In Charlotte, where winter brings no guarantee of snow, small children press their palms together, close their eyes so tight they see waves of color, and plead with God to unzip heaven. And last night God answered their prayers, pouring a fine dusting across the hard ground. This morning the radio says, “No school.” Twitter commands, “Stay off the roads.”
After my young daughters slip into seldom-used boots and pull fuzzy hats over the tips of ears, I open the front door to the sound of melting snow. We emerge into the bright sun as rivulets of water already gush down the road. Grey concrete peeks through our trail of footprints. Tiny icicles clank against the ground, succumbing to the same warm rays beating my brow. Tomorrow, I will stand on this bare sidewalk, absent the melting song that declares the cold can’t remain.
In my childhood home, we referred to today’s symphony as “breakup.” Breakup in Anchorage was a thing of weeks, maybe stretching beyond a month. A whole season. First winter. Then breakup. Finally spring. After months of snow and ice, breakup reminded us that winter could not prevail. That spring would always swallow death. Drops of water plunking against still frozen ice. Tiny rivers in search of street gutters. Frozen fangs released from roofs, shattering against porches and decks. My rubber boots—breakup boots, we called them—pounding puddles, splashing slush.
Now in my front yard, thin blades of dead grass poke through the snow. The girls lean back on the white lawn, thick tights and fleece pants shielding them from the damp. Flapping arms and legs, they leave behind the outline of angels.
“Listen,” I say. “Do you hear the snow melting?”
“Listen,” I say again.
Can they know the music? Can their ears discern those sounds in a world where snow leaves in a day? Tomorrow we will stare at yards returned to winter’s norm, at our world carrying on in muted colors. Then on a Saturday in the near future, we will awaken to the hum of lawn mowers and the soft fragrance of fresh cut grass. Without realizing it, we will step into a season that splashes pinks, purples, and vibrant greens on flowers and buds and lawns.
But what of the waiting, what of the longing for an end to the grey? What of a season that reminds us of what we leave, but hints at what still will come? The in-between time when we start to believe for another year that winter will pass. When we muster hope that the spring we remember will come again.
Standing in the driveway, I watch the girls tumble around the yard, puffed out with coats, weighted down by pastel boots. They lean towards the ground and run mittened hands across the snow. We walk to the sidewalk, a mixture of feathery white and patches of wet concrete. Around me the air sings, and the curve of my mouth mirrors my daughters’ smiles. The girls remove their mittens and slide warm fingers across chunks of ice while I languish in the dripping, the cracking against the ground, the music of today’s breakup.
Feel the ice, I think as I watch my daughters. Feel the melting ice. With both her hands, my oldest breaks a frozen gem into smaller stones. She presses a piece against her cheeks. My youngest takes another to her lips. And I imagine what I hear today, I will hear tomorrow, and the next day. Until one bright morning, a bird will sing amidst fresh buds pushing through the branches of a tree.
Patrice Gopo’s essays have appeared in several publications including Sweet: A Literary Confection, and online in The New York Times and The Washington Post. She is currently at work on a collection of essays that explores issues of race, immigration, and belonging. Patrice lives with her family in North Carolina.