Sunday, October 14, 2007

Marion, Massachusetts

I’m curled up in front of the gas fireplace in the big room at Karl’s mom’s house, the only room in the house with heat and the only place I’m comfortable without a stack of blankets. I joked before we left the Bahamas that the heat was going to bother me, but I hadn’t really believed it. “I’ll adjust,” I thought. “It won’t be that bad.” But it is. It was 35 degrees this morning before the sun came up, and almost no one has their heat on. I’m dying. I feel like I’m being a very rude guest, but I don’t know how to control it. We stopped by one of Karl’s friends houses today who had the window open while he smoked a cigarette, and I felt atrocious as I piled on every bit of clothing I had: down vest, wool sweater, massive knit scarf, lined cap, gloves. I look like I’m dressed for February in the Arctic.

They say, although I don’t know whether to believe them, that people who grow up in cold climates adjust successfully to warm climates, but people who grow up in warm climates can never fully adjust to cold ones. Something to do with the thickness of blood. That seems rather far-fetched, but I’m experiencing it now. After eight years in Chicago I had figured out winter pretty well--lots of fatty food and television and crouching by radiators. Well, maybe not fairly well. I just can’t believe that I’ve lost all of my acclimatization in one lousy winter. I feel just as bad as I did the first winter at college, when I would feel my body temperature drop and turn up the radiator in my room full-blast for weeks on end. I can feel it happening again now--I’ll be perfectly fine in my down and my wool until all of a sudden my internal temperature plunges and I can’t get warm no matter what I do.

If this is how hard Karl had it when we first got to the Bahamas, I completely understand. That adjustment was hard for me, too. It was hotter than I expected and I didn’t understand why it was so hard for me to deal with, without a bimini or a fan or any shade. We managed to rig a tarp pretty quick, but throughout the whole month of August we survived without any cover for the boat. I really hate the shade. On lunch breaks back when I was in the working world, I would always sit in full sun and come back into work sweaty. It was worth it for the contact high. In the Bahamas we walk around half naked, here we can’t move without being swaddled up to our necks. We experienced the heat in a whole different way down there, a different character of heat, a different consistency. Here, the cold is just as insidious, a constant presence, nipping at the ends of my fingers and toes.

I forgot how much of a constant battle it is for me here, how much emotional energy being cold takes up. I’m afraid to go outside because of the cold, afraid to move once I find someplace that I’m warm. I’m bewildered by all the layers I’m supposed to be wearing--what’s too much and what’s not enough? I feel like I’ve gained twenty pounds just because I’m wearing puffy coats instead of bathing suits and sarongs.

I read a fantasy novel when I was a teenager, once, a love story between a girl who was claustrophobic and couldn’t go under the shade of trees, and a faun who was agoraphobic and couldn’t come out into open spaces. They could only be together at the border between field and forest, where they would walk, one in sunlight and one in shadow, hand in hand. Sometimes I worry that Karl and I could end up like that--me with the heat and he with the cold. I hope we can find some middle ground, a border between sunlight and darkness.

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