Wordsligner • Dissident • Webwright

Winter Roads

Published 14 January 2019

Christmas in Detroit this year was green, but growing up winter was pretty serious business. As an elementary school kid, I waited for the bus on the corner of a busy east/west street, and the wind whipped down it. All of the kids waiting faced away from the oncomming bus, intermittently risking a backwards glance that would blast you with a face full of wind so cold you could feel ice crystals forming in your nose.

When I was older and learned to drive, I got a hand-me-down car that was perfect for a snowbound 16-year-old. The make and model are priviledged info — there’s probably some bank or something that has them as a security question — but that unsexy steel-plated beast had an oversized engine for a sedan and handled impressively on snow-coverd roads.

The Beast slept outside in front of our house; our corner lot had a U-shaped drive that allowed my parents’ cars the comfort of the garage and kept mine off of the street. This allowed me to avoid the hassle of being plowed in. The only problem in winter was the ice.

Someone smarter than me can probably explain why this happens, and with luck in the ten years since I’ve left the midwest Ford’s engineers have figured out how to prevent it, but the absolute worst part of a wintry morning is when a centimeter of ice rimes of your windshield.

The dutiful thing to do is to bundle up, pry your doors open (hopefully the latches aren’t frozen), grab the baton of wood and plastic you keep in the car for such occasions, and spend six eternities chisling. Bits of ice spray up your sleeves and in your face; your nose and eyes burn from the cold and all you really want to be doing is sliding back into bed. But turn the car on and let it run for fifteen minutes or so to warm up, and then you’re ready to go.

Those, at least, are the good days.

On the bad days you’re late. Or sick. Or still trying to finish some bit of homework. It’s not just ice on the car, but four inches of snow, and you don’t have time to let the thing run. Back out with the trusty scraper and you’re clearing off the windows, scraping a hole at least big enough to peer through and then you’re out the door.

Of course it doesn’t end there. Whatever moisture’s in the air inside the car has frozen to windows as well, meaning even if your outside windows are clean, you’re still trying to drive through a thin sheen of frost. The scraper works for the most part, but scraping means dousing yourself and your interior with ice crystals. Your car’s running and the heat’s blasting but the engine’s cold, but even when it warms it makes the air inside warmer than out, which causes the windshield to fog. Wipers don’t wipe the inside. Blasting the defrost causes clear slits to form like a jousting visor while you’re sitting in ear-ringing cold. Opening a window helps until the outside cold causes the fog to transform back into frost.

Thus you take to the road delicately driving a cold car through the salted streets, blearily squinting through frost and fog, trying to make out the tire-ruts on the road and watching for the lights of other cars. You had to fight this battle against your own car just to navigate the world of winter hazards outside — ice, darkness and traffic are plenty stressful to a novice driver even when nothing’s obscuring them — just to get to an entire other universe of stress and fear; n.b.: high school sucks.

That’s also probably the best analogy I have for living with depression, with which I’ve battled most of my life. It’s driving your body through the world squinting through the windshield at emotions and feelings you know are out there but can’t clearly make out. It’s taking your preschooler sledding for the first time and while she’s giggling and laughing, you’re narrating to yourself, “This is a happy moment. You’re happy now. You should feel happy.” It’s having cancer take a beloved pet and feel numb from the cold; depression cheats you of your grief.

On that wintry road, you can recognize the other cars like yours — a toupée of snow belying they spent the night on the curb rather than in a warm garage. But what are you going to do? You’re late, and can barely see. You can barely help yourself. I don’t really know why I’m writing this, or posting it. It’s not a thing I normally do. But something’s telling me that someone needs me to share this, needs to know they’re not alone.

It’s not winter forever. The snow is part of a constant cycle. Spring and thaw come eventually, and I’ll be driving with the windows down and the radio up soon enough.