Winter Blues

By Skylar Belt

Courtesy of Skylar Belt

Courtesy of Skylar Belt

 

It’s a strange and satisfying feeling pissing yourself in the wintertime. On the one hand, yes, you are infinitely embarrassed to have just peed your pants. But, on the other hand, as your piss slowly soaks into the fabric of your pants, it warms you up. And it feels good. Comforting. Like a much needed hug.

    It doesn’t last though, and soon you’re left shivering in your own piss, unable to get up because you drank too much, or did too many drugs, or simply because you’ve lost the motivation to move.

    This was me about two winters ago. I went to my friend's New Year’s party. I drank until I cried, smoked cigarettes until I felt nothing, and then collapsed in my friend's basement where I peed my pants. And it wasn’t for another four hours that I was able to pull myself up, change my pants and make a very tiresome walk of shame home.

This was one of my worst winters ever.  But as a person that battles everyday with depression, every winter is hard.

    I can look back on that now though and see it for what it was. I was just a kid struggling with depression, trying to find a release from all the punishing thoughts inside my brain.  But it took me awhile to see myself that way. To show myself compassion. At first, I looked at what had happened as a confirmation that I was, indeed, a fuck up. My dad was a fuck up. And now, so was I. Simple as that. 

    I know now that wasn’t the truth. And a little part of me knew it then.  But I wasn’t strong enough to say it to myself yet. I needed help.

    So I looked for people that seemed to care for me: Friends, family, lovers. I kept them close so on the days when I felt awful, so they could tell me I was beautiful. So they could remind me that my happiness was worth it and that loving myself wasn’t wrong. And so they could kick me out of bed on the days I refused to move, and help me laugh on the days it hurt to smile. They rubbed my temples on the days it felt like the world was collapsing in on me.

    These were the caring hands that helped carry me forward, but they couldn’t bring me to happiness itself. There was always this heaviness, like a sinking weight, that kept me two steps away from reality. 

    It wasn’t until I finally gained the courage to love myself that I started to feel in control of my life again. At first, I started small. I ate food that made me feel good. I drank, but not to excess. I exercised regularly. I pushed myself to get out of the house and talk to people. I wrote in my journal. And I didn’t punish myself for the times when I slipped up on loving myself.

    It was hard at first, and then it got easier. Still, sometimes it would get hard again. Even after all the work I put into desperately trying to feel good, I’d return to that terrible feeling again. I thought it would pass. And sometimes it did. But those days felt like mystic vacations that I was never really able to hold onto.

    This year, before the mild autumn days gave way to the icy coldness, I finally gave in and made an appointment with a therapist. In that initial visit, I found myself more scared than I had ever been in my whole life. My hands were shaking, I had a headache and I felt like I was about to vomit. The therapist asked me why I was there, and when I told her it was because I feel sad all the time and I don’t know why, I almost cried. It was the first time I had ever admitted that to myself out loud. And it was the first time I finally felt like I was getting control over my feelings.

    I know that this winter will be difficult to handle at times. But I’ve gotten a lot better at learning to love myself, and using the resources given to me to get through it.

    It’s been two years since I hit rock bottom in a pool of my own piss, but since then I’ve come a long way in learning to love myself.

A Brief and Personal History of Trees

By Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn 

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn 

A tiny pair of ceramic clogs from Amsterdam.

Five different ballerinas decked out in tutus and pointe shoes.

Thick clay angels with rosy cheeks.

American Girl doll Kit Kittredge, decked out in her flour sack birthday dress and missing a hand from the one year the Christmas tree fell over.

My family isn’t particularly religious but like a lot of American families, we celebrate Christmas yearly, if only to gather together and celebrate each other. For every year I can remember, decorating the tree was a heavily ceremonial way to usher in the holiday season.

When my Dad was young, he and his brothers planted pine trees on an empty plot of land my grandparents owned. The planting wasn’t executed very well and only a third of the trees survived to adulthood. The ones that did make it often graced our living room with their presence.

There was one year that Dad would load my brother and I on a toboggan and drag us out to the farm, brandishing a hacksaw in a blizzard to cut a tree down.

Each year on the night we would get our tree, my brother and I would haul out the boxes and lay out each ornament on the pool table, as if we were gearing up for an appraisal and subsequent auction of each item.

We would fight over the Christmas music we would play (I would always find a way to work the Mariah Carey album in there, if only for nostalgic reasons, and the Nat King Cole version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which was, and remains, my personal favorite), and we would go about finding the sturdy branches for our favorites, high enough that the dog couldn’t reach.

This year will be my first Christmas in a house I don’t consider my childhood home. Wanting a fresh start, my mother has chosen an animal theme for the tree, meaning there will be plenty of penguins, squirrels, and lambs, but no ballerinas and certainly nothing that says my name.

I get it; I really do.

But it’s hard not to feel alienated from a home that already isn’t my home because I don’t see myself in it when I’m there. My room doesn’t look like a room for me even if I recognize my dresser. I’m at this weird in-between stage of my life where I’ve grown up and forsaken childhood but I’m not established enough to have my own Christmas tree, decked out with snowmen that say “Jaclyn 1995, Love Grammy & Poppy.”

