Don’t Look Up The Sky Is Falling

It’s really cold and I don’t feel like walking the streets.

“Winter feels longer every year”, my mother used to say when I was growing up.

I didn’t understand, what with endless talks of global warming and my permanent lust for snow and a million layers of fabric worn one on top of the other.

Everything about winter, I loved. The crisp smell of ice in the air, the sound of my steps down the arch bridge linking our neighbourhood to the rest of town. Frozen waters underneath, ripples glistening dangerously as far as you could see, from up in the mountains at the mouth of the dam where I’d first tasted fear, and down towards lands unknown, closer to the heart of the country, where all my dreams of setting off on my own ended up taking me back then.

I recently saw some photos of Windsor during the big freeze of ’63. People cycling along a frozen river Thames, blurry arch bridge in the distance, and my first thought was of home and the winters I’d never felt lasted long enough.

These days, it’s really cold.

I’ve been falling ill every other week, killing myself at work, not getting enough sleep, struggling with potentially life altering decisions, and wishing, fervently wishing for this winter to end.

And what this means, I think, is that I’ve outgrown it, my winter love affair. Like I’ve eventually outgrown my end-of-the-world high school crush, and voila, I just might be ready now for a serious, responsible relationship with a less destructive season.

In other news, I have no clue what to do with myself.

I spend my days collecting people’s questions about my present architecture and my plans for the future. Where I see my career going, what makes me happy, what makes me sad, when we’re planning our first kid. They pile up, these wh-word centred topics, and I study them from a distance, breathing in and out at just the right pace, like everything’s absolutely normal and on the inside, I’ve got mountains of perfectly composed answers for everything.

But the truth is, I’m terrified.

I go to this office, I sit in this chair. I type words on this screen, and you know what? I don’t know where my career is going. Or if there’s a career to speak of. Or if it isn’t just a way of filling my days in between insomnias, because there’s plenty of hours out there and what else is a normal person to do but do something, anything with them.

I’m always happy and I’m always sad and that’s probably wrong in so many ways but I can’t help it, because I’ve made mistakes and I’ve made good choices, I’ve wanted things I never got and I’ve gotten things I didn’t know I wanted, and this is what life’s always been for me, a big mess of good and bad I’ve never managed to sort through.

There’s nothing stopping us from trying for a baby these days.

I put it off, ME.

I pluck the thought out of my mind, digging for the roots, burning every stray seed, until there’s no trace left. For a while, at least. And you know why? Because I’m afraid. Terrified, really. I mean, I’m a mess, but I’m also at least somewhat aware of how much of a mess I am, and I realise that adding a baby to the mix is probably not the best idea. So I wait. For what, I don’t know. The smoke to clear, the season to change, something, anything.

Forgive me, today hasn’t been a good day.

Fabric

I used to own a green scarf.

I can’t remember if I’ve told you this story before, it was the green of the first grass, bright enough to hurt the eyes. A bitter color, I imagined, one you’d sink your teeth into and feel it seeping through the membrane of every cell, stirring juices around. And I was wearing that scarf, for the first or second time ever. It was winter, and I was very young, or at least that’s what I’d say now. Back then I thought I was old enough for anything and everything.

The city felt like it was growing from me, from a stray seed stuck to the sole of my boot, and not the other way around. I walked the streets like they were of my own making, I faced the endless parade of people and buildings like I’d invented them, I and no other, and they were there for nothing more than morning entertainment on my way to wherever I was going.

By the fountains, I ran into this man I knew.

In retrospect, he was just a boy. We’d met on a bus, if you can believe it. For years we’d been taking the same bus from our home town to the city on Sunday evenings, often sitting together, our elbows touching through layers of fabric.

The lights never worked. On the bus. We’d ride through the snow for a while, leafing through papers or looking out the window, until it got dark and there was nothing left to do but try and sleep or stare into the night and think your life over. We never spoke. We nodded when we ran into each other at the bus stop, and one evening he offered to help as I was trying to push my embarrassing, overstuffed suitcase into the luggage compartment, and introduced himself.

So I knew his name now, and he knew mine, and when we met by the frozen fountains that morning, in full light for the first time ever, me wrapped up in my apple green scarf six times over, cheeks flushed from the cold, his name was right there for the picking like I’d kept it close at hand on purpose. I rolled it expertly in my mouth and said hi.

He said hi back and smiled. Half a second later we were walking past each other in opposite directions, but I knew. Something was beginning.

