When the snow melts, the sidewalk seems cleaner. Washed free of clumps of rotting leaves. I go for a walk through the neighborhood, partly to take advantage of the brief splinter of sunshine that creases the clouds, but mostly just to get out of my stuffy apartment and be somewhere else. Anywhere else.
A woman dressed as a harlequin in black and white, with face paint and black dimples skips down the street smiling. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her, and I find myself grinning goofily beneath my black face mask. She represents the quirky city that I fell in love with. Seeing her skip past me is like the promise of spring. But she also evokes the memory of dancing in crowded clubs, when social diseases were the only ones I was concerned with catching.
Hard to believe this disease, and the isolation that defines these stillborn days, has been lingering for a year. It started like the punchline of a joke stuttered by a thrift store god. I called it an apocalypse of inconvenience and we thought it would last two weeks and disappear. But it didn’t go away. It doesn’t go away. And the joke is no longer funny, if it was ever funny.
For a while I missed my friends. Then isolation became grooved in routine. Then I found myself shrinking away from invitations to safely socially distance in some outside bar, not because I’m concerned for my safety, but because I’ve trained myself out of the need for human contact. Spend asexual nights wrapped in a comforter on the couch watching true crime documentaries on Netflix.
When the snow melts, everything that had been hidden beneath a glittering, white glaze becomes visible again. Brown and trash littered. I mark the passage of time in the number of tents erected by the homeless in the parks and little patches of green that dot the city. In the little park at the bottom of the hill, first one, then three, then eight. Misery multiplies and it’s the same all over town. Buildings are boarded up and homeless tents continue to pop up like bandaids in a swimming pool.
One morning I walked by to see one of the tents had caught fire in the night. Was reduced to a black circle of ash that was covered for a couple of days by the snow.
One morning I walked by to see one of my neighbors, an old man in a rumpled jacket, smoking a cigarette in the rain, his blue surgical mask around his chin. He used to smoke in the stairwell, but people complained that it was a fire hazard, and voted to make the area a non-smoking zone. I voted for it, myself, because in the summer with my windows open his smoke had left my bedroom smelling like an ashtray. Then he moved to the front steps, until people complained about that too, and he was forced to stand out in the rain. I feel guilty and make a habit of telling him good morning as I walk past.
“Good morning.” He mumbles back, gruffly.
I never stop for further conversation. Good morning is pretty much the extent of my ability to make small talk.
When the snow comes, the old man is outside smoking in the snow. I wonder about the homeless people shivering in doorways, and I wonder about all the people in the multiplying tents and what their daily lives are like, and what they eat (or don’t eat), and if they’re warm enough, and how can we allow people to sleep in tents, or in doorways, but I know my compassion is just a thought that flits across my eternally guilty conscience. And when a homeless man asks me for change outside the 7-11, I only say, “Sorry.”
Think, I can’t solve the worlds’ problems!
Go home and obsessively order running shoes, and books, and moisturizer from Amazon.
For months I didn’t sleep. I’d doze for thirty minutes or an hour, then would wake up mind racing. Eventually waking and sleeping both seemed like the same hysterically gray daze.
I went to a pot shop to get something to relax me and help me sleep, but then I got intimidated and walked back out again.
All my Facebook promotions became ads for eye-bag concealer. I stayed home and obsessively ordered eye-bag concealer from Amazon.
I talk to my mom back in Texas. The winter-storm has left them without water and with spotty electricity. She and my dad camp out in her kitchen with a little propane heater he uses on his hunting trips. One of my cousins stops by to check on them, and I feel guilty for living 1,800 miles away and not being able to check on them myself.
When I call my dad on his birthday he complains that Biden is taking away jobs. He works in the oil industry. I tell him he should retire anyway.
“What will I do if I retire?” He asks. He’s a person who has to DO something.
“Nothing!” I tell him. “If I could retire right now, I absolutely would.” All I long for in life is the time to do absolutely nothing.
“I know you would.” My dad says. They are both convinced that I’m the laziest person who has ever existed.
I want to explain that if I was ever imprisoned, I’d do anything I could to get placed in solitary confinement. To me it would neither be cruel, nor unusual. To be alone with my thoughts, without stress or obligation seems like a heavenly existence. A reward for putting up with all the injustice, the nonsense and bullshit that permeates our waking days. Then I think that quarantine has been akin to solitary confinement for me. Days spent alone in my apartment, punctuated by Zoom meetings at work, and the errant Amazon delivery.
“Did you see those fools at the Capital?” My mom asks, referring to the fur clad, shirtless insurrectionists.
“Yes.” I say.
“Someone should line them up and shoot them all.” She says. She is not exaggerating. My mother hates disorder more than anything. She has no political affiliation and no ideology. She just wants people to behave civilly, and becomes disproportionately angry when they do not.
I have inherited her anger. Find myself reading the headlines of articles on news aggregates smoldering like a butted cigarette. Parcel memes through slitted (and apparently bagged) eyes. I feel like I spent four years waking each morning with the query at the forefront of my mind, “What are we angry about today, hive mind?”
That anger that held me like a balled up fist for four years, seems to have largely dissipated with a single election. Or maybe I just became too tired to be angry. Or maybe all of my emotions are flattening out with middle age.
When it snowed this year, it piled up more than a foot outside my window. I watched people in fluffy, orange jumpers shuffle past on skis, and I watched people dragging children on the lids of garbage cans, and sliding down the steep hills in makeshift sleds. For the most part they were wearing their masks, and keeping their distance, but there was a feeling of sudden, unexpected freedom after a year spent confined.
I did not slide down the hill on a garbage can lid, even though one of my neighbors set some out in the foyer for anyone to use. Other people saw snow dappled thrills, and I saw broken bones and hospital bills. My back hurt just thinking about it, and I took some Ibuprofen in quiet, middle-aged protest.
A friend from Texas, now living in Portland texted me in his excitement at the winter wonderland. I admonished him that there was nothing wonderful about snow. It is cold and wet and inconvenient. It’s basically sky garbage. There is nothing romantic about it!
Later, after he texted that their electricity had gone out, I responded that I was too good a person to rub it in his face that he’d wanted the snow and would now have to deal with the repercussions.
Despite my contrarian words, I find myself taking pictures of the snow covered neighborhood. The evergreens dusted in white, and the glistening powder covering the hills, the cars, and the rooftops of houses. The beauty is irrefutable. Even for a curmudgeon like me. I post a pic on Instagram in a desperate bid for likes.
When the snow melts, it feels like the past is dissolving with it. The years of stress and solitude, the pent up anger and sleepless nights break into crystalline particles, spread and disappear. When the snow melts there is green beneath, quiet as a promise, and it feels like an ending. And a beginning. Then again, maybe it was just frozen water that had nothing to do with hope or renewal. But I’m my mother’s son, always looking for order, for poetry in the littered gutters. Whether it’s routine or stark stupidity, I look forward to the melting snow, and the opportunity to venture out again, to walk the streets and find the fragile beauty of another of the Earth’s finite revolutions. To catch it on my tongue, crisp and disappearing. Always too quickly.