Campus Life

Squid vs. Whale

Life Moves Forward

I am a long way from Texas. If I were in Texas, I would not be freezing my balls off. On Friday, the 27th of February, 2009, the high in San Antonio, TX­—the city where I grew up—was 92 degrees. I shit you not. 92 degrees. That is six degrees separated from a boy band and hot enough for swimming. Chapstick. That’s how I know I’m a long way from home. Burt’s Bees Wax Pomegranate Lip Balm. It is the greatest thing ever recommended to me—and the reason my lips aren’t bleeding profusely.

Today, I finished an entire stick of it.

You have no idea how much of an accomplishment this is. Seriously.

This is what happened to my last six sticks of chapstick. 1) Melted in dryer in right jeans pocket, 2) melted in dryer in left jeans pocket, 3) loaned to a friend, never returned, 4) loaned to a certain friend, did not want back for fear of herpes, 5) lost, 6) relegated to drawer somewhere. I have never finished an entire chapstick. I’ve never needed to. But here, it is effing cold. Constantly. I have to humidify my room. I’ve sealed my windows with that shrink wrap shit. My guitar cracked because it was so cold. That’s how cold it is.

Screw you, New England.

It happened to me last year. I was fine all winter until one day in February, I overslept, crawled out of bed, and realized how awful this place can be. It’s like the cumulative weight of three freezing months dropping on me like an icicle from the post-doc deathtrap sidewalk in front of the Broad Institute. And normally when that day comes, I skip work and try to get some vitamin D and dopamine.

However, this year, I thought, chapstick. One stick gone. From start to finish. I don’t know why I thought this. I’m assuming it’s a coping mechanism. I also think it’s a sign that maybe I’m adapting.

I’ve always considered myself a Texan. I spent 18 years growing up there. I can shoot a gun and ride a horse (not at the same time, unfortunately). I’ve dabbled in Republican-ism. I own boots. These are qualifying marks.

Here, I have overcoats and a nice collection of scarves. They make me happy.

I go outside when it’s forty degrees out and think it’s a warm day. I jog over patches of ice. I cope. I learn. I adapt. I accept.

My Texan-self circa 2001 would not accept running in sub-freezing temperatures.

But I don’t weigh 130 pounds and worship the Dave Matthews Band anymore. I can’t run the 100-meter dash in under twelve seconds. And the only things left of me from the way-back-when machine are a guitar from 8th grade and pre-1994 five books. That’s really it. Jonathan Livingston Seagull; Contact; My Side of the Mountain; Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!; and Drama in the 19th Century.

I’ve been thumbing over them the last few nights. I’ve been thinking of sweaty August evenings in Texas without air conditioning. Damp fingers flipping pages in the din of cicadas. Lingering heat, brush and hill country. I prayed for colder weather, I wished it wasn’t so effing hot.

I got my wish. And in between wondering if one day I’ll get my revenge for the granting of that wish, I think I’m starting to accept that it’s okay to be cold sometimes.

I am using my spare time to find pen pals online and planning expeditions out to sea. I am sitting in my car warming my hands by the vents. I am checking the mail for postcards from warmer lands.

I am debating what chapstick to buy next. Maybe cherry? Maybe something with eucalyptus. Maybe that honeycomb stuff…

In the meantime, I still wear tights when I run bridge loops. I think I will for another few weeks. On the river, the geese gather at the edges of the ice. I like how the water and ice reflect the evening light.

In the Trader Joe’s parking lot, the snowdrifts recede to free buried shopping carts. The wimpy sunlight pierces my window for fifteen minutes between four and five in the afternoon. I spend nights at my desk with a cup of tea watching the snow fall and the wind blow.

A girl I once loved was fond of quoting this line from a Christopher Durang play: “Back in 1939 they couldn’t say ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ Now we can say fuck and show decapitations. So life moves forward.”

She’s somewhere in Texas now, God bless her. And I’m up here in New England, where we’re all Godless liberals to begin with.

So life moves forward.

And somewhere in Texas, there’s an old pair of jeans with an oily chapstick stain, the size of a quarter, lingering at the bottom of a pocket.