This Michigan Winter

An Essay in Pathetic Fallacy

The buzz of the alarm clock pierces the dream in which she is happy and loving and loved. Loath to leave that beautiful house by the ocean with its sensational glass front from which she can see the road to her childhood home, where the beautiful navy and silver of the Atlantic and the brilliant azure and gold of the Indian Oceans fluidly melt into each other… loath to abandon the house she did not ever hope to own, she shuts the alarm off and goes home again.

But the day will have its way. Rise, she ultimately must, however reluctantly. She sits up in bed. What would have been a sob in another person is a sigh that greets her reality. A universe of grey. Grey skies and brown snowbanks. Leaden feet grope towards the ground. Reality.

The face that greets her in the mirror is tired. Her myopic eyes see every blemish clearly. Strands of grey in her hair reflect the winter in her heart. The dead of winter, dead in her heart.

Dragging herself out to work, she braces against the cruelty of the prairie winds. Cutting her to shreds like words. Chilling her like the snubs of those whose task it is to judge her value. But, not so cutting, not so cold, she thinks. Dare she trust the very ground upon which she treads?

Garden of Snow
(c) Swarna Rajagopalan, 1999

Ahead of her, a sheet of white snow stretches. It looks soft and fluffy, as though it would welcome and envelope her every step. Her boot-clad feet yearn to sink right in. But the tracks left by cars that have already driven that way have parted the fresh snow, and as the gaps they have forged catch a stray ray of the elusive winter sun, they glint. Ah, treacherous snow! Stretching its arms out in invitation only to tempt her into a fall.

Weary even before she embarks on her journey, she takes each step with deliberation. Her coat gets heavier on her with every yard she walks. Heavy and stifling, but unable to keep out the iciness that rises from the base of her spine and settles around her heart. Choking with grief, she feels her cheeks warm and her nose redden. Her glasses fog and thaw, fog and thaw, as she goes in and out of central heating. She cannot tell the difference though because tears obscure the view anyway. And the ice grips her heart too tight to feel any warmth.

Red Cedar, Grey
(c) Swarna Rajagopalan, 1999

Frozen. Yes, frozen is the perfect description. Frozen like a life on ice, waiting for the perfect moment to be lived. Frozen, like the frigidity that she feels permeating even the warmest greeting she receives.

The tears that she is fighting back block her nose. Now she cannot breathe. Mouth slightly open to inhale, she encounters the cold frontally in her throat, which catches and hurts for the choked tears and the nippy air. Unable to breathe, unable to live. Bearing her life as a burden equal to her heavy coat, she cowers down. Every step is a calculated move, every breath a gasp for air.

The effort is too much. The emotion overwhelms her, and in that moment’s distraction, she loses her balance. As her body feels the impact of the ground, she loses the will to pick herself up. Silently whimpering, she wants to surrender to the inertia that stakes its claim so persuasively. Getting up, getting warm, getting moving are so hard. Cushioned by her coat, her body is shaken but unhurt. Her heart is on the brink, however. Again, tears. Those tears that are now everywhere.

A passer-by stops to enquire, and she sends him away with a shake of her head. Let no one see her abject misery. He turns around a couple of times, but her very stillness is a fortress.

Bruised. That is how she feels. A raw, fresh bruise that hurts with every passing whiff and every movement in its vicinity. Ouch. Aah. Careful. Everything hurts. Help hurts and neglect hurts too.

For the second time in one morning, she picks herself up against every entreaty her heart makes and she moves on. Surely, she deserves a prize for this?

Red Cedar, Cotton and Glass
(c) Swarna Rajagopalan, 1999

Ice on the ground. Grey in the sky. Brown snowbanks and deceiving stretches of new snow. Sheets of glass for water. Not a single reason to go on. Alone. Unable to see ahead.

She puts her bags down at her desk, and securing the door behind her, finally gives in to the tears that have been welling up within her. But even those tears fail her. She shakes and moans in a valiant attempt to release all the sadness within her. Anger has swallowed it whole. And fear, in turn, has deluged the anger. Full of feeling and emptied of expression, she stares out into the yard.

Blankly, her eyes pass over the white and dirt surface, the yeti-like bootprints, the debris of human occupation in the form of food packets and cigarette butts, to the trees in the yard. Stripped and cold, their branches try to cover themselves in snow for warmth. Like limbs too long for a blanket, twigs stick out bare. And benumbed. And bearing buds.

Buds! Suddenly, the glass in her eyes yields to interest. Her limbs thaw, readying themselves to move. Her heart lifts, splutters and starts. She is ready to drag herself through another depressing and pointless winter day.

Swarna Rajagopalan
East Lansing