Once, long ago in a place far, far away from reality, there was a young woman and her new husband. Outside their home, in the dark of winter, the wind howled and the snow swirled forming little peaks across the fields.
Inside their little home, the cold was kept at bay by curtains and thick rugs covering the floors. And her husband kept a fire roaring so the whole house was toasty. But, the young woman couldn’t feel the warmth of the little house.
Instead, the cold of the season penetrated her bones, and her heart and her mind. She could feel herself going numb. She kept her face pleasant so that her husband wouldn’t worry. It was “the happy” time of the year.
And she wanted to be happy. To revel in the warmth that her husband provided to so many. But, even though she couldn’t feel his cheer, she didn’t, she couldn’t be a burden to him.
Let him be happy.
So, she placed a pleasant mask over her face.
She smiled as her toes grew colder.
She smiled as her fingers became brittle with ice.
She smiled as her mind became numb.
These days were so important.
And she wanted him to be happy.
But, there was a weight that came with the cold. And steadily as she froze the weight increased and pressed her down until her feet were trapped within the floor. Motionless, it didn’t matter. Still, she smiled.
The holidays were coming. The great celebrations with family were almost here. And she knew this feeling of dread would pass as the days grew longer. So she sat, pleasantly smiling, frozen within, and waited for the sun to return.
As the days of the celebrations drew nearer she worked in silence to prepare for the day. She and her husband would travel to his parent’s house. And then to hers. Then to brothers and sisters near and far. And all the time, as they worked to prepare their home for their absence and the car for their trip the ice within her grew thicker, heavier.
Even the small chores, the tiny tasks seemed to require all her effort.
But still, she worked and placed one lead encased foot in front of the other. Her step was so heavy across the floorboards that she was amazed they did not crack and protest as she passed over them.
But, that hardly mattered.
Expectation was gathering in the air. And every day they moved closer to their departure.
There would be family.
There would be food.
There would be laughter – perhaps.
The knives would be sharpened.
The tongues as well.
Hers was not a family that brawled. Instead, they were all stilettos. Fine, honed and effortlessly slipped into any opening. Wreaking damage without spilling a drop of blood.
It was better to be ice. Despite the weight that crushed her. Ice was impenetrable. It was hard. It was safe.
And then the day came.
The sky was clear. The car was packed. Her husband had lined her seat with blankets to preserve that single spark of warmth that huddled in her chest. The seat was there, the door open, inviting her to travel. Down to her family. Down to where they dwelled. Down away from the scouring cold to a house that simmered with its own feverish heat.
She could not move her feet. She stood there on the stairs before the door, the wind plucking at her scarf. Frozen. The touch of her husband’s hand on her cheek startled her. She checked to make sure her mask was still in place.
With his arm to steady her across the ice, she dragged her leaden feet towards the car. She paused at the door to grab at the frame. Anything to help her stand. If she bent she feared she would break. But, bend she must. First to break was the ice that held her knees. Feeling the ice about her hips protest and then crack she folded herself into the car as her husband glided to the driver’s side.
He dropped into the seat, warm and pliable. And for the space of a thought, she hated him. Couldn’t he see? Couldn’t he feel?
Didn’t he know how heavy the air had become?
How could he breathe when it seemed to her that there was no air in the car. The weight had settled on her chest like a tiger, immense and deadly. To say nothing was to die compressed beneath the weight of the ice.
To speak was to wake the beast that was crushing her. Blood. There would be blood. And the white world outside the car took on a scarlet hue.
The world outside turned white again. She looked to her husband – and not even his warmth could penetrate her.
“Seatbelt,” he said again.
They sat poised to start.
All she had to do was to place the thing inside the other thing and wait for the click. The click that would mean she was in. That click that sounded like the turning of a key in a lock.
“I can’t,” she said.
“What?” he asked as he stopped fumbling for the straps.
And there it was, his disappointment.
The ice around her shattered. Tearing pieces away it scattered across every surface.
Free of the ice and once again able to breathe she spoke,
“I can’t. I can’t do it.”
She said it around the panicked shattered lump in her chest, frantically as she attempted to pick up the myriad of pieces.
She scrambled after those pieces desperate not to lose another. She had lost so many pieces of herself already. They were the toll she paid every year. Another small piece of her was taken as she traveled down.
Down to where her family waited, keen and poisonous.
It was too much. The emotions long hidden in the ice poured out as hot tears.
She had failed.
She had broken.
She was broken.
Unlooked for. Unexpected. Unfathomably her husband reached out.
First, his touch and then his words calmed her frantic hands. They slowed her racing heart.
He enfolded her with his arms and then his warmth slowly crept over her.
He held her until she melted into him. The wind ripped past the windows, but all she heard was the steady beat of his heart. That, for blessed moments, was all her world.
He waited, and she sheltered in his arms until the storm passed.
Together they picked up her shattered pieces.
“Ready to go?” he asked.
Dumb and numb she nodded.
And that is my holiday wish for all of you. That you have a place that is warm and safe and sheltered. Peace.