On December 23, while moving my mattress out of my old apartment, I clumsily crunched my foot, resulting in a bruised, swollen, and ultimately–I learned later–broken walking stump. At the time, I briefly cursed my inelegance, strapped on a walking cast, and carried on. In retrospect, I should have recognized it as the forewarning it turned out to be: my 15 minutes of mild optimism were already ticking away.
Music writer Rob Sheffield, in his moderately heartbreaking memoir Love is a Mix Tape, explains life after the unexpected death of his wife:
The way I pictured it, all this grief would be like a winter night when you’re standing outside. You’ll warm up once you get used to the cold. Except after you’ve been out there a while, you feel the warmth draining out of you and you realize the opposite is happening; you’re getting colder and colder, as the body heat you brought outside with you seeps out of your skin. Instead of getting used to it, you get weaker the longer you endure it.
This strikes me as painfully accurate, and not only for dying wives or your general Life-Altering Events. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been out in the cold pretty much since birth. I’ve never been able to convince myself it isn’t cold out here, but I get used to it. And rarely–every so often–I find myself inside by the fireplace. I can feel the warmth spreading, the blood crawling back to the tips of my fingers and toes. I can feel Life coming back.
But then (to add stress to an already strained metaphor) I’m pushed out the door again. The chill returns; the sting is even sharper because of the contrast with the heat inside. The freshly-circulated blood turns against me as vessels shiver and constrict. My fractured foot aches. I’m not just back where I was before. That moment of warmth changed things. It’s colder now.