and back, dropping a few to be replaced with jokers in time. In many ways, I believe this to be more important than what truly occurred because -when it comes to this- the sole purpose is to light my senses with a knowing that feels more like home than anything else I could seek to articulate.
My final semester of high school, I joined the ultimate frisbee team at the request of my then partner, as it would mean that we would play each other in a tournament every Saturday. One beautifully sunny day in May, as my friends and I celebrated our many losses, we took to running up the steep hill by the pond, just to roll down into a bit of mud at dizzying speeds.
While I gained my balance, I saw him run toward me post-haste, and with immaculately unstable footing, I ran in return. The grass was wet, my head hot, and the embrace tight. We continued to the parking lot and took turns comically banging the mud off our cleats in whatever manner we could muster to get the final clumps out before driving out of the forest preserve and back to the city.
Something about always being the driver felt so strange, a power dynamic seemed implied. I told him that I loved him for the first time in the car and to preserve peace within the vehicle, I had to drive twenty minutes making strangely nonchalant conversation while silently on the verge of hysteria before I ultimately heard it back. Driving had never felt less lucid, the signage less cogent, and certainly, the direction less evident. I was used to simply arriving in my car with a tunnel vision on what was next, rather than on the daily routes, but that evening, my mind was awake and alert in a seemingly foreign vehicle.
The bright blue door of his house greeted us upon entry as I kicked off my shoes and he taunted me, always seeing their removal as pretentious. He bumbled about through the foyer, across the living room, and into the dining room -turning on the lights, the music, and the stove in fluid motion.
After some sliding in our socks between the front room and kitchen and back, we settled around the island to prepare lunch -our own styles of the same instant Shin ramen- for one another. The light from his backyard shone in streams through the screen door and windows onto where I was seated. The boiling water was nowhere near as lively as the creature bopping around the stove in front of me.
As though we had done this exact thing a million times, “Electric Love” began to crescendo on the speakers and he swept me up from my seat in a single move to dance. Our socks provided ample support to the gliding that took place in every corner of that room, the world was just that first floor, and it was aglow with sunshine and a gilded blue akin to bright spring skies.
The song ended, the feeling continued, still surging from time to time. Ace presented me his dry noodles with the seasoning packet as a sauce and I presented him my noodles in broth as traditionally intended, jokingly vetting our dish against the other’s as we finished watching a nature docuseries (as a cancer, this is something he is wont to do) that we had begun the week prior. That afternoon, we were having dinner in the living room with his parents (Chinese takeout, I had mapo tofu) and I think they found it strange (yet hopefully endearing) that I sat on the floor to eat at the coffee table.
Both his parents are rather quiet people with their own minds providing a world to walk in. He has long been frustrated by their silence and boasts the most profoundly interesting set of thoughts. Instead of internalizing his worlds, he shares them. I once told him that I associated him with a bright orange, it now feels a somewhat fluorescent green.
I can’t remember what happened next. All I remember now is the feeling that I should have done more, stayed. That was my only regret, not staying longer on days like this.
When we broke up, it was a similarly bright day: puffy white clouds scattered about, his eyes matched the bright tree lines against a mid-August sky, and as they glowed, illuminating the face the person I loved so much, I found myself unable to cry when he cited college and “other problems.” We did our handshake one last time. It was at a train station. For some reason it keeps happening at train stations.
It’s difficult for me to talk about the things that make me emotional, simply because I did not grow up in a family where that was something we did. Without the language to express how I feel -my attempts sounding awkward and feeling futile- I have long sought after others’ words. Mere months after the relationship ended, I found a passage in Haruki Murakami’s novel, Norwegian Wood that resonated with immaculate serendipity. I cannot quite recall what it said, but I know I have the page marked. Scrambling through my precariously organized books, it appears:
“I really like you, Midori. A lot.”
“How much is a lot?”
“Like a spring bear,” I said.
“A spring bear?” Midori looked up again. “What’s that all about? A spring bear.”
“You’re walking through a field all by yourself one day in spring, and this sweet little bear cub with velvet fur and shiny little eyes comes walking along. And he says to you, ‘Hi, there, little lady. Want to tumble with me?’ So you and the bear cub spend the whole day in each other’s arms, tumbling down this clover-covered hill. Nice, huh? “
“Yeah. Really nice.”
