Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The cold is a subtle bitch of a devil.

It is patient, calm, and hovering. You can absentmindedly carry it into bed with you on your feet, or if your windows are single-paned, it may already by under the covers waiting for you. If you are forced outside on a cold day, keep moving! Do not expect that by walking a mile and working up a small sweat in your hat that you have lost the cold. It will catch up to you in twenty seconds, always, and will say, ‘There you are. I was worried. I won’t lose track of you again.’

It definitely won’t work to sit down, even if the thing you’re sitting on is moving. Especially if the thing you’re sitting on is moving. Wear wool socks and winter boots. Lace up your boots tightly and walk around in them and don’t stop walking. Make sure the bottoms of your thermal leggings are tucked down into your boots. The cold will crawl up your naked ankles. Bundle yourself in heavy layers: heavy pants and coat with a sweatshirt underneath. Then when you feel that your ready for the cold- you’re not ready yet- pull on a full body suit over your layers, zip it up and snap it tight. Get one of those hats on your head, the kind that skiers where, that wrap around your neck and look like a snorkeler’s hood. They say that the biggest hunk of heat leaving the body comes gushing out of the head. Whether this is technically true or not, I cannot verify or deny. What I can tell you truly is that my brain has never gone numb. I have never had to excuse myself from a snowball fight to go sit my head under a lamp and wait in pain for the frozen sockets in my brain to melt back into thoughts.

What I have had happen, and what leads me to the point of good gloves, is let the cold shake my hands like a drunken neighbor that won’t let go. Wear good gloves, and by good I mean expensive ones, matching ones made of the hide of an animal, a cow or a deer, any one that lives out in the weather all its life. Keep your gloves on and don’t take them off! If your shoe comes untied, leave it that way and keep moving. If you trip on it and fall to the ground, keep your gloves on while you brush yourself off. If you need to scratch an itch under the first layer of your clothing, or fish change out of your pocket, or take your phone out and push only one button at a time, go inside to do it. You will be bitten by the cold like the neighbor's dog you tried to feed food to through the fence.

My hands went numb last Tuesday. I did not cry, but I wanted to. The initial numbness was not the worst part. It was that I knew that the feeling would have to return to my hands- once those frozen rivers of blood thawed in my veins- and that feeling could leave my body in the first place. This is why I harbor a feeling of terror for the cold. I think, if my hands can lose feeling, then so can the rest of my body. I am subject to the forces of nature. My blood can stop moving and I can die, but not before going insane with the fear of my own death. The feeling returned to my hands after about twenty minutes, time I spent walking in circles, muttering fuck fuck, godammit, and whining a strange whine that would have made a person pretty uncomfortable, I expect, had there been someone around to hear it. When sensation finally began to return to me, I was doubled over with my hands in the sink. I remembered this feeling because I had felt it before. It is not only the worst physical pain that I have ever known, but psychologically tormenting as well. The thought that climbed the walls in my head for those agonizing minutes when the feeling started to come back to me was this: there is a divide between life and death and being numb is being stuck in that place. Going numb is nearing death and bad enough on its own, but thawing out is equally as terrifying. Thawing out is being dragged back to life from death.