The following was written in January of 2016 for my creative non-fiction class. The assignment was to “describe an otherwise positive space but in a bad way.” Given its winter setting, it came to mind with today’s Daily Prompt of “Shiver.”
As if things weren’t bad enough. Hell, as if things weren’t cold enough, this steep, embarrassed panic sweeps through me in chilled, damp waves, shuddering my system already shaking amidst this mid-January cold. Just an hour ago I’d blithely mused, “It’s not too bad out, this should be alright. Chilly but alright.” But no. It’s January and the sun has set and for all my pacing back and forth I am not warm. If anything I should be sweating, but this decade-old pair of boots don’t keep the thin layer of snow over pads of concrete from steadily sucking away at my body heat.
I’m like Michael Caine’s duck: “calm on the surface, but swimming like the dickens underneath.” In contrast there’s kids in the distance, running and frolicking and joyfully yelling, in innocent awe of the massive, multi-color-lit trees in front of the Legislature Building. The happiness of these kids is apropos beyond their youth – these festive displays are meant for such joyous spectacle, Christmas and New Years lights adorning much of the Legislature’s heavily wooded grounds, left up a few weeks extra to honour Ukrainian New Year. It’s something I’ve been meaning to experience for years now, this electric wonderland. But as the clock strikes six, I know I’m in trouble.
The bells finish chiming just as my hope starts shifting to despair. Digital music plays almost painfully ironic music, happy sounds that otherwise seem like something out of a movie. The notes fill the air and if it weren’t for one key, missing element, I would friggin’ dance. Another happy song comes up and I start to feel like it’s intentional mockery, as if they (whoever “they” are) know that the dream is falling apart.
I can’t even comfort myself looking at the tall Christmas lights that surround me overhead. I’m too busty trying to keep a keen eye out, peering down pathways and corners instead of hanging my head in shame. Either way I can’t bear to look at the lights. They’re everywhere and bit by bit, moment by moment, light by light they become a cruel reminder of everything going wrong with very passing second, their holiday glow sullied by a sick, what-are-the-odds fate I can only try to convince myself is not my fault.
The brisk night air, though lit up both normally and extra-seasonally, feels so dark now. I can’t see through my fogged breath; I can’t see past my own gloom. There are no colourful lights, no trees green year-round. It’s all just to spruce up what is almost entirely concrete and a little bit of glass. It’s a tomb. It’s a mausoleum, smooth and elegant and crafted carefully and unknowingly, as I’ve convinced myself, by my own ignorance and patterns of insecurity. It all feels so melodramatic now – melodramatic and pointless. I’m going in circles and it’s all I can do. I’m only going to go further in these circles, and it’s only going to get darker out here, and quieter, and colder, and oh so much more painful.
It’s a sad, sick trick the way this place is laid out. The grounds and architecture are so multifaceted and cornered and rolling that to go looking for something could potentially leave you lost, just missing it as you turn this way and that. A cold, cold labyrinth that teases your desperation rather than igniting your hope with its bright, random lights. This should be beautiful. These should be good times. This should be the winter wonderland I’d long envisioned, long dreamed of with a newly partnered dream of something real. Something true. Something that could be waiting just around the concrete corner to blast all this cold concrete away with so much grace.
But it just … doesn’t … come.
And so it’s time to wake up. To let go of this dream that insists on being a nightmare. To leave this icy winter’s tomb that should be a pure seasonal joy, and thankfully is for others. But not for me; not tonight. Hope is not lost, but what’s been done has been done. Stuck in this pacing loop I can’t decide which hurts more, which is the bigger failure: staying and searching, or turning back and heading to my car, driving away into a defeated night.
With a shake of my head and a heavy, fogged sigh, I turn. I climb that hill I’d so eagerly first come down upon arrival. A little more snow and concrete and I’ll be on my way.
And then she’s there.
© 2016 Andrew Hall Writes