We bake at the beach, finding refuge in the occasional breeze.
We swelter in the sun, savoring until we can’t bear it.
Under the teal awnings and whirring fans of a nearby café,
we fall back into routine. I ask the waitress for water and tea.
“Hot, please, and unsweetened.”
The waitress nods and takes my menu back.
My friend raises an eyebrow
as sweat dribbles down my neck.
I will drink it slowly, sip by sip.
I don’t want to rush my drink or meal,
and everyone here is
in a rush to do everything
or in a hurry to do
nothing at all.
The oppressive heat of my dad’s car is the devil’s breath—suffocating and impenetrable. The black interior invites the sun to stream endlessly through the windows.
“Cranking the AC, hold on,” I tell my brother.
“And the windows?”
“Yep.” I roll them down and once the car is in motion, we are one with the wind. “Funny that this is winter.”
“What do you mean?”
“Dude, it’s 78 degrees outside.” I roll my eyes. The Christmas lights and “ho ho ho” signs along the road seem out of place. It doesn’t feel like Christmas—it feels like everyone is just pretending it is. A “white Christmas” is a foreign concept, with the same air as a fairytale.
As my brother and I pull onto the five-lane highway lined with billboards and new buildings, I allow the scenery to change in my mind’s eye: snow-topped buildings, people in parkas, misty sunlight, jingle bells.
At my dresser, I eye the sticky note on my mirror.
Laundry Respond to emails Pick up Mom’s birthday gift
- Send in final college applications
A reminder, I suppose, that there is a ticket out of this place. Out of the sweltering sun and chaos and corruption to somewhere nicer, fresher, better.
My sand dollar necklace swings from my neck as I pull my curls into a ponytail. The chill of the air conditioning, or perhaps just the excitement of something new, raises goosebumps along my arms.
There are other places out there.
A plane ride later, I’m sitting by a quiet
radiator waiting for the waitress to come over.
“Tea, please. Thanks.”
When the mug is placed in front of me, I cup it in
between my hands and take a long sip. I let the
tea sit in my mouth for a moment before
swallowing, savoring the perfect chai.
When people enter the restaurant, they smile at me,
even though we’ve never met and
probably will never talk. Faces I’ll forget,
interactions that blend into a mural. On my way out,
the distinct crispness in the air kisses my skin
with a reminder that I made it out. Made it here.
The crunch of orange leaves echoes in
my ears and I replay it between steps.
It’s remarkable. My shoes seem to be
attracted to the piles of leaves.
It’s interesting to me that the death of leaves is a pretty thing. It doesn’t sound pretty. And yet, as they are flushed with hues of red and orange, they are, in their final moments, perhaps the prettiest they have ever been for me.
Fall here smells like cinnamon and marshmallows and warm soup and chai.
Fall here sounds like crunching leaves and laughter and the zipping of coats coming out of hibernation.
Fall here is gratitude, coziness, fuzzy socks, chocolate bars, and togetherness.
Fall here is the leaves dying—then falling, as the name so clearly describes—and yet something about it brings me back to life.
Rhode Island, Later
Snow is something of a fantasy. My first snow came in the form of a blizzard, and I found myself catching snowflakes on my tongue, laughing and twirling in the falling snow; jumping in piles of fluff and sculpting snowwomen with my bare hands; trying to make snowballs and finding out there are different kinds of snow.
I notice that the cold doesn’t bite my skin the way heat does.
“You’re like a child,” my friend laughs. “I love it.”
I toss a misshapen snowball in her direction. “It’s snow!”
She laughs and tosses one back. I try to catch it and it crumbles in my hands, peppering my hair with icy specks. I’m laughing, dancing, skipping down the stairs and up the hill. Everyone around us is bundled up in colorful coats and sweaters, headed from warm room to warm room. You can see their breath in the air, a reminder of all the things happening around you, whether you notice them or not.
Everything is dead and yet everything is alive.
The soup from the dining hall is suddenly appealing and rich with flavor, accentuated by the crisp condensation on the window. Hot chocolate, toasted bread, steaming servings of vegetables, even seafood. I shovel it all down, feeling the warmth running through my veins.
Later, winding streets named after presidents and towns no one has heard of carry us home. To-go cups of hot tea slosh in the cupholders of the old car. Laughter, music, and love are alive here. Even in winter, warmth is alive here.
“Which do you think feels better,” I ask, “warm drinks on a cold day, or cold drinks on a warm day?”
“Hmmmm. I don’t know.”
“What about baking in the sun then cooling off in the water, or getting cold in the water then warming in the sun?”
My friend can’t decide on an answer but to me, it’s clear. There is nothing like warmth when your body is frozen. You can feel your body thawing out and sinking into comfort. It feels like coming back to life.
There is something about the changing of the seasons that makes me feel alive. There is something beautiful about each of them, something distinct to appreciate and to savor and to remember. The snow in the winter, the fresh blossoms in the spring, the sunshine in the summer, the foliage in the fall.
In the midst of the snow, my fingers work their way up to my sand dollar necklace and twist the chain around my thumb. A piece of me will always miss home, but most of me has found a new one.