They say don’t go to the beach in winter

But we tried to prove them wrong. And we spent about an hour on the beach before we froze. 

We tried to play pickleball. The wind grabbed the ball with icy hands and threw it into the sea. The waves brought it back. We put away the pickleball. 

Inside we lit up a gas fireplace. You flick a switch, wait a minute, and flames appear from translucent green rocks behind a glass wall. If you sit really close, you can feel something. 

The first thing I do when I wake up is put an ice cube on my eyes. I rub it over the lids, below the brow, over the cheek bones. It makes my face wake up. Then comes the coffee. It makes my mouth wake up. Then, the words. 

My day job is to keep the planet from warming up. “Make Winter Cold Again.” Friday was the coldest DC day in three years. 

We went to the beach in winter for a birthday. Seth’s thirtieth. The Big One. The nice thing about him having a birthday during the worst time of year is being forced to Go Out and Do Things, when all you want to do is sit by the windows and mourn your lost cat. We got her ashes back two weeks after we gave her away in a cardboard box. It was only supposed to take one week. I called every day after and they told me she was still in “processing.” 

We gave up on the beach and went inside. There was a pool with a basketball hoop. Pool basketball is like regular basketball but super slow motion. And there’s no dribbling. You hold that little ball with all your might. And you run through the water like you’d run on the moon. Long, elegant leaps. You float between each one. 

I got Ellie back in cherry wooden box inside a brown paper bag. Also in the bag was a poem about finding her one day ‘beyond the rainbow’ or something stupid like that. 

She’s cuddled me through all my heartbreaks, every single one, except this. And through the milestones too. Becoming a real human adult. Now I’m thirty-one and Seth is thirty, trying to catch up. I spent all day cooking a big birthday meal, stressing over the bread that didn’t get stale enough to crumb, the missing cheese grater, the cake that crumbled when it came out of the pan, and the fact that no matter how hard I worked on this meal, he’d be just as happy with a DiGiorno. That I chose this. 

We went to the beach but spent hours inside. Talking, talking, and talking about life. Then we went back outside and couldn’t talk any more. The wind pushed the sand sideways and waves crashed over our voices. Our cheeks stiffened with cold. It rained, then it stopped raining. The sun poked a hole in the clouds. We thought we were prepared for the cold. We weren’t. But we chose this. 

—Denise

cold

The Lifecycle of Snowmicron

In DC, every snowstorm has a name. “Snowzilla.” “Snowpocalypse.” “Snowmageddon.” When it snows in DC, the world stops. The government stops. The buses stop. My breath stops. The anticipation has long been blown out of our systems. We’ve lost all sense of expectation. It doesn’t snow: suddenly, snow is.

Suddenly, eight inches of winter coats every parked car, with windshield wipers sticking up like whiskers.

Suddenly, hundreds of people are in the park, trying unsuccessfully to turn fluff into men.

Suddenly, dogs in booties flail their legs as they find one another and the ball that disappeared.

Suddenly, I’m leaning over a ledge, tossing snowballs onto a frozen pool, watching a few of them crack it open and a few of them obliterate, letting strangers join me in this new game, a new way to ‘break the ice’.

Suddenly, I’m stomping on storm drains, letting thin icy layers crash into trickles.

And suddenly, I’m eleven years old, in the Wisconsin forest behind my friend’s house, in snow boots that don’t fear brooks and streams, frozen over but running underneath, waiting to be crunched. I’m finding a walking stick that’s good enough for a wizard — no, a bigger stick, over there. There are no trails except the ones we make by trampling saplings and snow. It’s after a hockey game where she scored two goals and I celebrated each time I touched the puck, and although our legs are tired, they need to keep going.

I’m back in DC, treading carefully over frozen streets. My feet relearn how to find stable ground, a bit of mud, anything that can catch a rubber sole.

Then I’m pulled back several years, running alongside a river, on a path covered in snow hiding the thick layer of ice beneath it, and my foot slips, and my chin catches the ground and splits. The snow turns red. The cut is deep. I’m nowhere, walking four dripping miles to the emergency room to be stitched.

It’s sunny in DC, snow stacked on rooftops, and a wind blows, and the snow flutters sideways like crystals.

Then I’m feeling the flush excitement of high school trips to the mountain, with frozen-peanut-butter-jelly stomachs, rigid snowboarding boots that shuck your shin forward, spraining my wrist and my elbow, falling on my ass, giving up on getting up, just lying there on the soft ground, watching snow flutter off trees as snowboarders scrape by beside me.

My life was once bookended by snow. Five months of the year — the beginning and the end — were wrapped in white. Now snow is rare, and getting rarer. But each time it’s transportive. My memories are encased in ice.

I’m grappling with the fact that I might live a very long time, which is almost as scary as dying, because to do with all these hours? “Snowmicron” made the world temporarily stop, which gave us the gift of time, which, when you’re not careful, can be terrifying. I love empty mornings (open, potential-filled) but hate empty nights (tired, bleak). Sometimes it’s good to confront this emptiness and see what you can fill it with.

So I’m trying to remember things about my past. What parts of my youth I want to bring back. For a long time, I’ve put them away. When I moved to New York for college, I left my cello at home, along with my then-favorite cat, my Jewish faith, my stereo system. I’m trying to feel out the cycle of my life. What it meant to be a child who made no life decisions. What decisions I can make now. Sometimes I fail to remember; sometimes the memories come unbidden and it’s my job to grab and study them.

Memories aren’t truly preserved. They’re never accurate. They’re recreated each time. They melt and refreeze and melt and refreeze and are forgotten and remembered and forgotten once more. But the feeling — sometimes there’s a feeling, like the water molecules that fill the shape of whatever glass holds them — the feeling stays true. It feels so strong, and you don’t know what it is, but it has something to do with the first time you crack a pond with your boot, or lie on the couch feeling dizzy.

I’d like to discover something new, or something old and true. For now I’ll go outside and lie down in the snow.

-Denise


Publication alert: My first poem has been published in a lovely local newsletter called 730DC. (If you live in DC, you should subscribe.) The poem is about libraries. Click here to read: Apology to the DC Public Library System.