I found myself tearing up in Target a couple of days ago because I couldn’t find a candle that smelled enough like the pine trees I remembered. When I told my Mom about it, she sent my Dad out to cut me down my own tiny Christmas tree. I’m grateful but I can’t help but keep thinking that it’s not really the same.

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn


Hibernation

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

Courtesy of Meg Zulch

I always whine relentlessly about how much I dread the approach of winter. The cold weather is treacherous, my skin gets flaky as hell, and every walk to class is like a balancing act between black ice and freshly fallen snow. There are certainly downfalls to these frosty months, as they cause Seasonal Affective Disorder from the sunless gray days, and intense cabin fever thanks to arctic temperatures. But secretly, I revel in all of this. My like-minded sister and I agree, it can feel great to have an excuse to just be your sad self. Winter calls my name.

Like the bears and the squirrels around this time, I too hibernate. I choose a comfort food of choice to buy in bulk whenever I can, a couple of shows I want to marathon on Netflix, and an album to depressedly indulge in as I cry under all my blankets. Every other time of the year, I do everything I can to resist my natural urge to be depressed. Winter, in all its greyness and frigidity, encourages me to finally embrace this sadness, and let it come in waves. And as someone who loves to hold things in, this is so relieving. Winter is my detox.

Albums like Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time, Mitski’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek, and EVERY SONG BY ADELE is on repeat during this season. In this warm and secluded space, I feel completely free to release the emotions from the past year (and the emotions these particular albums bring up for me) as I enthusiastically drench my pillows in tears. Winter is not a season for makeup.

I often don’t make time for self care, or allot time to veg out and do things for pleasure. The conditions of winter (as well as my resulting sadness) encourages me to treat myself and truly give myself the time that I need to zone out, laugh and relax. I spend hours at a time excitedly devouring new TV shows, like Master Of None and Jessica Jones. And I lose myself in the stories of familiar characters like Nancy Bowen from Weeds or Hannah Horvath in Girls. Winter is one long flickering glow of a laptop screen, dancing in my smiling eyes.

During my hibernation, I eat incredibly well and have long and lovely sleeps. Sometimes, I even take naps. I lay in my dark room for hours, drinking one cup of tea after another as I celebrate my solitude. I write and I write, the words just flow out of me. Winter is a long hug, toasty and safe.

When I awaken in the spring, as the ground thaws and the leaves return, I remove my sheets for cleaning, smiling as I inhale the lived-in smell in their fibers. I feel clear, awake, and new. After all those months of indulgence, it feels strange to re-emerge at first, my body still heavy with sadness and solitude. But I sigh with relief when I release these “burdens,” running free and light in the sun, as I so quickly forget how dearly I once held my sadness, my mind, myself, just moments before. Winter reminds me of everything I want to forget.

A Year On Carpenter Street

By Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

To the first place in Chicago to make me feel at home

Our windows were always open because there was no air conditioning. A single ceiling fan in the living room crept at a snail’s pace, stirring the air as slowly as if it were pancake batter, while the sun setting over the house across the street painted our walls orange. The ice cream truck would come at four, but we would hear it until six. And then it would come again at eight, it’s mechanical melody warping the cantina and rap music blasted by our neighbors every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. Everyone sat out on their small cement porches close to the sidewalk, or their obscured wooden decks overlooking Jardín de las Mariposas -- the Butterfly Garden -- or languished in the heat of their living room on white pleather couches, too stoned to change the channel. Children rode their bikes until 10 o’clock at night, a few blocks from the Pilsen bar where a man’s throat was slit only a couple weeks before. Overall, it was a safe neighborhood, even in the record-breaking heat of August.

Everything smells like fresh asphalt still staining your tennis shoes black, pesticide, fresh tamales, sunscreen, and cherry slushies. Everything is sticky and covered in swarms of ladybugs: the curb, the ivy, the murals. The bus depot painted over the Virgin of Guadalupe mural a month ago, and now it’s just white. Kind of a trend in this neighborhood. 

Grandmas line the streets with their colorful yard sales of plastic jewelry, VHS, and porcelain knick knacks (kittens, geishas, colorful fruits), as our grey cat lies in the sun on the sidewalk for hours, accepting tummy rubs from strangers. Somebody got their car radio stolen last week, so the blue security lights turn on every night and everything glows until four in the morning. We sleep with the windows open and our mattress in the living room. Our potted plants cast long spidery shadows over the floor. We’re too tired to feel the mosquitos anymore.

Indian summer settles over the streetlights and the tops of trees, turning everything gold. The milkweed along the old railroad track sheds and puffs of it travel on the wind like snow. Lines of elementary school children in bright colored coats and hats march to school behind their mothers, their older brothers all smoking cigarettes behind the closed barber shop. Steam from the bakery rolls over the street like smoke, filling the air with the smell of warm bread and wet leaves. Hundreds of monarchs fill the butterfly garden, migrating a week later. A boys and girls’ club comes after school to paint the pavilion in the garden bright blue. Someone that night writes “A+A Forever” in black sharpie on the third step. 

