“I couldn’t feel my fingers today,” I say to my mom as I wipe the remaining snow off my shoes and onto the black mat of our foyer. While this statement is true, it isn’t necessarily the whole truth. I really couldn’t feel my fingers today, but I also couldn’t feel them yesterday, and I doubt that I will be able to feel them tomorrow. Today, it was 30 degrees below zero, and tomorrow, it will be the same. It is December 2013. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada—the city where I have always lived—has just been reported to be as cold as the surface of Mars.
There are only two seasons in this city: winter and not-winter-at-all. The frostbite that I’ve endured over the past 19 years solidifies this not-so-factual fact. The winter solstice comes after snow has already been on the ground for two months. And the spring equinox is usually celebrated with a fresh layer of brown slush. This year, my best friend’s birthday, which was in May, was preceded by two centimeters of white fluff that fell from the sky.
There’s a romanticism that goes hand-in-hand with winter. A cozy fireplace and a cup of hot chocolate can make me feel like I am finally entering the WINTER WONDERLAND that movies like Love Actually and A Charlie Brown Christmas have mythologized. In Winnipeg, snow generally begins falling in the last week of October. Halloweens have been spent trick-or-treating with my costume stretched over my snowsuit and my legs covered in long johns.
After the initial snowfall, there is the countdown to the holidays. The holidays make it so much easier to deal with being cold, but after they’re gone, I realize just how pointless it is to have winter for any time longer than two months. I start wishing I could pack the snow away in boxes and send them elsewhere with a label that says, “Holidays were fab! Snow not necessary anymore! Byeeeeeee!” In January, I often stand at the bus stop (because if I sit down my butt will get so cold I’ll cry) and I try not to think about how living in such an extreme environment can affect a person. Living through a seemingly infinite winter has left me feeling irritable, anxious, and empty. Any preconceived notions of enjoying the snow with friends immediately crumbles when the weather drops to 20 below. No one wants to risk it. It’s just too cold.
I wish winter was like what it appears to be in the movies. Every time I look up to the sky and stick out my tongue to catch a snowflake, it lands everywhere else, and I’ve put myself at risk for neck-frostbite. I cringe every time I say, “I really want to get out of here,” because I’m like every other teenager in this city who either wants to move away or romanticize the heck out of this place.
There can be an overwhelming feeling of irrelevance when you don’t live in a city that is one of the many centers of the universe—like NYC, or Paris, or LA. I know from watching Freaks and Geeks, talking to my friends, and interacting with other teens on the internet that this is a common feeling. That the suburban blues can affect you even when you don’t live in a suburb. Even those who do live in big cities can feel uncertain and scared about their circumstances. My greatest fear is that I won’t be happy, even if things do change. Thinking of moving to a new city is a beacon of hope whenever the coldness (both figuratively and literally) gets to be too much. And while I’m not sure whether or not this is healthy, I am sure that when there’s always snow on the ground, the grass is always greener on the other side.
This past year was my first year of university. I made the impulsive decision to take three classes instead of a full schedule of five. I was initially looking forward to having more free time, but soon found myself feeling perpetually bored and unproductive. I started thinking wayyyyy too much and ended up thinking myself into an existential crisis. I thought about how, if Carl Jung was right in saying, “You are what you do […],” then WHERE you are really does matter, because that’s the place where you’re going to be doing all of your do-ing. I thought about how isolated I was. About how the closest city in population size, approximately 600,000, was over 600 kilometers away. And, if my city really was as cold as Mars, then it has already done its job in replicating the vast nothingness of the universe. As long as there is snow on the ground, the feeling of there being nothing to look forward to lingers. Summer days spent at the beach with friends turn into winter nights at home with a sun that sets by 5:30 PM. But while the nothingness quietly persists, it’s the ice and isolation that leave me feeling existentially frustrated.
There’s a scene from the first season of Degrassi: The Next Generation where Emma’s mom walks in on her crying and asks her what’s wrong:
Emma: It’s just, we’re so small and the universe is so massive. We’re just little specks, floating, alone.
Spike (Emma’s Mother): Uh-oh. Solar system anxiety. I remember it well. Big, huge universe; tiny little me. What’s the point? You can’t beat it…but you can SHOP!
I love this because you can’t beat an existential crisis; you can only do your best to distract yourself until you’ve completely forgotten about it. At least, that’s what worked for me. It wasn’t until I became busy with exams and extracurriculars that I felt as if my existential crisis had been averted. As terrifying and lonely as existential crises are, they can also be a source of inspiration. They can be a reminder of impending death; which, while totally bleak, has forced me to appreciate the in-between state that I am living in right now. I’m no longer an overly hormonal, zit-faced teen who constantly listens to Radiohead. I’m an averagely hormonal, zit-faced YOUNG ADULT who is constantly furthering her independence. Understanding and appreciating my place in a universe that seems all too big is a Forever Endeavor.
I have grown and so has this city; I just don’t know yet if we have grown apart. The relationship that I have with my hometown is one of the most complicated relationships that I will probably ever have. I don’t know if I will move away soon, but I do know that in this moment, I am here. For now, Winnipeg is in sync with the rest of the world. It is summer and it is warm. I can’t even imagine a time when there was snow on the very sidewalk that now burns my bare feet. Winter seems like a distant memory from a past life.
When I was little, I would spend my summer at the beach. In a hurry to beat the heat, I would jump into the water and after half an hour of relief, I’d feel so cold I was convinced that I would never be warm again. And then, after getting out of the water, I would sit on the hot sand under the sun and within minutes, was convinced that I was never even cold in the first place. Before the world felt big, it was just me—in my neighborhood, in my winter coat, in my coldness, wishing for a brand new city. But also wishing that I could take every person I’ve ever loved with me. ♦