The parking lot is a blackened patch of sun in a white and frozen ocean, and for the moments it takes to cross it, I am eighteen again, or fifteen. I am small in a large world, making my way through its unnoticed spaces, and they are full of a warmth I’ve only just come to know.
On the far side, the gargantuan machinery of my husband’s workplace churns on forever, making men its servants. Behind me is the guardhouse, where an aging fellow in blue uniform stands sentinel for the truck drivers who come and go.
Right here, the air is fresh and spring is rising. My southern friends would ask how that can be, when the snow is still piled in drifts the height of men’s heads. Winter covers my northland in a tsunami four feet thick and poised motionless in place. Or so it appears.
But on the asphalt, meltwater is trickling. The sun’s heat is coming. Winter will ambush its way back in the door another time or two before the metamorphosis is complete, but in my books, this is the first day of spring. It’s out of step with the summer of my life, a blooming heady thing full of roses and thunderstorms. The spring is quieter, purer, cooler, and it takes me back.
I remember sharing youth and potentiality with my cousin, wandering the back alleys of the city around our grandparents’ house. I remember the day I got my university acceptance and went dancing through my college town’s historic district with the boy who would become my husband.
Youth is unmitigated and yet invisible, an empty space stretched painfully between the substances of childhood and adulthood. It runs shallow and fleeting across the hard surfaces of life. Then it’s down the drain.
It’s not really difficult to let it go. It’s a place that’s better to visit from a distance. I wouldn’t want to live there.
This young, fresh thing so idolized in our culture is a chimera, and we futilely reconstruct and worship what we never really saw. It can’t be seen. It fleets past in the single hour when the air is fresh with promises unmade — promises that can’t be made, for no one knows the future — and its tentative warmth is something that can’t be bottled in a snake-oil elixir.
I woke this morning to a crystalline world. Raised my head from the pillow, looked out the window, and saw the trees across the road were laced with frost and shimmering in the sun. By noon it melted away. Nothing but the usual grey sticks remained, stuck at odd angles in the four-foot blanket of snow.
The surface sheen we mistakenly call beauty can’t be kept. But that’s because of the warmth of life — a greater kind of beauty.
That underlying essence, the thing we can’t capture in a bottle, remains. It grows beneath the chill, deep-rooted in spite of the muck and awkward wallowing of our transitional pains. It grows like a mustard seed. And it is a time traveller, carrying us through the interstices of the world.
So I walk across a black patch of sun and cool, fresh air, and for those moments I’m lost within the interstitial. It’s not youth I remember; it’s not youth I need to remember. It’s the first moments when I felt that metamorphic warmth — that warmth which has become a blaze, and will dwindle to a comforting bed of long-lived embers in my autumn. In the final season, it will become a spark which struggles to remember the fire from which it has drifted loose.
God willing, I’ll find my reflection in the unnoticed trickle of the meltwaters, even then.