Remember when every little thing felt like the beginning of something extraordinary? Like anything could happen, and probably would, because you knew, you just knew you were meant for great things.

That’s exactly how I felt as I was walking away from the fountains that day. We’d meet again, I knew it. We’d run into each other a few more times, by fountains and museums and random newspaper stands, my curls perfect in every way each single time and my lips painted his favourite shade of plum. Then we’d finally go out for coffee. I’d be charming, didn’t my mother always say I could be terribly charming when I wanted to? I certainly wanted to now. He’d fall in love with me, of course. We’d be perfect together, one of those couples you feel have got a secret too valuable to share with the rest of the world. “How do they do it?”, people would wonder, sometimes out loud, and we’d just smile and he’d lean in to kiss my cheekbone.

I wore that scarf every day for months, well into the spring. He’d noticed it, I was sure, the sheer greenness of it, and would now see me from a distance. He’d run to meet me, I’d be charming, cheekbone kissing would ensue.

*

My favourite scarf these days is black, white dotted. It’s not a metaphor this, green to black, young to old. They’re just colors, and not meant to mean anything. There’s no lesson to learn.

It works well with my red winter coat, that’s all, the scarf. The most special thing about it is that the moment I saw it in a Mango shop a few months back, it made me think of the sky at night. A proper one, stars and everything, unlike what I normally see in London these days.

From my home town too, you couldn’t see the stars. When we were small, my sister and I spent our summers at our Grandpa‘s house, and I remember I’d fall asleep in the swing every night, out in the open at the edge of the field, despite being grounded for it time and time again. I just wanted to look at the stars. I thought God covered the planet with a large black umbrella at night. And that the stars were nothing but tiny holes in its canvas, worn thin from so many centuries of using, through which sunlight seeped through.

I check myself in the mirror one last time before I’m out for the day. Everything’s in its place, and somehow not really in its place at all. Also it seems that as I grow old, my eyes, if slightly more wrinkled at the edges every time I check, grow bigger. Or maybe the rest of me is getting smaller. I do feel it, sometimes, when I walk the streets of this city. Like I’m the morning entertainment, a tiny one at that, and not the other way around. It doesn’t sadden me, how things have changed. But sometimes I catch myself expertly knotting my scarf in the mirror, my fingers moving of their own accord like they’ve slipped out of my reach and become better at dealing with life than the rest of me is, and it hits me: I was a kid once.

Age. Ice Age.

It’s so cold in this office that I’m half expecting to grow icicles any time now.

Two sweaters, my Uniqlo down jacket and a winter scarf wrapped three times over and still I’m utterly defeated by the constant blasts of freezing A/C aiming at me from all cardinal points.

And I’m not alone. We’re all shivering in unison, bundled up in layers upon layers of wool and cotton, sipping shots of boiling tea and coffee and secretly plotting to set fire to a couple of desks in the middle of the room and dance a little savage dance around it to get our blood pumping again.

In the meantime, I comfort myself by fantasizing about how I’ll be leaving this place for good in two weeks’ time, hopefully towards warmer, cozier horizons.

Oh and speaking of, I don’t know what my lovely manager Steve has been telling people as to the whys and hows of me leaving this job, but every soul in the office now treats me like I’ve got the plague. They all feel oh so very sorry for me, constantly asking me if I’m OK, all the while keeping themselves at a safe distance like I’m spreading incurable unemployment germs everywhere. Just brilliant.

Arctic working conditions and silly open office soap operas aside, I’m feeling good. I’ll be trying out my new job for two whole days before we’re all off for the holidays, plenty of time to decide if I want to stick around or not. Just kidding, obviously, I’m a happily mortgaged grownup now, and my dreams of taking a few months off for a change after this December are, when faced with the alternative of working and making actual money, just that: silly, childish dreams.

So it’s decided, I’ll be back to my windowless office state of affairs before you know it, with new, exciting geeky things to moan about.

Until then, I’m hopelessly caught up in planning the coming weeks’ entertainment: a trip to a little Christmas Market somewhere south, our first UK Christmas with friends equally reluctant to visit their families this year for the usual soul drenching portion of holiday drama, a Phantom Of The Opera evening just before New Years’, and obviously some form of New Years’ celebration which is sadly still a big, fat, scary blank in my December Crazies calendar.

Exciting times, right?