“That’s how much I like you.”
Murakami has the same sense I do, discussing the everyday and conveying both the impact & absurdity that it brings. We believe the mundane holds much more depth than most might agree to; the fantasy of his simple stories -or the simplicities in his fantastical ones- express little directly, but hold so much weight by virtue of how he tells the story of a life. Describing the way in which we decide to live is us at our most vulnerable. There is a need to be understood without a desire to explain.
Putting my copy back onto the shelf, I recall the version I had then -annotated and highlighted to the extreme- that had been passed off to Ace on my first trip to New York from Boston. Returning to the safety of my bed in the cold apartment with a radiator that may as well be broken, the blinking green light of my computer’s camera brings me back to presence.
The snow outside gains weight and speed, floating down onto the fire escape with a new sense of urgency; just looking at the black metal I can imagine how it must feel to touch the now chilled surface. I cannot wait for tomorrow morning when everything is completely covered. Waking up to fresh snow won’t be the same without kittens to pin me down beneath my massive comforter, my mom eager to skip work to sled with me, but the excitement will be enough.
Even if I cannot remember the chronology, how we were is still a part of who I am. My mind clumps around those feelings: painting our nails in bookstores, playing catch from adjacent tree tops, midnight drives to a secret southside beach, Chicago youth incarnate. There is a safety in missing him, one that evokes a certain homesickness.
My face wettens as I watch a neighbor emerge from across the patio that connects our buildings, her dog leaving small prints in the snow -only made visible by the string of Christmas lights above, the lab’s black fur slowly accumulating dandruff from the sky with what appears to be the happiest smile before the dog strides snout first into a huge pile of snow. Laughing in spite of myself and at the sight before me, my somber appearance stretches, then softens.
I feel a bit strange writing about this now when we maintain a good friendship, but at the same time it feels natural, that there is nothing else I should write about when many of my other memories are too fraught with active fear. This nostalgia is manageable, comfortable even. It always feels that when I deep dive into a certain ideation of mine -as I have here- that it becomes my whole self for a moment in time. Who am I when these memories aren’t being actively recalled? If I am happy just knowing that these things live inside me, does it matter?
Deciding my quilt too warm, I thrust open the window -still seated- and stick out my hand. Desperately trying to reign in myself, to curb these emotions. I want to sink in that day forever, but the snow feels so good. It reminds me of walking to Central Park after a dinner party with too much white wine, making snow angels at two in the morning before brutally assaulting Simon -a paladin of sorts- with my incredible aim, in a sweet moment turned giddy as snowballs took flight. I feel abounded by my love for others, obliged to repeat traditions of frigid seasons past despite their absence.
Looking at the crescent moon shielded by a curtain of flurries I think of you, Uno. You told me I seem transient, as I held your face in my hands before you cried into my chest, babbling about the custom deck of cards I gave you last February. I hope holding you was enough. It was all I had and it took everything from me. And then, I think of how my mom taught me to howl at the moon. My cries are a different kind this time. How are there so many people that it hurts so badly to think of? It feels like I’ve spent my entire life letting go. Of people, of places, of lives, of selves. I hate when people leave, I hate that I force them to go, and I hate that I run. In the midst of these swirling squalls of frustration rolling across the tundra, I burrow deeper into my blankets. I realize my mistake; when the storm settles, I’ll run despite cold feet that blister in the frost. That day, those moments, I should have kept more of them, rushing out and to catch remaining flakes as a means of recollecting anything in order to feel anything. Desperately sifting through the white specks that might contain any small fragment of the essence people leave, thrashing through the piles of memories that I usually walk over with certain fortitude.
Who am I without the back and forth? A shell of a person when actively forgetting, seizing when recollecting. Can it be enough to remember? How can I carve out space in my skin to slot in these slivers of elation in time? Will I ever be so full? I slowly push the snow off my window sill, futility attempting to prevent the cold from billowing into my room. I am here again, in my bed. Hiding in the warmth of that May day where mama says still waters run deep, others’ seasons steal the scene in my beloved Winter, but I stand my ground in the sparkling banks. I open a new tab, the search bar auto suggests sudoku.game, my hand automatically switches to Really Hard and hits New Game until one looks easy enough.