Snowflakes trickled down like autumn leaves, frozen by winter’s frosted tongue past my fourth- story window. Warm serenity shrouded me as I imagined the crackle of a fireplace behind me, a necessary mindset as I was tucked away in cold isolation. Trails of snow lay like sloths amongst the tall oak trees, like Scarface had sneezed on our small New Hampshire town and buried us.
It’s a cold gray landscape sprawled out in front of me. The world feels still, but far from silent. Talk of books and bags and games fade away amidst the rumble of plow drivers and my mind retreats to distant days: days spent with the girl who first made me feel alive, with whom I fell in and out of love; waddling outside wrapped in five pounds of snow gear to play soldier in the snow fort my father carved for me with his snowblower, and abandoning my post to defrost my frozen nose with a bowl of chicken noodle soup; growing old enough to help the family shovel snow, and getting yelled at for not doing it right. How could I possibly screw that up? The answer is a cold shrug with a dash of tough love. You’re a man now, act like it.
Winter is an ashen fog of memories. Snowflakes fall around me, each a past experience that I hope to catch with my tongue, so maybe I can taste the sweetness of winter once again. Now clean off your car that you paid too much for, and shovel the sleet so you can go to work. Make the tires on that Chevy twirl and strike a patch of black ice in hopes that the spins will feel like an amusement park ride and incite childish laughter. Contemplate eating the pink salt sprinkled on your sidewalk, but shy away because you’re too old for candy now. Winter mornings used to taste like hot cocoa and syrup; now they taste like black coffee and mud.
Photo by Jack Bouchard
Winter’s hollow winds cry an old memory of mine, somewhat traumatic yet swaddled with the soothing safety that I yearn for in darker days. It’s Halloween of 2011, and the anticipation of candy bars and that one house that gives out fucking juice boxes is quickly punctured, not by suspected razor blades, but by the piercing howl of an imminent Nor’easter. We were 30 minutes from home when flakes started to fall like little atom bombs, sending my Uncle Chuck’s house party into a frenzy and spilling us out of the front door.
Perched on a steep hill, the family station wagon released a muted sputter that carried us away, cascading down Merrimack Street before veering left down Beacon. There are a lot of questionable decisions surrounding that night, especially turning down Beacon. It’s a long, slanted hill, glazed with thick ice and broken tree branches on that particular night, waiting to be conquered by a brave soul with a death wish. It took a mere 15 seconds before we struck that first ice patch, sending my family into a slight fishtail that followed us as we descended into what felt like hell.
It was pitch black, but by some miracle, we had made it to the highway. My eyes stayed closed up until that point. My father traversed Daniel Webster Highway with gusto, which looking back was probably his best attempt at a poker face. Snowflakes shot down at us like a cluster of arrows, a scene my mother would later describe as the Millennium Falcon shifting to hyperdrive. My parents were Han and Leia, and I was a young Chewy.
Even though I couldn’t see beyond those dim yellow headlights, I felt safe because my father was steering the ship. He was like a superhero that could journey the darkness with ease—but I’m on my own now. It’s pitch black, and I can’t see where I’m going. Whenever winter rears its frigid head, I’m reminded that my hands are untethered, and I better keep trudging if I want to see what’s on the other side of this darkness. I don’t think my father could see where he was going either, and that brings me some relief. He reflects on that night with a certain hesitance and an underlying smirk that whispers triumph.
The truth is, winter is beautiful, but that grace period only lasts so long before the ugly side of the several- month-long cold snap is turned up and spit out by the plow. Little mountains of white powder, tarnished by the salt of the earth and the mud underneath our boots. Try not to look. Keep imagining that fireplace behind you, and pretend it’s the sun. It’ll come back soon, and you’ll be able to see once again.