Daily online moaning fix taken care of, I’m now off to the company parking lot for a while. It may be December out there but believe it or not, it sure feels warmer than in here. And they’ve put up Christmas lights everywhere. And a stand selling real coffee, made out of real coffee beans, and in paper cups with bright golden stars on them. As you can see, it takes very little to make me happy these days. It may well have to do with the fact that my brain is halfway frozen into a dangerous, yucky snowball, but hey, what can you do. Sparkly golden stars for everyone!

Fifty Shades of Green

I kind of ruined Christmas this year.

Well, not really Christmas, but Saint Nicholas Day, which V and I have grown to favor over  Christmas since we moved to London. It’s been our dearest holiday as kids, and not many people we know here celebrate it, which makes it feel deliciously clandestine. Oh, and it’s so much fun!

On the evening of December 5th, Romanian children wipe their winter boots squeaky clean and leave them on the doorstep or the window sill. Then overnight, Saint Nicholas drops by, and if the boots are shiny enough to eat off of, he fills them with gifts.

He’s not as well-to-do as Santa Claus, our Nicholas fellow, so his gifts are usually a mix of trinkets and chocolate in its many forms, though in my case, no sweet tooth to speak of whatsoever, he’s proven to be quite ingenious over the years. One year he actually STOLE my boots, and replaced them with another, brand new pair, in turn overflowing with a bounty of tiny bags of salted popcorn. Gotta love the old guy, right?

Well, anyway, that’s how Saint Nicholas Day is meant to work.

As far as how it’s worked for us this year, that’s a whole different story.

Yesterday evening found me absolutely fuming.

Three or four canceled trains later, I’d been waiting in the freezing cold in Clapham Junction Station for over forty minutes, no book and no internet connection. Not that my fingertips were in scrolling or page turning shape anyway, as they’d frozen into fingernailed icicles a long time before. Eventually I got on the-only-running-train-in-London, one that must have circled my intended destination six times over before eventually making it there, almost an hour later. Lovely V, probably anticipating I’d be blaming him for my ordeal, as I tend to do whenever there’s no one else to blame, picked me up from the station and we drove to a nearby Amazon pickup point, where our super-duper-Black-Friday-deal food processor was waiting for us. I must admit that made me feel a bit better. I mean, I’ll probably be dusting it more often than actually using it, but I can’t help getting high on new-stuff-we’ve-got-new-stuuuuuuuuuuff euphoria every time we get, well…, new stuff. So on the drive home I was slowly defrosting and feeling like life was worth living again.

Then it happened. I ruined Christmas Saint Nicholas.

As V was setting up the food processor, I almost broke my neck stumbling over his backpack, which, to be fair to the guy, was in its regular place, smack in the middle of the living room. So totally my fault.

Anyway, once I made sure my spine was still intact, I picked it up and moved it to a less trafficked corner. And then I saw it, the package inside, wrapped in a way only V can wrap, like it’s just been in a tumble dryer for a full cycle. I’d have pretended not to see it, I’m nice that way, but he’d come to check on me after hearing me tumble, and saw me seeing it. He SAW me see it. End of story, goodbye Saint-Nicolas-is-still-almost-a-week-away folly, we simply HAD TO exchange gifts then and there, he decided, I’d ruined the surprise.

Now, wouldn’t it have been brilliant if I didn’t have my gift for him ready too? It would have made a much better story, I know. But I’m such a Saint Nicholas maniac, that I’d bought his present a long time before, had it wrapped up in Rudolph themed paper and hidden at the back of my sock drawer, which is where I tend to keep all my dangerous secrets.

A mess of torn gift wraps on our floors for the first time this winter. For the first time since we got the place, come to think of it, so I guess we’ve crossed another threshold of our life here.

Not all things are new, though.

Every year since we started dating, I’ve been giving V a green sweater for Saint Nicholas Day.  I hadn’t intended starting a tradition, but he liked the first sweater so much that it grew into a brightly colored, third member of our little family. This occasion calls for the green sweater!, he used to say, and I laughed. He started buying jackets and shirts to best complement it, and I thought he was crazy, but hey, if sweater-crazies is the worst kind of crazies he’s got, count me in!

So every December since, I’ve added to his collection of various-shades-of-green protective layers. They’ve got their own small section of his wardrobe now, and every time I come across it, this block of greens I’ve picked from places all over, it feels like we’re really doing this together-thing the right way. Who knew we had it in us.

I was going to end on a Happy Saint Nicholas Day note, for those of you who happen to be celebrating it, but it’s still way too early. So a “Happy Random Tuesday!” will have to do for now.