I am notorious for hating winter. In fact, I like a lot about the season- visiting my family for Christmas and piling up in front of the fireplace, an excuse to put all the quilts on the bed and make a nest, slightly more forgiving clothing. But what I don’t enjoy is being cold.
My first year in Pittsburgh after leaving Atlanta, I wasn’t ready. At all. I never learned the proper way to layer clothing (no need in the balmy South). I didn’t understand the difference between a stylish coat and an actual functional one. I didn’t own a hat or a scarf. And to add insult to injury, in my first apartment the radiator in bedroom refused to kick on. It was ice-cold in there. I came home from work and cried for most of my first winter because I couldn’t thaw out. My bones were cold until spring.
As my years in the great white north have worn on, I’ve picked up some skills. My family buys me piles of polar fleece everything for my birthday and Christmas. I pay a little extra year-round for the privilege of running my heat warmer than average in the winter ( at a temperature at which locals assure me I could grow citrus fruit in my living room). I have a back-up space heater for the bedroom that can get the room up to 80 degrees, no matter the outside weather. I not only own a dozen scarves, but made some of them myself. I am getting better at this winter business.
But the one element of winter that never goes away is a slight anxiety with the first snowfall. You see, I think snow is pretty. It looks beautiful falling outside the window. It makes everything look all quiet and peaceful. But I take the bus everywhere. And my biggest fear is falling on a pile of slush. There. I said it. I’m not afraid of the physical pain. I’ve slipped and fallen many times, bruising my tailbone, scratching my hands, etc. I am afraid… of being embarrassed. And I will avoid leaving my house rather than risk the embarrassment of slipping and falling.
I was talking to BC about this the other day in another context- specifically, dating. And what I figured out, when I really thought about it, is that this fear of embarrassment is why I’ve stayed out of the dating game so long. When I found out that the ex was cheating and had to cancel the wedding, I was humiliated. I had to tell my family and friends that the person that I thought I could be with forever had been running around town, in places I knew people no less, with someone else, and that I had no clue. I had to call the caterer and the minister and the hotels and the location and mumble out that the wedding wasn’t going to happen and I felt like a fool.
Maybe the whole embarrassment problem goes back to being teased a lot as a kid. I wasn’t particularly cute and was bookish and other kids were not kind about it. I remember walking with friends and older kids shouting over, insulting my clothes, my glasses, my weight. And rather than being hurt because of their meanness, what sticks out to me is the humiliation that they said it in front of other people. That they knew. As I told BC the other night, upon reflection, I think avoiding embarrassment ranks at the top of my personal values.
So, today is our first snowfall in Pittsburgh for the year. This year, I’m trying a different approach. I have a few pairs of boots with some decent tread. I have a shovel and salt for the sidewalk. And I’m trying on a new attitude all around. I’ve missed out on a lot by being afraid of being embarrassed. I haven’t gone places where the sidewalks might be slick. And that includes my personal life. Maybe, just maybe, this winter I can take a chance. Perhaps the important thing isn’t that anyone sees me fall. Maybe the important thing is that someone sees me get back up. And if I’m very brave, maybe I can give someone a chance to help me up. Or to share my cozy couch this winter. The heat bill’s on me.