300 A balmy summer day in DC had quickly become windy and overcast; the gales by the Washington Monument nearly bowled me over. People scampered after their gusting hats like worried hounds, full of nervous energy. And it had begun to drizzle.
Given the squall that was to come, the area surrounding this tall marble phallus had one thing going for it: a dearth of nearby trees, which meant no risk of being crushed by a falling branch. This was no small comfort: I later learned that, on the very day I am describing, a crumbling tree was responsible for a human death. Someone died–a person with hopes and dreams and loved ones and all the clichéd realisms we spout so that we might better relate to the distant dead. But they also had one more thing: the shitty, dumb luck to be standing next to an unstable tree, while I, on the same day, in the same storm, emerged unscathed. Hell, I found the tempest kind of fun. The arbitrary madness of it all continues to astound me.
Unfortunately, the area also lacked cover of the non-leafy variety. Unfortunate because the drizzle was now a veritable downpour.
Like panicked wildebeest, we stampeded from the monument to the nearest shelter, a sort of outdoor stage with an overhang. Strangers huddled like brothers, united by the fruitless desire to stay dry. My actual brother, hoping to document the occasion, took out my father’s video camera. He turned it on and swept its lens over the chaos, then settled on me and called for commentary.
I looked directly into the camera, and with fear and awe and the heart of a tv reporter I said: “Day one: the storm is on the rise.”
Fifteen minutes later, the sky was clear once more.
150 It was six weeks into my Princeton career, and I, a southern California native, was in the middle of my first nor’easter. The delayed train delivered me to Newark Airport with less than 20 minutes until my flight, and I burst into the terminal ready to sprint to my gate. There was, of course, no need to panic: my fall break flight home, along with everyone else’s, had been cancelled.
After a bizarrely complicated rescheduling process, I was left with nothing to do until the next morning’s early departure. Wandering through the packed airport, I found an unclaimed bench by a heater; this is where I would spend the night. Curiously, I felt no worry or disappointment—instead I felt solidarity with the hundreds of displaced bodies snoring around me. I was alone but it was a shared solitude, and a surprisingly peaceful one. I slept soundly, full of content.
75 I sat in a stall on the third floor of Wendell, eavesdropping on Josh and Parth as they discussed the weather. Josh was relaying a text message; he sounded confused at first and then, suddenly, jubilant. “SNOW DAY!” he bellowed, his voice rising with his spirits. I heard a pounding on my stall door as Josh quite literally galloped around the bathroom, whooping and hollering inarticulately, banging on the stalls and walls. This is joy.
— Dayton Martindale
300 I had never lived in autumn until this year, but I looked forward to it like I used to look forward to Christmas. In late September, I was already inspecting the trees, looking for signs of the first transformations, like a Christmas shopper looking for early deals. I stopped to look at the first rebellious leaves, slightly tinged with yellows and oranges. Then I took a picture and put it up on Instagram, of course. There was a tree on Alexander Beach that got an early start and lit up like a Christmas tree. It turned bright red, and I made lame references to Alicia Keys songs every time I walked past it, singing, “This. Tree. Is. On. Fireeee.” It was finally happening; all of my dreams were coming true!
Soon, the halls were decked with boughs of holly; all of the trees had been transformed. They were wrapped in bright, shiny colors. I took family pictures of all of them. Repeatedly. The leaves rained down like confetti, carpeting the grass and sidewalks. One day, I lay on a pile of leaves under a tree for a while. The sunlight filtered through the colored leaves above me, and I wondered why anyone would ever need stained glass windows, chapels, or mass while this experience could be had instead. In short, I fell in love with autumn. Our romance was sweet and beautiful.
Then, slowly but surely, the leaves started disappearing. Trees were completely naked, and the leaves that had fallen on the ground withered up into crunchy, brown, lifeless things that the leaf blowers cleaned overnight. It was like Christmas after the gifts had all been unwrapped and the merriment was all over. The decorations were put away, and I’ve been heartbroken ever since, pining for the jolliest of seasons.
