What Nobody Warned Me About Before My First Real Winter

I had told my friends, many of whom who had chosen to stay in California for college, about how boring I thought San Diego weather could be. How chaparral was brown and sunburned and always smelled the same as it blew in 71-degree breezes. How the fiction I read became my fantasy novels because the crunch of fall leaves and snowballs and the relief of spring were all foreign to me.

I had always wanted seasons; I wanted the change in weather to be paired with emotions just as the change in music can be. And I never wanted to let the number of sweaters I needed to wear in a particular day dictate my choice of college. So I shoved the seven-letter word — weather — to the farthest corner of my mind.

But as parka weather turns fickle and marginally above 30 degrees begins to seem sincerely kind to me, I’ve found truths that no one could have tried to tell me.

No one ever told me about the blackness of snow. How days go by where it changes from storybook white to resilient, black ice that stays like cement.

No one ever told me about snow’s masses. How it gets piled into mountains on the walk to class that grow taller with each week, becoming so permanent my jaw stops dropping and my eyes stop giving a second glance.

No one ever told me about the salt. How it exposes frosted bare pavement and bare bricks that has carried snowfall year after year and never cracked. How every time you look at the white that has been left on the brick you think about if the ground is strong enough, about its well being. Will it recover to its September bright red?

No one ever told me how the skin on my face could feel so different. How when the negative 38-degree wind chill beats against your skin repeatedly for 12-minute increments, your jaw feels like a separate entity moving on your face.

How you’ll be walking home one night talking on the phone and your lips will begin to slow as they turn to rubber. How you’re sidetracked as your brain becomes consumed with getting warm and you lose even the skill of forming words.

How when you turn the corner, your ears become 95 degrees and burn from the cold. How you’ll always think about Van Gogh and the first time your mother told you about his severed ear. Is this what it would feel like?

How your hair will freeze, turn to glass, and break in your gloved hands as you run to class after getting out of the shower 20 minutes before.

How you used to believe that chomping into a popsicle was sufficiently unique. But how now every time you breathe in, each corner of your small two front teeth will ache up into the gums and through to their roots.

How one day you’ll be walking across the bridge over Washtenaw Ave. and blink and two glossy tears will fall from your left eye—emotionlessly induced. Your conscience will begin to worry about your subconscious and convince it that those bitter wind generated tears were not actually emotionless.

How you’ll mistake four different girls for that girl Riley you ate with in the dining hall once because so many people will be wearing identical black Canada Goose coats.

How you’ll begin to find normality in numbness. How the concept of toes will become a luxury and kneecaps, a rarity.

How you will be baffled by snow’s fleetingness. It’ll turn your hair wet like rain and disappear in between your fingertips when it melts. It’ll form 8-inch deep puddles at the sides of the roads. It’ll be absent one afternoon and reappear instantly in the morning.

But how you will also be baffled by its permanence. How it will stay shimmering in fields past the Big House and in trees in The Arb. How you’ll try to go sledding three times and never actually find the momentum to make it down one hill. How stomping through the Diag at midnight after a snowfall in snow boots that still give you blisters will feel purposeful.

Sometimes three degrees will be abstract pain but sometimes it will be shock hidden within dilated pupils because each time you walk outside the coldness is your own newness.

In a singular blink, as eyelashes bounce upon skin, those three degrees will be the longing for the smell of the ocean outside your bedroom window while simultaneously being tiny fantasies writing themselves into nonfiction novels. TC mark

featured image – Shutterstock

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