I woke up early today. I woke up early, with my usual sense of dread, in my dark room. Another grey day. Caught in winter’s clutches. But then I glanced at my window, and I saw a sliver of yellow piercing through the grey. I always forget that the blinds keep out the light. I turned the rod and sure enough, the sun streamed in. The sun! Imagine that!
I don’t bother to go outside in the winter, except for errands I simply can’t avoid. Some people love the winter. They go skiing, or snowshoeing, or whatever else. Every time I hear about a skiing accident, I wonder how so many people can still do it. Don’t they know about avalanches? I saw a news special on avalanches recently. Terrible way to go.
But this—the sun—this was different. I tried not to get too excited. The sun can be deceitful. It doesn’t promise warmth. After my coffee and my cereal, I opened the door and stuck an arm outside. Just an arm, at first. My skin didn’t prickle with goosebumps. I poked my head out. A light breeze ruffled my hair. It was so bright I almost didn’t recognize my patio. I stepped out. Still in my pajamas, no contacts, hair unbrushed.
A thought entered my head, unbidden: I should go for a walk. I knew no one had spoken, but I still looked around me as though I’d heard a voice. That couldn’t possibly be my idea, could it? A walk. Imagine! The thought only got stronger as the sun warmed my skin, and I decided that yes, I would go for a walk.
Back inside, I contemplated my wardrobe. The grey sweatpants and sweatshirts, the hats and gloves and coats that made me look like a stuffed penguin. None of them would do. I peered closer, rifled through hangers until—there! In the back of the closet, barely peeking out, a hint of pink. Next to it, a splash of yellow. I parted the hangers and admired my spring clothes, hidden away, ready to emerge. I drew out a pink shirt and a denim jacket. I couldn’t, could I? I compromised and paired them with my favorite pair of black joggers, now faded to grey after my long winter of loungewear.
I wasn’t prepared to see myself in a pink shirt. It brightened me, lifted the shadows from beneath my eyes. I swept aside my boots and found a pair of sneakers. I laced them and wiggled my toes. They felt light.
I popped my headphones in and pulled up a playlist I made last spring: ‘songs for sunny days.’ Stepped outside. Pressed play. Upbeat music entered my ears and I couldn’t help it—I smiled.
I turned left at the end of the street and headed on my usual route through the neighborhood. When I drove, I went the other way, turning right onto a main road where nothing interesting ever happened, unless you count the time someone siphoned off all the gasoline at the gas station. I suppose that was interesting. Depends on who you ask.
The left turn took me into the neighborhood. Months had passed since my last walk. I think I took one in the fall, October maybe, on an unseasonably warm day. I remember crunching leaves beneath my feet and admiring Halloween decorations: skulls, pumpkins, graves, zombie hands, friendly scarecrows.
Some people—not necessarily the ones who like to ski, but they often overlap—like to go for walks in nature, at national parks and such. I never found those sorts of walks to be much fun. Sure, the wildlife is nice, until you run into a yellowjacket nest or a patch of poison ivy. After a while in the woods, everything starts to look the same. A walk around the neighborhood is never the same twice.
I live in one of those neighborhoods where you can’t really tell if the people living there have money or not. It’s a vague brand of middle class, and you have to closely examine roofs and peek into windows to figure it out. You have to pay attention to whether the work trucks in attendance were hired out of desperate necessity or a fanciful desire for new cabinets.
The first person I passed was a man I didn’t recognize, walking a dog I did recognize. Before I could decide whether to say hello to the man or the dog, they turned onto another street and I missed my chance. The dog belonged to an elderly woman who’d been living here as long as the neighborhood existed, as far as I knew. Was the guy her son? A dogwalker? I hoped she wasn’t dead, but I supposed she could be. I felt a brief pang of sadness at the possible death of a woman I didn’t know personally, until I remembered that it was just as likely she was too old to walk her 60-pound boxer. That, I decided, was more likely.
I noted the fresh paint on shutters, the shiny new doors, the freshly installed basketball hoops, the mulched gardens with tentative flowers playing hide-and-seek in their buds. So many tiny hints of optimism, hope of warmer and better days ahead. A few mounds of snow still lingered in shady patches the sun couldn’t reach, and the grass was still straggly and brown, but I felt warm at the mere idea that spring was escorting winter off the premises.
Rounding the bend of the main street, I crossed to the other side to avoid the group of teenagers waiting at the bus stop. They didn’t pay me any attention; they were too busy bumping each other with their backpacks and sneaking glances at bare arms and ankles. I smiled as I passed. I never found my classmates’ arms or ankles especially interesting, but I supposed it was a novelty for them after so many months of boxy sweaters and coats. Maybe their teachers would let them have class outside. That would be nice.
Past the teenagers, I faced a choice: continue in a loop, or weave through the streets to spend more time outside. I glanced down at my legs, expecting to see them wiggle like Jell-O after so long without using them for their intended purpose. But my legs didn’t wiggle, and my feet felt fine, so I decided to weave through the streets.
I encountered a sunken couch, tossed out to perish on a front lawn. Faded leather, torn in a few places. I wondered if the tears were old, or the result of someone forcing the couch through a too-small doorway. Spring, on this street, was of the cleaning variety. Each lawn sported discarded furniture, including a nice nightstand I thought I might come back for later. Bags of clothing marked for donation. Toys the kids had outgrown. You could fill another house, maybe two, with the things they threw away. I remembered when I was young and my parents would team up with the neighbors for a yard sale. I wondered if anyone still did that. I always enjoyed those early spring days, using the coins I earned from selling my junk to buy junk from the neighbor kids. There’s something enticing about someone else’s used CD; it feels like a treasure, something you were lucky to find. I passed each of those lawns and silently hoped that the items strewn across them would find a second life.
On the next street, a biker nearly crashed into me, but they swerved in the nick of time. There are bike paths not too far from the neighborhood, but I suppose they were short on time. I’ve tried biking around, but it’s not the same as walking. You can’t go very fast, and there are too many hills for my noodle legs. After the close encounter with the biker, a song I’d nearly forgotten started to play, and I picked up my pace to match the tempo, unusually grateful for an algorithm. Wrapped up in the song, I didn’t notice much else on that street, not until I got to the corner properties and saw the signs and flags displayed on their lawns. I slowed my pace and glanced between them. They supported opposite candidates in the past election, opposite social causes, opposite economies. I wondered if they ever acknowledged each other. I wondered if they shoveled each other’s driveways. Or if they staunchly turned their noses up, whispered to their families, and continued to add more signs as quickly as they could get hold of them.
The morning began to slip away, and more cars zipped by as I wove my way through the neighborhood. I kept out of their way, hugging the curb, and smiled at a few other walkers. They smiled back hesitantly, their mouths rusty and out of practice with basic social cues. And then they passed and we continued on our separate paths. Would they notice what I had? Would they blow past, lost in thought, or would they notice things even I had not seen? I suddenly worried that I hadn’t paid enough attention, that I’d overlooked something small but important, like a loose nail in the street that could get stuck in a tire and leave someone with a flat. Or maybe I turned too soon, and I missed an escaped dog that I could have helped rescue. And why hadn’t I brought a bag to collect trash? I had wasted so many opportunities. I had—
No. The sun winked at me, as if sending a reminder that I could go on other walks. Better days were ahead, and winter behind me. Winter could keep its white days and intrusive thoughts. I shook away thoughts of trash and lost dogs and loose nails, and I let my feet carry me home.