Now that I think about it, my first nervous breakdown was in the summer, a time when nothing seemed to be going right. I was living in, mostly because there was no room under, my car; I'd depleted my savings, and about 120 percent more besides, on a move that didn't work out for me; and finally, my life had devolved into a punchline: I dialed up a suicide-prevention line, and they put me on hold.
Somehow I survived all that. But winter, I'm thinking, is going to kill me. Not this winter, necessarily; we're two-thirds of the way through it, and maybe halfway through the snow, though it wouldn't surprise me were I to drop dead with a shovel in my hand. (Being dead, I surmise, does cut down on one's ability to be surprised, though obviously I have no first-hand knowledge of this fact.) Winter just takes too much out of me, and I don't have all that much left.
Part of this, I'm thinking, is good old Seasonal Affective Disorder. The first winter after my sojourn in the Home for the Bewildered was spectacularly bad: not all that much snow, really, but it simply wouldn't go away. The skies remained overcast for two weeks, the powder turned into a shiny glaze, and the memory is so painfully vivid I don't even trust it anymore. I was indoors, mostly I'd managed to bum enough cash to book myself into a not-all-that-cheap low-end motel, so I was only cold, not freezing to death but to this day, certain icy shapes give me the fantods. One of them, as it happens, is the Freezing Rain icon used entirely too often by the National Weather Service. I don't remember having problems with winter before that year hell, I actually got married during a January, which is pretty much unheard of so it must have started then.
The land, almost all the way from here to Manitoba, is flatter than Britney Spears' voice, and once a cold front forms in Flin Flon, there's nothing to stop it from falling right down the map on top of us and it's no consolation knowing that the Dakotas and Nebraska and even Kansas get it first. If anything, the time lag just builds up the inevitable apprehension.
And apprehension, of course, does nothing for one's sense of well-being. I suppose I could move to California, but no, I already tried that once. Wound up in the Humorous Agricultural Facility. And sometimes the ground shakes. (I remember it starting to shake when I was standing next to a two-story plate-glass window at some shopping mall. Back then, I could run, after a fashion, and I did.) That feeling of helplessness, that something's going to happen to you and there's nothing you can do, still comes and goes, and it never goes fast enough.
The worst of it, though, is that everything horrible that happens in the winter seems that much more horrible because it happens in the winter: even if I can walk away from it, the next place I find myself is going to be chilly.
Still, I am forced to admit that winter is an essential season, not just because Vivaldi hired all those strings, but because it brings the cycle of life to a proper close, and if there's anything left I need out of my life, it's a proper close. I mean, I've done my part to perpetuate the species, and I've tried to leave things no worse than I found them. I'd like to think I've earned a decent ending somewhere along the way. But I don't want my second-to-last thought on earth to be "Jesus Christ, it's cold."
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Copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Hill