First Snow

Krys Malcolm Belc

When winter break hit my junior year of college, I moved into Anna’s apartment on Baltimore Avenue, the one with the bright red walls in the living room, her brown couch, her sadness thickening the air in every room except the kitchen, where I spent nearly every day cooking us elaborate dinners. Cookbooks were the only thing I could handle reading. I’d taken an incomplete in a course I should have crushed because, that semester, she hated her new job and living alone so much that I spent nearly every moment I wasn’t in class taking care of her. I don’t write about that time a lot, don’t think about that time a lot, and when first snow came the other day and I was reminded of that winter I asked Anna when it was. Was it my junior or senior year? I asked. I have no idea, she said. What’s the difference now? But I had to know. I’ve had three email addresses since that time but I logged into the old ones to read hundreds of emails from college. I tried to remember what music I liked then. I tried to remember anything about me, as an adult, before I’d grown up enough to start telling people I was trans. I remember the paper, that’s how I know. That half-written paper on school suspensions tormented me daily but I took a month after the semester ended to finish it. Anna and I had been together a little over a year. It had been a year since I told my parents. I’m gay, I’d said, though that wasn’t quite it, wasn’t quite right. It was the first time I’d said that sentence out loud and I had not anticipated how upset it would make me, lying like that, telling that half-truth. It seemed like the easiest way to explain what was wrong with me. Sometimes I think we only stayed together those hard years as a Fuck you to our families, and then to our friends who told us we made each other depressed. I never told my parents I was struggling. I never told them Anna was struggling. Gay children could not struggle; being gay was disappointing enough, and if I struggled it was proof that being gay was bad for me after all. And how could I break up with the person for whom I’d come out in the first place? That made no sense, and so there I was, living just west of The University of Pennsylvania’s campus, learning to make homemade pasta and perfecting pie dough and making the most heavenly plush mashed potatoes ever, each soft potato lovingly spun through my food mill, the cream and milk and butter warmed in a little dinky pan from IKEA, a downpour of coarse salt showering them, individual granules crunching between my fingers. I barely ever went outside during the day. I did not love Philadelphia then, the loud trolley outside the apartment building, the college parties – other college kids, normal college kids – I could hear even with all the windows closed. When I was depressed as a young teenager I stopped eating so completely my entire body grew downy white hair. I weighed less than one hundred pounds, started always sitting on pillows, was cold all the time. That was when I began running, early in high school around the time I learned to skip meals, to deny my body the pleasure of eating. I took it up again the winter break of my junior year of college, that winter I lived in my girlfriend’s apartment in Philadelphia, running at night, in the cold, because feeling burnt by the wind and snow, freezing night air filling my lungs as I sprinted down Locust Walk on the empty university campus, was the only way to feel anything. The soundtrack of my depression was The Shins’s Wincing the Night Away. It’s a forty-one minute album, just long enough to fill a run from West Philadelphia through Penn’s campus, over the Walnut Street Bridge, into Center City, where crowds of people walked from all directions towards the bright lights and Christmas decorations that make Philadelphia so beautiful that time of year. Back then I didn’t think it was beautiful. I didn’t think anything was beautiful. Every night when I burst out of Anna’s apartment I would tell myself I would finally do it this time, finally throw myself off the bridge. I wanted it to seem like an accident. When I thought of my funeral I only imagined that no one would be surprised; of course someone like me, someone in such an inherently depressing situation, would end up this way. I sprinted through the city crowds to “Phantom Limb,” a song about small-town lesbians desperate to get out. Hadn’t I? On the way back from my runs, walking away from my beautiful city, my knees cold my sweaty feet cold my wet forehead cold my bare hands cold I would thank myself for making it through one more day. Up the apartment building stairs my shaky frozen legs went. In the fourth floor apartment with red walls and a brown couch and the driest, hottest radiator on Earth I would boil fresh butternut squash ravioli from that afternoon, swirl them into browned butter with fried sage, bite down before they’d had a chance to cool down. That warm eggy dough, filling so hot it burned my throat, made burns I hoped would be there for days.

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