Another smoke shop opens. Another fight breaks out with the neighbors, leading us to stay up all night watching documentaries about Catholic saints. Halloween brings hundreds of college students to house parties, caking the sidewalk in leaves, candy wrappers and broken bottles. Another street is torn up, blocked off with a “Building a New Chicago” sign, then sits idly unpaved for a month. Someone spray paints next to it, “Where is it, Rahm?” Our heating kicks in. We bring the cat inside.

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

The front steps, iron and painted the same blue as the butterfly garden gazebo, are the first to freeze over. Then the sidewalk, then the street. When snow falls, it will clear faster on the sidewalk from the shuffling of boots to and from the bus stop each morning, but it will build up in the street overnight. Snow plows don’t come here. While you wait for the 18th bus, you will have to time it perfectly so you don’t end up waiting for 25 minutes, frostbitten to your core, trembling as you try desperately to smoke a cigarette. You hide behind the boarded up butcher shop to shield yourself from the wind. 

Christmas lights go up. Christmas tree lots pop up around taco stands. We are the only menorah on the block, but we blend in with the advent wreaths flickering in every living room. Everything is covered in ice and candlelight, the night sky is bright yellow, clouds reflecting the city we never see while we’re on break. Secluded, we build snowmen in the butterfly garden, walk to Rosie’s in La Villita to get donuts and empanadas, hot chocolates, and horchata on Sunday mornings. Isolated from the train, with no one trekking out for house parties in February, we stay in watching German films with the electric blanket, getting stoned until we begin to thaw, saints candles flickering on the bookshelf.

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

As the ice around the thin tree branches gets clearer and clearer, the sound of melting drops against the sidewalk sometimes sounding like rain, children start playing outside again. We filter through pages of Diane Di Prima and Patti Smith in the rare bookstore. Cigarettes are no longer smoked in a hurry, walks to the bar or to the train or to the stockyards or the deli are always enjoyed. The sun shines in an impossibly crisp blue sky, light bouncing from the graffitied white walls emblazoned with the word “Hustle” along the corner of the convenience store down the street. Colorful bulbs left over from Christmas still swing in the tree branches, their thin branches starting to burst with red and green fuzzy buds. 

House parties resume, revived with the angst of midterms and the ecstasy of spring break. Our friends smoke in the butterfly garden and climb the trees, and we all sit on the rooftop playing music and talking about “next year” all night long. Another smoke shop opens. Another street closes. The family next door has another baby, and there are showers and parties every day with pink balloons and mariachi music and the smell of burgers and kabobs on the grill. Flowers sit out on the porches in barrels, pots, and hanging baskets by the dozen. We buy more plants from the community garden and scatter them about the apartment. We get another fake leather couch, and a record player, this time from a store and not an alleyway. The margarita bar opens its patio once again, and every weekday evening clusters of thin angry-looking art students gather over large neon drinks. 

The cat goes outside again. The ice cream truck comes back.

THE FOUR FATES

by Siobhan Thompson

what a shame it is

to have this body for four seasons

winter summer spring and fall

what a shame it is

to have this body

to take care of

myself.

 

my mind freezes in the cold.

my brain can’t handle the jagged bite of frost.

it’s got this fight or flight thing,

and it always chooses the cowardly way out,

and it always wants me to come with.

 

when Winter comes on pointed heels,

every weak slight of sunshine is a hail mary

now, and at the hour of our deaths

i beg her for release

from her unmentionable

her unnameable pain.

but she only dusts her snow on my chest

and drips her icicles from my mouth

Winter never says much.

Winter never has much to say at all.

 

“it was the cold,” i tell Spring, who sweats at the temples

as they try to bring back what Winter took away

they listened to Demeter wail for Persephone, too

Demeter didn’t realize she brought the frost herself

and Spring didn’t have the heart to tell her

the same way they won’t tell me

so they listen and listen

work and work

to melt the ice

and thaw the rivers

to convince the terrified Sun

to come out again.

 

we say rebirth happens in Summer,

we say pretty girls are summer colored,

and everyone else is not.

Summer lingered when i was young 

and i had something to give her.

she liked to kiss my skin,

and lighten my hair.

but now i’m gray all over,

my hair and skin and teeth and eyes,

and all i have in my hands are the husks of memory.

i try to smile at her and say:

“remember when we were happy?”

“remember that tan on my wrists?”

“remember the way i used to be?”

no, Summer doesn’t worry about the past.

pretty girls don’t worry about much at all.

but she has a dead dandelion for me, 

and when i blow on its whisper-soft head

i don't wish for anything.

i know it doesn't work.

 

Autumn looks just like Spring

and a little like Summer

he’s scared of Winter too, but he’d never tell admit to that.

sometimes he gives me more time than he should

he knows that Winter isn’t gentle,

he knows that his sister isn’t kind.

he does the best he can to prepare the trees

but he always ends up killing the leaves

when i beg him to stay with me, among the dead

the corpses of Spring’s hard work

and Summer’s easy upkeep

Autumn tells me to bundle up

because Winter is almost home

and Winter loves it here,

with me.

 

what a shame it is to have this body

last for all four seasons

what a shame it is

that every four seasons

this body and i

start again.