Saturday, December 28, 2013

Patience: the Most Annoying Virtue of All, Or, Fools Rush In

Imagine we have gone camping: you and I and a few friends. We are nearing the end of the trip and you and I decide to go for a hike. Not a long hike: just a few hours of nature and us. Because we are running out of camping time and the light is waning, we rush off into the woods. Sadly, we do not take our time and prepare for the hike. We don't bring some rations. Or an extra layer of clothing. Or a compass (pretend the GPS on our phones doesn't work because of low service). Plus, we are only planning on a few hours, remember?

We head off in a direction hoping for a little nature spotting. We chat as we walk. Our walk becomes more about our conversation than the nature so we don't pay enough attention to the foliage as we pass.

A couple of hours go by and we realize that we are lost in the woods without the proper gear, any food, or any way to determine which way we should head. Because we didn't bother with a compass, we don' t know which direction we have been heading in. We are starting to get cold and hungry.

Too dramatic? Perhaps, a more realistic example then.

A number of years ago, when I was in my...when I was younger, I went outside to grab a slice of pizza of off my family's enclosed front porch. I had been boiling water on the stove for ramen, but decided that the water was taking too long to boil. I'd grab cold pizza instead. As I took a bite before going into the house, I heard a noise that sent shivers down my spine: the clicking of the latch as the door shut and locked behind me.

Those were the first of many shivers: it was winter in Massachusetts.

I worked an irregular schedule and had the weekday off. The rest of my family was not so lucky. Since I didn't have anywhere to be, I hadn't bothered changing out of my pajamas: a tank top and cut-off shorts. Thankfully, the house had been chilly, so I was also wearing a lightweight hoodie and a pair of Hello Kitty slippers. (I was a vision.)

I sat in a chair on the porch to consider my options and eat my pizza. I was going to be cold, but I didn't have to be hungry as well. I rummaged in my pockets for my mobile phone even though I knew damn well that is was sitting on the window sill in my bedroom. I considered going to a neighbor's house to make a phone call, but rejected that almost immediately: there were about two feet of snow on the ground and I was not in a hurry to be seen in all my bedhead glory.

I'm not sure how much time went by - a few minutes, half an hour or more - before I remembered the pan of water on the stove. I jumped up and looked through a window that gives a clear view of the kitchen on the other side of the living room. I could see the kitchen, but did not have a view of the stove.

As I berated myself for being so very stupid, I realized that I had to do something. I wrapped my hoodie as tightly around myself as was possible without ripping it, and stepped out of the porch. I would say into the cold, but we were using the porch as an annex to the fridge.
Image via BravaVintage on
I considered the neighbors again, but saw that their driveways were empty. A fuzzy memory of a green, bakelite, rotary dial phone in our cellar bubbled up from the depths of my childhood. When I was a kid, there had been such a phone in the cellar near a sink and a window set in the stone wall.

I turned right and headed down the stairs to the driveway. From there I walked around the house. The snow was deep, but we had had a warm spell then a cold snap so the top was a pretty firm layer of ice.

For most of the trip around the edifice, the surface held my weight. The times I broke through, jagged shards of ice cut tiny lines up and down my bare legs. My slippers were almost no protection from the snow and did not offer any traction: they did not have rubber soles.

I made it to the back of the house where the cellar door is. I briefly wished that my parents had not removed the kitchen pantry and its entrance to the cellar when I was a child. Before going into the cellar, I climbed the stairs to the back deck and looked through the kitchen window. I could clearly see that the water was boiling nicely. Finally.

I left the deck and went through the small, ancient door that leads to the underbelly of our house.

I shuffled rather than walked into the cellar. Sometimes things get knocked over and don't get picked up. Sometimes those things are sharp. My feet didn't hurt as badly as they had done from the cold before I started the trek around the house and I didn't want them to start complaining again. (I refused to worry about frostbite.)

I made my way to the place where the phone should have been. Note, I said, "Should have been." I'm pretty sure there is still a telephone down there, but it was no where to be seen that day.

I considered going back to the front porch. I couldn't get in that way, but at least I wouldn't be outside. Then I realized that while I couldn't get into the house, I was also not outside.

I have never been a huge fan cellars. They are darker and cold and at least partly underground. They are the place people store the things they don't want anymore but cannot part with. I have especially never liked our cellar. We have wetlands behind my house, so we get "house guests" in the winter and they generally stay in the cellar. That summer, one of my brothers decided to use it as a sad dank gym by putting a used weight bench down there. Instead of coming inside when he had to pee, he occasionally urinated on the floor in a corner.

 I considered the porch again, but instead move deeper into the cellar. I figured that if I got more under the house or underground, I would likely be a bit warmer. I was right: the further I was from the wind and the outer walls, the warmer I felt.

As I shuffled around trying to determine my next move, I saw the cellar window. It used to lead outside, but when I was in junior high, my parents had put an addition on to the house: a two car garage with a closet and a set of stairs into the house!

Without thinking, I jumped into action. The window was less accessible than it had been all those years ago when I use to climb through after school on days when I had forgotten my keys, but it was still there and still led into the closet.

Years of junk had accumulated in front of the little rectangular window, but some of that junk was useful: I took a large plank of wood and rested it on a ledge that was about two feet off the floor. I carefully made my way up the incline toward the window. The plank rocked when I went too quickly; I had to move painfully slowly to avoid toppling my insecure structure and falling onto the scattered nails and broken glass I was walking over.

My feet had begun to warm up and were starting to hurt from the cold. I stopped for a moment but just standing was more painful. I pressed on.

Finally, I was at the window. I looked through it into the black dark of the closet: the light was out and the door shut. I smiled. I grabbed hold of the rotting sill and stood completely on the little ledge looking through the rectangle. I looked at the gap inside the wall.

Winnie the Pooh
The inside wall is made of rock and concrete. The outside wall is made of rock and concrete. The space between is a void where winter's unwanted house guests hide. I swallowed and told myself that I could do this. I was capable. I had done it dozens of times in the past.

I gripped the sill more firmly and then heaved myself up so that my head was through the window. I was just about to pull myself further in when I remembered Winnie the Pooh and Rabbit's Hole.

I was not a kid anymore. I was a full grown woman with a full grown bust. Also, I had gained a bit* of weight since junior high. I reasoned that if I tried to climb through that window with the boobs and belly I had at the time, I was likely to end up like Winnie the Pooh: stuck in Rabbit's hole until he was starved thin enough to escape. That was, if the house didn't catch fire and I didn't die as a caricature of a cartoon. And let's not forget the house guests: they would run all over me in their desperate attempts to flee the house I'd set on fire because I was not patient enough to let water boil.

I pushed back and lowered myself onto the plank and went back to the cement floor as slowly and carefully as possible. I waited until someone came home.

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