While scrolling through Facebook earlier, I saw a dire warning - the Polar Vortex supposedly will be upon us come Thanksgiving. I loathe the cold like a fattie loathes a three-way mirror under florescent bulbs. Both, to me, bring on spasms of regret and despair. Being of delicate constitution, any temperatures under about 65 degrees are anathema to me. I cannot abide discomfort of any type.
Since I moved back to elementary school, I have recess duty, which requires being out of doors for at least 20 minutes each afternoon, supervising what can only be described as a scene from the Lord of the Flies. On cold days, it's Lord of the Flies begging to go inside where it's warm. Wimps. If I have to be out there, so do they. However, I don't really own a warm coat, as I simply avoid going outside in the arctic tundra. After the first frigid day of 55 degrees, I hightailed it to the local Goodwill to see what kind of coats they may have, since I refused to spend hundreds on some coat that acknowledges that cold weather is okay. I found a great long purple coat for $9, and snatched it up. It makes me look like Violet Beauregard after she gets to the blueberry pie portion of the meal-in-a-piece-of-gum she greedily slurped down. But it was cheap and it keeps the deep freeze at bay.
On those cold days, I reminisce back a month ago when I took a solo trip to the wine country for my cousin's wedding. Forest fires aside, it was a wonderful boondoggle. The best part? It was warm. California warm. Warm all year warm. Out there, the only Polar Vortex was the extended metaphor for my life, which unfurled over several days.
I found myself surrounded by Fabulous People. My new cousin-in-law (is there such a thing?) is a Master of Wine, meaning that she can, by what can only be described as olfactory sorcery, sniff and taste pretty much any wine in the world and tell you the vintage, grape, and region of the wine, among other things. My cousin is a wine expert, and he does all kinds of things I don't really understand in the world of wine. At their Napa wedding, I sat at a table with an opera singer, an orchestra conductor, more Master of Wine candidates, and other bright and interesting people. For the first time in a long time, I discussed books and music and drank really, really good wine, not the crap on sale in the grocery aisle that I'm kind of embarrassed to buy, but don't know any better. But the whole time my insides froze and vortexed. I felt like a fraud. I worried that any minute they'd realize I'm just a bumpkin elementary school teacher from Indiana, and I had no idea why these people accepted me as one of their own. Maybe it's because I'm hilarious and outgoing, and marginally inappropriate. I felt like I fit in with them in a way I don't fit in here in the heartland. It felt like my beloved Boston (where, for some reason, the cold is okay because there's an ocean - don't question my logic), full of kindred spirits.
The vortex grew only greater as I returned to my life. Don't get me wrong. I have a superb and kind husband, and the three best kids on the planet are my very own. I teach a group of inquisitive whirlwinds who teach me as much as I teach them, and let me joke around and give them ridiculous nicknames. But my breath caught as I drove through bland cornfields and past all the fast food restaurants. I missed the warmth of the wine country and the people there. I missed the feeling of belonging. I missed the top shelf wine that I couldn't ever afford because of said career as a teacher. I even missed the very quirky AirBnb house I stayed in that had a terrifying picture with eyes that followed me all around. I missed the life I thought I'd have, but that I don't. The thought that I'm 47 and it's getting too late to do all the things I believed I had forever to accomplish when I was 27. The Polar Vortex spins its ugliness in my heart and I push and swim to get out. Every morning, I've started focusing on the very real and wonderful aspects of my life (listed above) and ways I can get back to myself. And every morning I leave before dawn to go to my non-glamourous job that fills my soul with joy, and I think of the stories I want to tell the world as I navigate my Ford Flex through the streets.
The meteorologists are telling me that this winter will be colder than normal. I'll want to run away to the wine country and the warmth and the interesting and fabulous people there, and I'll have to remind myself of everything I have right here. I'll get into my purple grape coat and carry on.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.