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The skies here are gray forever. The last dandelion of summer is gone from my walking trail. The season is on the edge, it is on the edge, we are all on the edge forever.

Somewhere in my father’s house there is a box of VHS tapes covered in the dust of a decade. My cartoon friends live there, abandoned on strips of film – baby happiness, streams of joy, dancing smiles, tea parties with friends and balloons.

The things that we love and cherish become vintage collectibles to be sold and then given to museums if they survive long enough to deserve a little placard with the date stamped on the face. Those are real things. We are real things.

We cannot say how the past should have been lived. I cannot tell you about my long-gone family. We have too many stories to share with our children. They forget most of them, passing down shorter and shorter sentences until there are no words left.

My grandfather standing at the top of the stairs. He brings us Kit-Kats and grapes. Cinnamon gum. My grandmother’s house. The smell of the basement laundry room. The yellow eyes of a black cat staring at me from the shadows. Black Cherry ice cream. A napkin holder with a picture of Jesus. A swinging chair. Purple was her favorite color.

If you start enough adventures, they never end. One after another becomes a single journey. A place on a game board briefly visited. Gum Drop Mountains. Molasses Swamp. Lollipop Woods.

I don’t know what the past was like. I can barely remember my own. I wonder if it has ever been like this before. Is this the most terrible? Are we? Is this the worst it could be? This could be the worst it could be. What a thought. What a thought to be capable of having.

We are all of the past and the present. We are all of the cycle of the universe. Gray skies and blue and black and red and pink and cotton candy summer’s end and bright orange leaves on the ground in piles we raked together and our old dog jumping in them and gobbling snow and sawing down pine trees and vacuuming up tinsel. Cycles and cycles and adventures and hoping we’re all going the right way and that no one will hate our old photographs but wonder who we were instead.

 

 

 

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Think about how many places you and your boots have traveled to (and from) together this winter.

Think about how many cold breezes your coat and hat and scarf and gloves protected you from.

Think about how many times you were kissed while you wore your favorite sweater.

Think about how many times you laughed in your long thick socks.

Yes, winter comes and goes. Yes, sometimes it seems like all we need is a change of seasons.

But just think, next time you stamp the snow from your boots, about how many different places that water has been.

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Someone take a photo of that window and send it to me. Be sure to get the frame in frame, the one I swiped my hand over and picked the peeling paint from. That’s the most important part. Of course, I can still see it in my mind, the shaded glass I poked my head around in an attempt to see the sky, to see only roof instead. Was it raining? Did it snow? I don’t know, I couldn’t see.

“Chad”, I say, apropos of nothing, informing my mother of a country in Africa, standing in the middle of her kitchen under a skylight. “Is that the name of my future son-in-law?” She asks. No. Probably not. I can see the blue of the sky from there; perhaps the same color as his eyes. Probably not. I’m sure they are brown. They always are.

The pictures they put on the cover of magazines and in travel guides are so ultra-contrasted and over-colored. I’ve never understood why that’s necessary. I’ve seen some of those places with my own eyes, and the blues aren’t that color, the cobblestones not so gray. Those pictures look like nostalgia feels. Is that the point? Only $6.99, and less if you sign up for a whole year – that’s 12 issues, and 50% off the cover price.

Once I met a boy named Chad in Las Vegas. He was a waiter with a complicated story. I recently deleted his number from my phone. I don’t think he had blue eyes. They never do.

The most beautiful things can’t be photographed; can barely be seen at all. The silence of all of us sitting there, next to the lake, sitting silently together in a ring of padded patio furniture. Later, all of us, none of us with blue eyes, but all of us beautiful, a woozy slumber party of supposed-to-be-adults. The late summer sun rising the next morning, us rising, rushing, back to somewhere. All of it beautiful, and it still is.

Winter, a few seasons later, almost Spring, and the skylight in my mother’s kitchen is dripping, dripping, dropping once-snow water onto the floor. I pull a pan from a cupboard, and it’s grey and scratched, a bit rusty on the bottom. I set it on the floor, also grey and scratched, a bit wet. There are pinging sounds as the drops hit the empty metal container, a rhythm of indoor rain. I look up, and the sky is a kind of blue-grey, a darkening, changing color as the sun slowly sets.

I remember Chad talking about his step-father, and saying that he’d moved out of his mother’s house and left to find a job in Las Vegas. He ended up as a waiter at a steakhouse. I don’t think that was his dream career move, but it had happened, and it paid his bills, for the most part. If he put on his waiter-face properly and acted like he cared enough, he got pretty good tips. It was Las Vegas, after all. People went there to drink and lose a pre-determined amount of money that usually slightly increased once they’d lost it faster than they had expected and still had three days left of vacation. They knew the price of steak was slightly higher there, so a slightly higher tip was also in order. Sometimes it was even included in the cost of their all-inclusive vacation package.

