Autumn Phillips: The end of winter
Even as I write, snow is falling.
But for me, winter is over.
It ended last Thursday afternoon after I tore open a large manila envelope sent by my mother. That woman — my mother — has a new-found fascination with cameras and candid photos. When she visited two weekends ago, she took pictures of me eating dinner, pictures of me playing Jenga, pictures of me waiting for her in the hotel room.
I am not posed or smiling, and the photos are not flattering.
Realize that there is nothing that can tear down one’s self-image faster than a candid photograph.
Exhibit A: Freeze frame of me eating a dinner salad.
I had to look twice at the photo to make sure it was really me. I was laughing, chin down and huge rolls of flesh were rippling around my neck.
It was the double chin to beat all double chins. I was Jabba the Hut, wallowing in my own face. And that blur in the next photo: That was my swinging neck waddle.
Thus began the realization that winter had been piling itself on my body and my campaign to return to summer.
There is no wider door to self-examination than vanity.
I’m not one for diets or self-depravation in general. Instead, I reached under my bed for the gym bag, emptied out a pink pair of Oakley goggles that need to go in the trash and some running tights that need to go in the laundry, and found my swimsuit hanging in the back of the closet.
It was last Friday, and the temperature was near 50.
As I walked into the sunlight wearing my bathing suit, I felt the absence of the long sleeves and SmartWool socks I have been wearing for too long.
I slipped into an empty lane and started my first lap. I swam toward the hard pile of black and jagged snow on the other side. I breathed the chlorine steam. I felt the cold bite at the back of my head, and my body remembered what it was like to be outside without snowpants.
I watched the sun hit my arms for the first time since October as they lifted out of the water and pulled me a little farther. I remembered that time stops in the pool, and the wooden fence is a perfect barrier to the outside world.
As I counted laps, I mentally filed the past few months. Books read. Movies watched. Runs skied. Trails walked. Conversations conversed.
With the rocking of my body from one stroke to the next, I felt the winter being whittled away — an invisible knife peeled away another layer of skin, of hibernation, of Jabba chin.
I’ve been swimming every day since then and at the end of a half-mile or so, I pull myself onto the side of the pool and continue to rub the sleep out of my eyes.
For me, winter is over.
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