The Gray

You step out into it. It consumes you, touching you in ways that make you uncomfortable. It doesn’t have your permission, but you have no choice; it forces itself on you. Sometimes you can forget that it is there, but not today.

Its companions are damp, cold, and quite often, wind.

The damp seeps into your clothes, chilling you from the outside in, while cold nibbles at your extremities turning them blue and then white. When wind intrudes, it cuts through to your very bones. And yet this trinity of misery is not as powerful as their master, The Gray.

You have adopted a stoop: head down, shoulders rounded and protective. A frown has made its home on your face. Your curl into yourself, wishing away the pervading presence of The Gray.

It invades your every thought. It pushes you down from above and sits heavily on your shoulders, on the crown of your head, on your eyelids and the tip of your nose. You do not stand tall. You are never not cold.

Your mood is gray. You crave nothing, hate nothing. Everything is neutral. Extremes have no place in your existence. Your soul has been doused in peroxide. Sometimes, just there in the periphery, you see glimpses of passion, of disagreement and debate. Yet you have succumbed to the numbing, and do not participate.

You make jokes about it with friends and colleagues, trying in vain to lessen its hold on you. The jokes are stupid and only serve to highlight what you so desperately wish you could disguise: that you crave sunshine like a starving man craves a hot bowl of soup.

You ignore it, pretending that it is not just there on the other side of the window pane. You laugh so hard you made no sound. You scoff potato chips straight from the bag. You make lazy love on a Sunday morning. You read the latest best-seller, voraciously turning the pages. You meet friends in trendy coffee shops and drink $4 lattes. You pretend and pour yourself a gin and tonic, with fresh lime and extra ice. You drink it with the thermostat turned to 78. You pretend that it is light outside.

You seek camaraderie among fellow ex-pats. Californians become your closest allies. Those who are native to this place apologize. “It’s not usually like this”, they say. They are tired of The Gray too. Yet it continues to out-stay its welcome. You cannot remember last summer, except in snatches of blurry images, the colors fading each time you recall.

And sometimes, just when you think The Gray will always be there, it goes.  Warm air floods your lungs, and you can feel the freckles forming on your nose as you tip your head to the sun.

You are forgiving in these moments, forgetful of the how much The Gray weighs, of how dense it is. You become lighter. Your exuberance is contagious and those who love you flood back, eager to bask in your joy, to share it, no longer having to pretend with you, but sharing an important truth: that light is life.

You start to forget The Gray.

And yet, it has not left, not for good. It has only waited in its own shadow, just long enough for the forgetting to begin. And then it returns.

You fight it. You are drowning and want to push through its viscous mass and break the surface into the light. You want a warm breeze to play with your hair, and trickles of sweat from your elbows and knees. You want the steering wheel to be too hot, and to sink your bare toes into the sand on a sun-soaked beach.

You hope. You know there will be an end to The Gray. But not today.

Photograph by Oliver Neilson

4 degrees of separation

Yesterday morning, Ben and I got up and went to the gym. This is not that unusual – he goes most mornings, and I often join him rather than going later in the day. Yesterday, however, it was 0 degrees Celcius when we left the house at 6:30, AND there was snow on the ground. It is a four block walk. We both kept our heads down and our shoulders hunched as the icy wind whipped around us.

“This is not the right jacket for this weather,” Ben said through chattering teeth. I was trying to ignore how the cold bit through my sweatshirt – or ‘windcheater’ as they are called in Australia. It was neither warming me enough to induce sweat OR cheating the wind.

There is a traffic light where we cross a busy intersection, and the wait can be minutes. We were lucky that it changed just as we approached, and we crossed for the final block of our journey. The beacon of the gym lights glowed ahead of us, and we quickened our pace. As we stepped through the double doors into the brightly lit entry, the heat washed over us and we both sighed, relieved.

I headed to the cardio equipment, and climbed on ready to take my body temperature from one extreme to the other. The long bay of windows overlooks Puget Sound, and interestingly, the path that runs alongside the water. I watched incredulous as runners, covered neck to ankle, made their way along the path in the 0 degree weather. “Crazy buggers,” I thought to myself smugly from the warmth of the gym.

Later in the day the sun broke through the dense cloud. I had walked up to the supermarket, as much to relieve the effects of cabin fever as to shop, and the fresh air combined with the milky sunlight seduced me into going for a run. When I got home I suited up – neck to ankle – with running pants, gloves, hat, and fleece, and headed out to the path alongside the Sound.
View of Sound

It was chilly, but it felt good to breathe the crisp air, and to watch the sun slip below the mountains in a fiery haze.
Last Glimpses
Sunset over Puget Sound

I did a 3 mile (5 km) circuit and returned home, feeling energized. After a quick restorative shower, I sat down to write some emails. I looked at my desktop, where a widget proclaims the temperature in Celcius. 4 degrees. 4! Four little degrees are what separate me from the ‘crazy buggers’ on their morning run.

I feel that I MAY just be acclimating to the cold. Just a bit.

This morning when we left the house, it was -1C and snowing. Although we dressed better for it than yesterday, and I am getting somewhat used to the cold, I still say, “Roll on summer!”