150 I would choose Florida snow over Princeton snow any day. Every December, wearing nothing but a white costume, romantic tutu, tights, and pointe shoes, I’d dance into the snowstorm on stage. There was nothing magical about little white shreds of plastic falling gently on our heads, but everyone in the audience said we looked stunning dancing to the Tchaikovsky music in the snow.
It would stick to our heads, firmly held by coats of hairspray. It would slip down the front of our bodices causing very uncomfortable sensations. It would even sabotage us by making our satin shoes slip at the worst possible moments. It snowed for less than fifteen minutes for six shows over four days. And then, just as quickly as it had begun, it was over. The tech crew would sweep the white slips off the stage, and we wouldn’t have snow again until the next year.
75 Real snow is just as virginal, white, and pure as all the poets claim she is. More than a virgin, though, snow can be a prude. If you even try touching her, she’ll freeze you out. Out in the cold, she’ll cut into you, prick your face, shamelessly trying to coat you in attempt to purify you. She’ll make you feel guilty about walking through her, and she’ll never fail to give you cold feet.
— Catalina Trigo
300 It was on a ski trip senior year of high school. The air was snowless and damp. A cold breeze wormed its way inside my jacket. Six of us snuck off to a side trail to blaze; I was thrilled to be included.
We’d clearly taken a wrong turn. The only way down past from where we were was a steep backcountry trail dotted with moguls—mounds of snow that trip you up, fling you onto the next one too fast and slam you onto the ice.
Woozy, stoned, cotton-mouthed, I scraped my way to the level ground halfway down the slope. The thrill-seekers launched themselves onto the second half; you and I shuffled off by ourselves onto a long, level trail through the forest that would take us back to the main slope. I wanted to hurry back but you dawdled. I ended up giving into your insistent suggestion that we take a break. We kicked off our skis.
When you stepped too close to me I realized what was going on. I turned my face away from you the first few times you tried to lean in closer but you were persistent. You finally kissed me assuredly but clumsily; ungloved your hand to touch my face, tugged at the zipper of my jacket. You seemed excited but I shivered at the taste of your tongue. No one was going to want to make out with me again, probably, I told myself. So I went with it and didn’t protest at your hand sliding down between my legs.
But I shuddered and walked away. We skied down wordlessly. On the lift back up I cringed as you told me all about your sex life.
Later I told our friends what had happened. You told them all I was lying.
150 Where I live the summers are so hot that there is nothing to do but sit in air-conditioned houses or drive to sterile malls or make the steaming hot journey to the pool. I don’t go anymore but I used to. My brother and I would pass long rows of cars on the way and play at who could call out each car’s make the quickest: Honda! Toyota! Saab!
I hated the pool. Afraid of baring myself to the world in a bikini—a humiliatingly small garment—I’d always exile myself to my towel where I sat in shame, sweating in shorts and a T-shirt that I’d fiercely refuse to remove, sometimes stealing glances at the lifeguard’s muscular back.
At dusk the whistle would sound. Every time I would leave wishing that one day I’d have the courage to shed my clothes and dive into the sloshing, noisy, cool water.
75 My mother’s hometown sleeps in the deep, gray countryside where every month feels like a misty November. It drizzles almost all the time.
When I was there over winter break I took a solitary walk through an emerald field, shook off my coat and frolicked all alone in the rain wearing only my scratchy wool zip-up. That day it was raining, in large fresh drops sprayed by the wind.
I spent Christmas bedridden with pneumonia.
— Patience Cafferty
300 It is December and we all have ventured to a lodge themed ski hotel in Colorado and for the first time all together my family was skiing it was the first time I ever skied before and I felt unsteady and feverish like a newborn colt stumbling on my own shinbones the first time I tried I skied straight down without bending my knees because my mother said she skied fast when she was young when I was young she said I skied like a champion, I held myself upright and could soar with perfect balance sending powder flying out behind my skis she stands off to the side and I am scared because she never cries but she says the ski instructors say her back will give her too much trouble after surgery and fibromyalgia and my father and my sister and I do not think of this when we are at home or think of her pain she repels pity like Teflon but like the Decemberness of it all and the sleet underneath our skis she cannot shake it off, it is there and it is all around us like snow she says they made her ski with a group of people who had never skied before they were like fallen deer she says, all limbs I was so tethered she says mother I say I haven’t skied either but maybe I have perfect balance too I must have been around twelve I think and I wanted to be a ballerina my mother says go on go on go on I will wait here and I remember grabbing the rope pulley that tugs me gently up the mountain and she says grab on but not too tight. Grip it too tightly and it will snarl in your gloves.
