By Sarah Dahl
On the first snow day of the year, I walked to Harvard Square as the formerly raging blizzard petered off around me. All 3.6 miles were oddly refreshing. The world wasn’t the one I was used to—no cars, zero bikers, everything closed, my body bundled impenetrably in warm, snow-proof layers, and the sky raining sugar, frosting everything from the parking meters to my eyelashes.
Halfway there I stopped at Star Market. It was the only store open and shrouded in a zombiepocalypse vibe. I bought three holiday-themed chocolate bars on an insane discount. At Longfellow Park I met friends and handed out the candy bars, then ran around making angels and climbing trees and eating snow off the ground.
I felt blissful—an unusual, but welcome, feeling.
Last Tuesday, on the fourth snow day of the year, I was stranded in an airport in North Carolina. I’d been in California, where my grandfather, 87, had died.
I spent Super Bowl Sunday going through old memorabilia in my grandparents’ house outside San Francisco. I tried on my grandpa’s Hawaiian shirts and wool tennis pullovers from the ’70s and packed several of his Nordic sweaters in my suitcase. I turned the pages of his 25th anniversary college yearbook and was surprised to see Henry Kissinger in the same class. I wished I could ask what he was like and if they were friends. I found a draft of his obituary, the one he’d spent nights writing this summer in Maine, and discovered things I never knew—that he was the best riflery marksman in high school and then the army and was once a member of the NRA but left when he disagreed with their stance on gun ownership regulation.
During the drive to the airport, my uncle and dad talked about how, over time, the feeling that Grandee was gone would sink in. Right now, though, his death seemed almost surreal. It had been imminent—his health had been failing for a long time—so we were all prepared. But it wasn’t quite believable.
The weekend in California was, like my snow day, a breath of calm. Though intensely sad, I also felt content in the company of cousins, grandma, parents, brother, aunt, uncle. I wanted to spend more time with my family, stay out there for a week, sit on the patio eating cookies, hike around the hills, and remember. When I allowed my mind to wander back to Boston, however, I was overrun with anxiety, zapped by a third-rail electricity that reminded me about the piles of work I had to do—and then by guilt that I was thinking about school instead of my grandfather.
I headed home—encountering infinite delays and arriving 36 hours after I’d left—to my city snowed-in.
I keep running into this problem. Trekking through the wintery void a few weeks ago, I was also only momentarily free, my unclouded mind soggy with stress again the next day. I’m so close to being done. I have sudden unexpected stretches of time for thinking, reading, writing. I’m doing my senior season off sports. I don’t have college apps looming over my head. But it is hard to rediscover how to manage my time when I actually have enough of it to do what I want.
I have taken the liberty, a few times, of making my own “executive decisions” to watch Twin Peaks and save some homework for a free block the next day, because why not? And it is so nice, for a few precious hours.
I’m not done yet, though. My respites always backfire. I soon find myself anxious about something. Or the test comes, and I’m much less prepared than I’ve tricked myself into believing. My days are scattered, unevenly balanced with heavy Senior-Fall-era work days and sporadic moments of freedom.
I wonder if I will ever feel sane. Has Bucky ruined me? Did I ruin me? Will college, and then a job, be more of the same—constant work and this underlying feeling that I’m never done? I have to believe that it won’t.
Time keeps moving forward because it has to, but I also feel like it—or my brain—is trapping me in some strange, uneven, non-linear cycle. I fall out of rhythm; become caught in a moment; experience abnormal amounts of déjà vu; speed up uncontrollably, encountering stitches in time.
On the plane home I looked out the tiny plastic window and was struck by how slowly we seemed to be moving. Of course I knew we were travelling many miles a minute, but for a moment, it seemed as though we hung suspended in the sky, held up by nothing but chance or fate.