SHAPES OF WARMTH

TJ O’SHEA

The dead of winter is a misnomer. Winter’s solstice is very much alive—its lungs expel frosty breaths, snowy fractals nourish dormant soil, and the blinding sun shimmers along frozen rivers. Winter insulates the holiday season like a womb. All the roasts, presents, midnight kisses, giving thanks and saying prayers, lighting candles and singing songs, we cram into the season until it bursts with cheer.

Warmth is a place, and it’s New York City in the winter. The city thrives in these short days and long nights. In summer, blocks glisten with sweat, and steam rising from the asphalt gets trapped between the sewer and the sky. But in winter? Streets dazzle with lights, strung like garland across glowing storefronts, and a blurry layer of snow quiets the bustle of boots. Summer is coveting purloined pockets of relief, but winter is unearthing unexpected shapes of warmth. Cozy bookstores slinging hot cocoa, the comfy armchair next to a clicking radiator, or a subway car at midnight after the tourists scatter and locals pack inside.

Warmth is my car, traveling the lonely highway back to my apartment from the airport. As one of approximately five people on the island of Manhattan with their own car, I’m the shepherdess of adventures to uptown bars, downtown nightclubs, or jaunts to the beach. I bear witness to the open arms or tearful waves at airports. Usually, I observe this hello and goodbying from behind my windshield, but not this time. My simmering romance that boiled over between Thanksgiving and New Year’s chilled in a blustery airport, with eyes glossy and throat-lumps swallowed. We kissed goodbye, with lips of earnest and tongues of heartbreak, and I waved as all the warmth in my life disappeared except for that behind my eyes.

Yearning for a more typical heartbroken New Yorker experience, I park outside my building and leave my tear-soaked, mascara-ridden napkins in the car. Each step of my long, frigid walk, I’m reminded of how she stole my home and made it hers, suffusing every block with life. Without her they cease to be real, untethered like parade balloons, leading nowhere. Today, the dead of winter is truer than it ever will be again.

 Warmth is a short romance, kept casual like well-worn jeans. We knew she would leave when the sanitation workers swept away the streamers in Times Square and my hungover city sobered up, and she promised to return. Unfortunately, we made no clause for the ache left in her wake. We didn’t account for her departing with her name on my lips and my heart in her hands.

Turning onto my block, everything freezes.

Illuminated by a lone lamppost, presumably erected seventy years ago for dramatic effect, she stands in front of my stoop. A taxi slowly pulls away from the curb. Her baggage sits at her feet. My future exists in the smile on her lips.

“Hi.”

“Hey.”

Warmth is a promise.