Lingering Chill

There is a certain pleasure in hunkering down for the winter months in the cold, enduring Midwestern north. As the temperatures drop, the rain turns to sleet that turns normal stairs and sloping lawns into treacherous slides for those without adequate caution. Empty, grey days turn into cozy retreats as people turn from excusing their flight from the worsening weather to embracing it. Life goes on, as always, but the quiet moments that once demanded to be filled are now left empty save for rest and warmth, attention turned inward instead of outward. Homes become bastions of warmth and life, drifting and disconnected from the world around them save for the moments that they open up to share their light with those daring enough to still travel between them.

I lost this feeling, this warmth, this imaginative wonder at the comfort of being tucked away from the cold last year. I was forced to adapt to a world were the price of being warm and cozy was more than I could afford. I had to struggle, in the middle of the cold, isolating winter of late 2020 and early 2021, to make myself capable of withstanding the discomforts of my life when I did not have the capacity in spoons or forks to take on any additional burdens.

I succeeded and have spent most of the year since then rebuilding. I’ve worked hard to reclaim my sense of “home” from the outside forces that left me feeling like I did not belong or have control over my space. I’ve reclaimed my comfort in solitude from the driving, all-consuming isolation of the pandemic. I’ve carefully rebuilt my hobbies and my attention so that I can direct myself toward things I find fulfilling rather than whatever will help me pass the day.

Still, though, the fear lingers. As the chill seeps in through the walls, through a floor somehow still exposed to cold despite rugs and layers of padding, as my heavy metal door leeches away all warmth in the face of its cold indifference, I find myself remembering.

I remember the layers I wore. Heavy, comfortable clothing underneath a robe I told myself was a luxury of working from home. Woolen socks I joked were bought so I could enjoy the comfort of slippered feet no matter what shoes I wore, but were mostly worn inside slippers. Constant candles burning not for their calming, flickering light or as a focal point for contemplation, but for the minute warmth they provided to my vicinity. Doors closed, cracks stuffed with towels and blankets, not to keep my bedroom cold but to save warmth for the rest of the house. Warm, hearty meals made not because I enjoyed them, but because it gave me a reason to have the stove and the oven on, because I needed the food as constant cold replaced warmth. Despite all these costs, it was still cheaper than turning up the heat.

Now, I wear these woolen socks because they’re in my rotation. They are warm, but I just need socks, not these specific socks, to be comfortable. I lack the daylight that was my sole comfort in the past, but the barriers that keep me from opening my blinds also keep me from the cold. Floors once chill are now cool, comfortable beneath socks that are maybe too warm for me. I still do not turn on the heat because it is more than I can afford, but I have replacements. Tools to give me the warmth I so lacked last year. It might still be large, it might still be too empty, but it is cozy now. A fortress of warmth and light beckoning others to come and fill it with life as our lives allow.

The memories still lurk in the corners, too dark and forbidding to simply leave, but I am adept at dealing with such things. They are overshadowed by things worse them then, quickly turning from a pervasive gloom to a simple footnote. An item on a long to-do list. A task that will be completed as a way to put off doing something more difficult. They will linger for a while, but as this fortress of comfort endures this winter, they will fade away completely.

Nothing lasts forever, after all. Not pain, not joy, not cold, not warmth, not summer, not winter. All these things fade and something new replaces them. All that we can hope to do is participate in deciding what flourishes in their place.

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