150 My mother is driving me to pick up a prescription from cvs. I should be driving the car because I am 17 and have my permit and I know my mother hates driving especially because her back bothers her when she drives my father’s car, but I am afraid of driving in Chicago and already ashamed of this, so I try not to offer and hope she forgets. She is pulling into a parking spot right in front when she jerks the wheel, pulls over to the opposite side of the parking lot across from a Patagonia store. I ask her why she wants to exercise so much, why make us walk across the parking lot from end to end? She waves her hand down like my words are gnats and shoves open the front seat door. She points at a clearing in front of the yellow parking marker. “Look,” she says. “Lilacs.”
75 The rain. It sifts into a tidepool in her left knee joint. When she wakes, she hears the waves, crests two millimeters high. Her fibromyalgia flares up in rain. Leaves her damp, head stuck and muggy. She walks on careful feet, dry despite the drizzling. No gluten. No sleep. Inflammation in spring. Walk on the treadmill, take two tramadol and report any side effects. Her limbs, shells. Shake them. You can hear Lake Michigan.
— Rachel Stone
300 I am five years old and this is the happiest time of my life because I love being small. I do not have to help paddling the boat and people think I am adorable when I say, “Bonjour, Je m’appelle Marguerite. J’aime pains au chocolat.” That is the only thing I can say in this country. I am sitting near my father in the canoe. He is very hairy and he is my best friend. I think my brother is splashing me, but it is rain. It starts to thunder while we are slowly drifting down the river. I am excited because I love thunderstorms. I am oblivious to my parents’ tense looks at the first cracks of lightning. “Okay, this map says we should see the something-something-something château in the next mile or so. Margaret, do you think a princess lived there?” Soon the sky has darkened and it is raining hard. I am crying because my pink dress with a collar is soaked. I am cold. My father finds a trashbag, tears a hole in it for my head and sticks it over my body. My brother does not get a neat trashbag raincoat. The château is on the hill like my mother said it would be, but it is sinister and crumbling. My parents are shouting over the thunderclaps at each another about what to do. They and my older siblings paddle the canoe over to the bank. The storm scares even my father. My mother picks me up and carries me to where the others have put the canoe. We sit underneath it in the echoing, crowded hull for two hours. I do not like rain anymore.
150 My father clearly thinks it is inappropriate that my favorite song is called “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues,” but he humors me and has gone to get the car with my siblings. My mother and I are standing in the pouring rain waiting for Francine Reed, our favorite member of Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, to emerge and sing the song. The rain has caused technical difficulties, but we are convinced Francine will not let us, an eight year old and her fearless mother, down. A miracle happens—feedback screeches over the speakers, and we spot her. Rain is still pelting us. I am jumping up and down. My mother is laughing at her child screaming along to the lyrics “I can tell any man to go to hell because a man don’t know how to act right.” I am soaked and happy.
75 I am sittingnear a window in McCosh 50, hoping that Vitamin D can be absorbed through glass. I shiver under three layers of sweaters. Two minutes before class ends, papers begin to shuffle and people are whispering and pointing towards the window. Flurries of gray New Jersey snow. Walking out of class, someone turns to me, “Don’t you just love the snow?” I cry all the way back to my room.
— Margaret Spencer
300 Summer is coming to an end. We, my sister and I, strap on the identical sandals we’ve been wearing since June. I take a seat next to the shovels and pails in our red wagon, and the hot August wind takes control of my uncombed hair. My mom, tired and happy from a long, lazy summer, lifts the wagon’s handle and starts walking slowly. My sister trails behind as we make our way down to the beach. I bump up and down in the wagon, all the passing houses blurring into one endless strip of color. My sister complains of her aching legs, jealous of my prized throne.
