“Are you OK?”
This is the dumbest question to ask her. First of all, she always say she’s fine. Always. Without fail. But the real reason it’s a terrible question is because I already know she’s not fine. I’ve known it for a couple of months. I just haven’t wanted to face it, so I accepted the falsity of fine.
Much like our region has been covered in snow since January, winter dark and dreary has blanketed her. But blanket gradually turned to noose, as icy fingers wrapped around her neck and squeezed. Depression’s choke-hold isn’t new around these parts, it’s just making an unwelcome return. A return neither of us wants to face after so many good years. A return that already feels all too endless.
I swear everything might improve if this winter would just fucking end.
It’s not just a metaphor, it’s an embodiment. A self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s being covered with 100 inches of snow — that’s eight feet of misery — in a series of storms that left no time to catch our breath, nevermind recover. One after the other, sucker punch after body blow, until energies are sapped and spirits are doused.
It’s so important to not only walk a path, but to know it’s there. To know it’s accessible when you need it.
We shoveled our steps, walkway, and driveway more times than I can count. Sometimes three or four times during the same storm. She always asked me why I kept going out to shovel, why I didn’t just wait until all the snow had fallen and then clear it. I never gave her a clear answer, but I know it’s because I wanted her to always see the path. Whenever she felt like escaping, I wanted her to be able to find a way. To see the way out at all times. So shovel I did, repeatedly and painstakingly, again and again.
But the snow wouldn’t stop. And then came the ice.
It hardens and crusts over, yet it’s slippery as hell. It starts at the edges and it creeps in. Slowly but inevitably. Soon the path narrows as the ice expands. You try to beat it back but more snow falls. Then the cold. Then more ice. And then the path is gone. Well, not gone. But it’s iced over and now you’re treading on glass. Slipping. Falling. Looking for a foothold that was just there yesterday, but today is no more. Suddenly, staying inside and never coming out seems much easier. Appealing, even.
And that’s when it has her.
After it’s worn her down, covered up her escape route, and made every movement a hazard that’s fraught with disaster. After it’s trapped her in one place and separated her from the outside world. That’s when it moves in for the kill.
“Hey, I can see the ground in places.”
There is always a thaw. That’s awfully tough to keep in mind when you’re frozen and hardened and tired, but it’s true. When you haven’t seen the ground in months, you start to wonder if it’s still there. But it is. It’s there.
There is always a way to battle and to persevere. We chip away at the ice with metal spades and clear the snow with shovels. We take back what’s ours an inch at a time. The meds are mental ice melt, but that only goes so far. She has to know the sun will shine again soon, and she has to trust it will make the tundra recede. What’s good will once again be unlocked and enjoyed, the path will widen, and she’ll walk down it unimpeded.
“I’m fine,” she answers. “I’ll be fine now.”