The Idylls of March

I’ve been thinking about spring lately. T.S. Eliot said April was the cruelest month, but my money is on March. March is a tease. March makes promises it can’t keep. It refuses to stand still, springing forward an hour and knocking my sleep schedule, such as it is, completely off-kilter. This month started with a snowfall, all hushed and December white. Then I walked out my door this week and for the first time in months I didn’t wince. The air was gentle; March wanted to make up. I’d forgotten how sweet the breeze could be, how it could hug you instead of stabbing your exposed skin and slicing through layers like Jack Frost the Ripper. I walked out my door and something felt different; the world felt bigger somehow, more full of possibilities. It took me three blocks to realize it was because the ice had melted, and the sidewalks had tripled in width. I still have a bruise on my ass from slipping on a slick subway ramp, but the sky is blue and my breath has returned to invisibility and for the first time this year I’m taking my coffee iced.

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I used to mark my year by beverages. The campus cafe wouldn’t serve iced coffee until after spring break, and one friend of mine in particular would count down the days, saving up meal credits to fuel her vernal caffeine binge. On midterm nights, long fluorescent-lit binges on literary theory that ended with 5 a.m. pancakes, we would dream of ice cubes in sweaty plastic cups. Cold and sweet. Then senior year, without warning, they abandoned the practice. We could get iced coffee in February, or January for that matter. It didn’t taste the same in a library as it did on a green.

I’ve been thinking about spring, and about beginnings, and about my sinuses. At home, I could tell the date by the level of congestion in my nose. Deep inhale, January 3rd. Sniff, sniff, March 22nd. Abandon nose altogether, April 28th. Louisville has, year after year, been dubbed the allergy capital of the country. We are the land of horses, and bourbon, and fried chicken, and asthma. A whole city struggling to breathe. Pollen counts are covered with only slightly less fervor than sports scores in the local paper, with colored charts marking today as a one, two, or three Kleenex pack day. My mother spent 39 years of her life without a single symptom. Now she reads the mold count like a horoscope, asking the air quality gods what the future holds for her bronchii.

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In New York, my allergies dried up, this concrete jungle leaving little room for ragweed. My mom credits six years of allergy shots with liberating my immune system from the tyranny of seasonal pollen surges. It was a slow siege, prick by prick, raiding parties of dander and pollen sent creeping into my veins. Me, I thank the sidewalks, the cold steel of the subway, and the puny saplings that grace my street with the barest sprinkling of blossoms. My nostrils have never been so cavernous, for lack of a more alluring term. The better to smell that urban bouquet —  subway exhaust, street meat, Joan Didion’s lilacs, Leslie Jones’s rat AIDS, urine.

I think about spring because my sister keeps sending me pictures of her on a beach, surrounded by frat bros and sorority sisters, so different from my college experience. My senior year for spring break we drove up to my family’s house in New Hampshire. The lake was so cold we only lasted long enough for a photo op before running screeching back to land and collapsing in a heap in the meadow. Instead of sunscreen we had smores, roasted over a fire while we played board games and tried not to spill wine on the 100-year old floors. She flip-flops down to the hammock with sunglasses on. We traipsed in sweatshirts down the dirt road to the bridge. We couldn’t see the mountain through the clouds.

So I’m thinking about spring, and about how 50 degrees in March feels so much warmer than 50 degrees in October. About how a jacket and scarf day in the fall is crisp and tinged with woodsmoke, while in the spring it is impatient, pregnant with the promise of flowers and picnics and Vitamin D. I walk out my door and see blue sky and it feels like waking up from a dream. Right, so this is what my street looks like without chunks of ice. This is how the sign on my corner reflects the slanting light at 6:30, with sunset still half an hour away. This is the view when I walk to the subway without my face buried in my scarf, eyes darting up to avoid human collisions, sniffing into the cashmere.

I think about how fall for me has always been the season of beginnings, and spring one of letting go. Spring has been my season of goodbyes, of cardboard boxes and packing tape. Spring ends with a flop on the mattress of my Kentucky bedroom, staring up as the lazy blades of the ceiling fan massage the air. I think about how this spring, for the second time, I’m staying put. About how this time last year, I felt trapped, stuck in a dead-end job serving coffee and cake to people who eyed my Ivy League sweatshirt with judgement-filled eyes, dropping a pitiful dollar in the tip jar and asking me if all that tuition money was really worth it. I think about when the idea for this blog started, sitting on my stoop in flip flops letting the sun warm my toes, when another season in New York felt like an extension of my self-imposed but no less oppressive sentence. I make a list of the things I can look forward to now that I’ve done this before. Experience grants me a wish list: frozen daiquiris at Boat Basin, outdoor movies, Smorgasburg. I’ve got a closet full of sundresses and a favorite rooftop bar. This year, spring seems like something to be excited about.

2 thoughts on “The Idylls of March

  1. Jennifer, your prose is delightful! Your article saliently touches on how all of us, as humans, ‘mark’ time with a variety of measures–drinks, songs, light, etc. These ‘markers’ do vary over our lives as well with recycling or nostalgia. ‘Tis a subject oft on my mind; thank you for calling attention to it with your words.

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  2. Pingback: March Round Up |

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