The boardwalk appears as if by magic. The minute we reach the sand we dash towards the water. The ocean is empty, like it’s been waiting all day just for us. We don’t realize that the late-afternoon tide has taken control of it. We don’t hear our mother shouting for us to slow down. We just push forward against the rush of the wind, against the pull of the sand, against whatever sense we have telling us to stop, towards that compelling, sparkling sea. When we reach the cigarette-strewn shoreline, we notice the water twisting itself into a monstrous wall. We stop, breathless, gaping at the huge wave crashing down towards our small bodies.
But it’s too late. As the water retreats, we glance down mournfully at our feet. Our glittery jelly sandals are gone.
We walk home in silence. My mother wonders how to begin packing up the beach house, my sister smiles from my seat in the wagon, and I taste the salt on my lips, feel the coarse sand in my bathing suit, and let the rough, bumpy sidewalk scrape my tanned bare feet.
150 We didn’t celebrate Halloween. It was a pagan holiday, our teachers told us, and besides we had our own Jewish holidays to dress up and eat treats. Our parents bought bags of fun-sized Twix to give out to the trick-or-treaters, but we ourselves stayed home with the door locked and only opened it with the help of an adult.
Shira and I were under strict orders to not walk home alone. We followed our mothers’ rule in years past, secretly terrified of the zombies and fishnet stockings and masked high school kids. But we were in eighth grade now. When a boy offered to walk Shira home, I disregarded my mother’s warning and walked alone in the dark. I trembled at the sound of every leaf scratching the pavement. The cool, fall breeze swirled around me like a restless ghost. With each gust of wind, I wrapped my too-light jacket more tightly around myself.
75 Central Park is out of the way but you’ll walk me through it anyway, past bare trees and blackened ice and bikers in winter hats. I want to be your first snowfall: delicate, soft and so beautiful that you’ll stand back and gasp for air and stick out your tongue just to get a taste. So I’ll let you hold my numb fingers in yours the whole way home. Inside, my cheeks will burn red.
— Zahava Presser
300 When I was little, my brothers would tell me that when it rained it was because God was draining his swimming pool. None of us believed in God but I liked to imagine him pulling out a plug and letting all the water drench his tiny creations. They would tell me other stories too, when there were thunderstorms and our dogs trembled sadly under tables. They would explain the lightning and I would wrap myself in a dressing gown and heaps of blankets and be comforted. When they went to university, they would send me pictures of all the snow they got and I was disturbed by the fact that they were far enough away to have something other than endless rain puddles. We were not under the same clouds anymore but if they were playing in snow I should have been too, like we did on the rare occasions when an inch or so would fall on our hometown and school would frantically bar its doors to students.
Now they are both in London, and I am in Princeton. The tables have turned so I have the more dramatic winters, but I don’t even play in them. I Skype my brothers and show them all the flakes falling past my window, while they complain about rain too loud on the roof or curtains too thin for glaring January sunlight. We are all excited for the summer.
Our mum still starts most of her emails with advice about the weather we can expect next week in our respective towns, as though she doesn’t know that she has instilled in us all an obsession for staying ahead of the forecast. She mentions that it’s pouring with rain in London, and I wonder if my brothers ever think about God’s pool maintenance.
150 We’re in the middle of a beautiful heat wave, the kind where every shop seems to have a freezer full of popsicles by the door, and it looks like most of England has descended on my seaside town to good naturedly fight for sunbathing space on the beach. I am there too, with my parents, and they mutter about grockels—the tourists from outside our county who come every summer but in especially high numbers this year. I have been given a bodyboard and I am taking it into the sea for the first time. I am probably ten or eleven, and self-conscious about my figure in my swimming costume. I do not have a natural talent for bodyboarding, but it’s exciting and soon I forget to worry about what I look like. I am a child in the ocean in the sun and that is reason enough to be happy.
75 I fall on ice outside Frist and am prescribed painkillers. I take two before lecture and towards the fortieth minute my vision starts to swim. I am dizzy, and much too hot, and when I stumble out of the room I almost fall down the stairs. The painkillers did not kill my pain but it feels like they are trying to kill me. I shiver when I see ice and not because I am cold.
— Sophie Parker-Rees