The pictures of the Las Vegas strip in travel guides are surprisingly accurate. The neon lights, the casinos that are also hotels, the hotels that are also casinos. That’s the face of it, the story, the main plot line.  It’s an easier story to tell than most places: an over-colored, over-built, long strip of road. It has an easy cover photo, unlike “Winter” or “last Summer” or “Spring in my mother’s kitchen”. It is a place, a snapshot, a photograph that exists and is easily defined, not like Chad from Africa or Chad from the steakhouse.

The sound the water droplets made changed as the pan filled, from a steely ringing to an almost-noiseless splash. The rhythm changed, too, slowing, like the roof was running out of water. When it finally stopped, I emptied the pan in the sink, watching the grayish water swirl down the drain, leaving tiny white bits of plaster or drywall behind. The skylights were dark now, almost black, and I could see myself in the reflection, looking up and back down at the same time.

I pressed a fingertip to the condensation-covered window, watched as a droplet formed and fell, sliding down the glass, gathering more water as it went, leaving a streak of clarity in its path. And that’s typically what happens, isn’t it? Like salt water traveling on skin — it must happen to you, too — losing something, even that small, leaves you with something else.

I hadn’t heard from him in a few days. Didn’t know if he was alive or dead. That was me being dramatic, but it was also true. Somewhere out there between here and there was a postcard, full of cramped writing, the few sentences I could write when I wanted to say so much more. I was sitting there by the window thinking about that little card, flying somewhere over the ocean — or maybe it was on a boat, I don’t know, I didn’t know, what do I know about the global postal system? — It’s amazing how much we don’t know.

A few days later the “January Meltdown” stopped and the water turned back into ice and it snowed again, covering the tracks in my front yard almost entirely, leaving only tiny impressions in the snowy expanse. And that’s typically what happens, isn’t it, memories almost completely wiped away by some deciding neurons in our brains that don’t ask us permission. And now I can barely remember her sitting across the table from me, and I have no idea what we talked about for so long so long ago. It’s amazing how much we can’t remember. Time doesn’t go by quickly, we forget it.

I’ve been listening to this one song a lot lately. It has this clicking sound in it, made by those wooden instruments, Google says that they’re called claves. That sound reminds me of you, reminds me of other songs we listened to together. I almost sent you the link, almost told you to listen, hey, listen, you might like this song, but I didn’t. I would have, four months ago, two months ago. Too much time has passed between us now. Too many changes of the seasons, too many new days, too many memories wiped away, filled in with something else.

Now we’re all different people who can’t remember what it was like before — it must happen to you, too. And it doesn’t matter that we all don’t have to wait day by day for a tiny postcard, doesn’t matter that we’re all at each others fingertips. There is still a silence, and it grows, time freezes it over like the water on my window.

I see two women walking together on the side of the road as I drive past, and I wonder if the woman waving her hands is talking and talking and talking too much, and if the other woman is regretting inviting her friend to exercise with her on this chilly late summer afternoon, since that’s what she really wanted to do, exercise, not walk slower than she normally would and listen to all of her friend’s  updated life struggles. “My cat just won’t stop staring out the window,” I imagine her saying, waving her arms as she walks, pretending that she wants to exercise, too.

And now the women are in my rearview mirror, I can look back and see them, and see the leaves turning orange or brown on the trees they walk under.

People are already complaining about the cold, about how it’s almost fall and the weather is colder than it was a month ago, and I think about how this always happens, every year, everything. Hot in the summer, cool in the fall, cold in the winter, with snow, and the same fetching of the dusty snow shovel from the basement.

I look in my rearview mirror at the beautiful orange leaves and I think about how I’ve seen this all before, seen those women before, or women like them, had those same experiences, talked about that same cat, seen those same leaves change from green to orange to brown, raked them into piles and jumped in them, or left the piles to rot. Again and again, year after year.

“It’s so cold!” she says, another faceless woman in my mind, pulling on the sweater she hasn’t worn in nine months.

Winter will come. Snow will fall. Salt trucks will melt it away, or try, or make ice patches that are worse than the snow was.

Again, again, of course. And of course the people will go on, dealing with seeing their breath in the air on cold winter mornings, plowing through snow drifts and piles of paperwork and gallons of hot coffee. What else can they do?

I smile when I don’t know what to say, and I think you understand me. Our eyes are dancing across the tabletop, never meeting. I stare at you as your gaze is focused towards the window, people watching. I look, too. I wonder if we see the same things. Outside, an old woman in a long black coat is smoking her cigarette. She bends down and snuffs it out underneath her shoe. She’s standing right next to one of those cigarette bins. I look back at you so I don’t see what she does next, if she leaves the cig there or if she takes care of it. You still don’t look at me. I tell you about my day, about my week. You listen. I look away while speaking, to see if you look at me. You do, but not for long enough. Not in a way that makes me think you like me back. Then you look away again and I’m back to staring at your brown eyes. They look happy. They smile when you do, when you don’t know what to say to me. I look through the window again. The woman is still standing there. I wonder if she’s waiting for a bus. There’s no bus stop there. I wonder what she’s waiting for. It’s cold outside. Her coat is long and dark, like Winter. I look back at you and think that it’s going to be a long and dark Winter again.