At one point, the mercury read negative thirty-two on the fahrenheit scale with a windchill of negative forty-seven. Not a fit night for monkey nor beast. All of us huddled in the parlor, near the fire. Tendrils of ice curled along the bottoms of the windows and the polar air seemed to seep through the thin, one-hundred thirty year old walls and floor.
It was still warmer than the coldest I'd ever been. That was when I was seventeen. My father had already secured us a house in the badlands of eastern Colorado and was waiting for us out there. My grandmother had come to help my mother, sister, brother, and I move out from the rural south after a three and half year stay, which had felt like some sort of cruel and eternal exile to my mother and I. We set out in a caravan with the kennel and house dogs, the cats, and my immortal box turtle, Bilbo, across the American Empire.
On the second day of our journey, just outside of Saint Louis, one of those great labyrinthine midwest cities, we encountered the storm. My grandmother observed it was the winter solstice and how appropriate that was. Driving at the time, listening to my rock and/or roll musics, I had a hard time appreciating it. At one point, although I can no longer recall the actual temperature, there was a windchill of negative sixty-five. We were in Kansas at the time. The cold caused me to have an asthma attack.
Twenty-one years later, the memory of that cold gave me a context, although it wasn't something I ever really had any burning desire to repeat. Around the witching hour, having finished my dessert chai and with an exhausted burn behind my eyes, I opted to go to bed. Sabina was catching up on correspondences and said she'd join me in a bit.
The cold made sleep difficult, despite several blankets and layers. I thought of the stories of mountaineers on Everest, shivering and oxygen deprived. Torturing themselves for the distinction of having reached the world's highest point. Some tales spoke of feeling a presence of another out there in cold thin air along the world's ceiling tiles, although it was probably the lack of atmosphere turning the climber's brain to tapioca.
In that state between awake and asleep, I saw ghosts. Phantasms from other times when the air was composed of icy barbs. My great grandmother, on her eightieth birthday, dressed in her fox fur coat, chuckling when my father told her she had to be old now that she was eighty. Six years later, her mind gone by what we called senility, but might have very well been Alzheimer's or dementia, she died in some barely visited room, not recognizing any of us anymore.
The bruja and I having a cup at the coffeehouse she worked at one winter. It was the last cold snap of that season. Upstairs, an adolescent couple had convinced the owner to let them use the space to copulate. The bruja and I tried to discreetly hurry through our coffees and have a conversation whilst trying not to notice the occasional sounds we'd hear. She wouldn't let me shout up the stairs to keep it down. Dear friend or not, she could sometimes be such a killjoy.
My grandmother and I arguing across the snow-blasted far-flung badlands of the American Great Plains, a place that during the nation-state's antiquity was called the Great American Desert. The move was one of my first real roadtrips in which I got to drive. My grandmother did not care for my choice of music and was constantly offering...suggestions...on my driving. At seventeen years old, I already knew everything, including how to drive, and I didn't need someone fifty years and one day older than me constantly butting in.
It was all so real, so vivid, I could not help but wonder if I was somehow hop-scotching down rabbit holes of quantum. There in the cold dark, shivering under blankets and layers, between awake and asleep, I found a strange comfort in seeing those phantasms once more. The last was of my mother.
We were in the canteen of the last hostel on the last day of the move before we made that last push. We were having hot drinks and talking quietly, hiding from my grandmother and siblings. Both of us wanted to kill her. Slowly. The cold was making us punchy.
"Hang in there," my mother said. Strange, how years later, that opening statement became something of a mantra for me to say, because it's okay is a bunch of who shot john. "We're almost home"
It was then Sabina came to bed, and I curled into her. One cold night, she told me we fit. I scoffed, and then she leaned into me, as if to demonstrate. It did feel quite right, and though I found it curious, I decided to forgo my usual questioning nature and just run with it. Once, she described us a tangled puzzle pieces, and more than one cat has echoed her sentiment that we somehow fit together. Maybe that seems silly, but in the moment of curling together, partially out of amore and partially for shared body heat on a frigid night, I didn't think so, and, suddenly, sleep was not so difficult.