Monday, November 30, 2015

Sophomore Year

"Sophomore year is the hardest, Mel," my college roommate said to me near the end of our freshman year.

I stared at her, perplexed. She wasn't the kind of person to ever say a negative word about anything.  A perennial optimist, she'd been a high school cheerleader, a straight-A student, a Sunday-school-goer, and a member of the marching band.  Her favorite thing to say to me, when I had fallen into pieces, was, "And this too shall pass, Mel.  And this too shall pass."

But now she stood before me, assuredly nodding that the worst was yet to come.  This year we'd just been through, with all of its upheavals and fragmentation, was just a prelude to what would be next.

When I asked her why I should expect sophomore year to be so hard, she said that one of her sorority sisters explained it as such: When you're a freshman, nobody expects you to know what you're doing.  You're supposed to be a basket case, white-knuckling it through the unknown and making a mess of things.  But what's more than that, everything you experience is new.  Living in a new place, among new people, doing completely different things.  In a way, it's like magic.  It's exciting.  And all of that goes a long way in outweighing anything that might be a challenge.

But sophomore year is different.  Nothing is new anymore.  You're experiencing everything for a second time.  Now, if you mess up, nobody is going to chalk it up to your newb-ishness, your inexperience.  You are supposed to know what you are doing, but the thing is: you still don't.  And all those things that were exciting the first time you encountered them suddenly become utterly mundane.  Life gets hard.

I've thought of this a lot as I enter my sophomore year here in Colorado.  The first time around, everything really did seem like magic. It has been a slow and awkward and sometimes painful transition, trying to move from the outside in.  We've never lived in a place where we intend to stay.  It is sometimes a strange mix of comfort and dread to look around and realize that these are the same buildings, the same people, the same dusty foothills that we will be looking at every day for the rest of our lives.

Winter has been the thing that has caused me the most concern.  I made it through winter last year, kind of laughing at this strange powdery snow we get here, and even thinking, well this wasn't so bad.  But that was when it was new and I was white knuckling it. Would sophomore winter destroy me?

Our first snow held off until a little bit later this year, and for the first couple weeks of November, we enjoyed quite nice weather.  I wore shorts while running.

But the Christmas cactus knew.

And viene la nieve.

Powder. This is the coat I bought in 2013 at REI in St. Louis, and when I walked into work that first morning wearing it, Melanie knew that meant we were moving.
Afterwards got a few days of sunshine and respite, but trouble was still brewing.  The snow began to fall again on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and it snowed for days and days and days.  And days.

This is not the fun kind of snow. This is the it-takes-half-an-hour-to-scrape-your-car kind of snow.

This was my trail when I got out to run on Black Friday.  Make that White Friday.

I wondered: if the weather had been like this when we visited Fort Collins over Thanksgiving in 2013, would I still have made the decision to quit my job and move here?

Same trail. Different years.

I'm never going to be one of those infuriating people with a "Pray for Snow" bumper sticker on the back of their car, but I have tried to keep going, and at times, I can almost see how people might think this is kind of beautiful.

And in truth, I remembered how I really do love running on the trails in the snow.  You just dress warmly, and it's fine.  Rob thinks I'm a little crazy for saying this, but I do think that some of the trails are actually easier in the snow.  Snow buries the rocks and roots that otherwise jut out from the ground to trip you and knock out your teeth or make you break your hip.  Snow makes everything smooth and buttery soft.  Snow is alright.

 Ice, however, is a different story.  The two miles of intermittent neighborhood ice that stand between me and the solitude of the snowy trails almost crushed my spirit last week.  I had really expected more in the way of plowing and salting from a place that gets on average 60 inches of snow per year.  To its credit, the city does a great job with the main roads.  But the side streets are completely ignored, and I don't quite understand how I am supposed to get from my house to an actual road.

The sun came out today, and even though the temperatures remained below freezing, much of the snow and ice started to melt.  I saw this and heard the dripping as I sat inside working on my computer.  But by the time I went to the bus stop to pick up Will after school, everything had begun to re-freeze again.  I wore my super-warm REI winter coat, plus mittens and a hat, and winced against the biting cold as I stepped outside.

Three times, I slipped on indistinct black ice as I walked up to the corner to wait for Will.  It didn't seem that windy, and yet, there was no respite from the wind.

Mercifully, the bus chugged up the street and the children got off. Will waited for the bus driver's signal, then took off running across the street towards me.  I saw him approaching what looked like a once-melted, now refrozen slick of ice, and before my lips could form the words warning him to stop, his feet skidded out from underneath him, and he landed hard, with all of his weight on his tiny little wrist.

His shrieks must have been heard for at least 3 miles away.  I glided over the ice slick to pick him up and get him out of the street.  The bus driver called out the window to ask if he was okay.  I didn't know.  I'd seen him land.  I was afraid his wrist might be broken.

He begged me to carry him, but at the same time, worried through his sobs that I wasn't strong enough to carry both him and his bag.  We had to get out of the cold. With slow and careful walking, we made it home.  He gradually stopped crying and was able to rotate his wrist, so I could see that it wasn't broken.  In a few minutes, he had forgotten the pain and was happily playing Legos.

I'd been planning on going for a run in the evening, but the treacherous walk up to the bus stop made me decide to cancel that.  I need to get some night miles in for an ultra I might or might not do at the end of the year, but tonight wasn't the night for that.  The race is in Phoenix.  I need practice in the darkness-- I don't need snow and ice and possibly breaking my neck and ruining my slim chances of making it there in the first place.

Sophomore year.  This isn't so fun anymore.  I'll never like snow and ice.  It's going to be a long winter.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So sorry about Wills fall! Why son't they clean the streets ? I thought ptown was bad but they do eventually clean them all !!! The least they could do is THROW out some SALT !!! Loved the sophomore story!! Little E had some good thoughts !! Everything always looks worse IN THE winter!! And then in the summer when it is so hot you can't breathe!! and you melt into a puddle just opening the door!! not sure there is a perfect spot!! maybe Kauai??? smart move to avoid going out with the ice!! Be wise!! take it easy!!! sending a hug and luv your way!! Mama