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I hate the winter. I know hate is a strong word but that’s how I feel. It doesn’t matter that I should be used to it after 25 years of living in New York or that it’s the season that contains the most holidays, including my birthday. Winter is a season to dread and get through with gritted teeth. I hate everything about it.
I hate the piercing pain of freezing temperature like a thousand razor blades dancing on my skin and having to cover up everything except for the part I hate the most: my eyes that give away my otherness. I hate the constant bundling up and unbundling that seems to add an additional 10 minutes to anything you want to do and how you start to sweat when you go inside even while your face still remembers the sting of the cold. I hate the first breath you take when you step outside in the frigidness and how it takes your breath away. I hate how my body tenses up in the cold as if I could fight off the chill that eventually penetrates into the bones and I’m left post-battle exhausted. I hate the way every conversation in the winter ends with the words “when the weather warms up.” I hate having to chase the precious sunlight and how it’s never as warm on my skin as it was in the summertime. I hate the dreariness of missing colours, just endless shades of dead brown, bare and bleak.
Winter makes me want to hibernate, like a black bear. I thought bears slept through the winter, but that’s not true. They’re actually aware of their surroundings and every cub is born in hibernation around my birthday, in late January. Maybe I’m a winter bear, disappearing in the winter and waiting for the spring to come out of my den.
Winter reminds me of what’s missing, what used to be there: trees vibrant with leaves, fruits and flowers, every colour of rainbow bursting everywhere. The sparseness of the winter exposes parts that were hidden, like the once majestic tree, now fallen and covered in old fungi quietly decaying in the snow. What was once a clear path is now obscured by the absence of borders that used to define the way and I find myself disoriented on a familiar path. Winter reveals.
One time in college, a guy I liked took me skiing. He said he could teach me how to ski but he had overestimated my athleticism and underestimated my fear of speed. After showing me the basics on the bunny slope, he declared I was ready for the intermediate slope. We spent over an hour coming back down the hill, most of it with me sliding down on my back. As soon as I felt myself gaining speed, I snowploughed trying to get the front tips of the skis to touch until my legs shook and I tipped myself over to the side. I’d rather fall than to lose control. I think about that a lot, how that’s been my survival method. Disengage before you get hurt.
In the second pandemic winter, as the world slowed down and held its breath before lunging into the darkness, I sat quietly in my den. Not asleep, not awake but fighting the urge to burrow deeper in the warmth of the radiator, bed and blanket. People talk about winter being the time to rest and retreat but I’ve been in retreat all my life. Pulling away before they could break my heart. Opportunities abandoned. Life lived on the outside looking in.
When a black bear senses danger, their first line of defence is to retreat. But they don’t run away forever. At some point, they stand tall, pound their paws on the ground and charge towards whatever is bothering them.
I thought everything was dead in the winter but I was wrong again. Beneath the hard, barren ground, there’s life waiting to emerge. I’m beginning to see the beauty in unembellished trees and wide-open golden fields where I can see beyond what I could before. And if you look closely, the decaying stump has transformed into the mother who will birth a field of mushrooms. I stare into my reflection on the frozen patches of ice devoid of the flashiness of my former life, unadorned and vulnerable. Who am I without the makeup and hair, mini skirt and high heel shoes? Maybe winter is the best time to reflect and rewire, when the topography of you is laid bare.
Frightful winter weather is bearable when you dress appropriately. Bundled up in padded pants, bulky layers and sensible winter boots, I venture outside into the cold walking past icicles frozen in mid-motion glistening in the sun. I’m beginning to enjoy the crispness of blue sky on a cold clear day and exploring the lines of my favourite trees unencumbered by leaves and unexpectedly spotting a silhouette of an owl hooting into the night. There’s beauty in the bareness of it all and finding new paths I hadn’t noticed before. I see how forgiving a layer of snow is on imperfect surfaces and learn to love the sound of snow crunching under my feet and kids with rosy cheeks squealing and sledding down the freshly snowed hill.
This winter, I tried to become a hat person as I recovered from a lifetime of hairspray addiction brought on by my attempt to freeze into place a style that would help me be accepted and loved. Some days, I would catch a glimpse of myself in my new flower bucket hat and think, I could get used to this.
Rim Chon is a corporate number cruncher by day and an aspiring writer by night. In her former life, she was a classical musician. She lives at the northernmost tip of Manhattan and is currently working on a collection of stories that are manifesting into a memoire about her journey through faith and spirituality. Her essay, "Pretty Like Me," written after watching “Crazy Rich Asians,” about growing up in America without seeing someone like her on screen was published by The Paragon Journal and Dreamers Creative Writing.