A half hour before I left work, a coworker emailed all of us in the Agency saying that Jenny, another teammate and good friend of mine who had left a few minutes earlier, wanted to warn us of an extremely slippery parking lot. The flurry of snowflakes I had seen caressing the windows of the West staircase at lunchtime had apparently amounted to more, or it had melted and then frozen as the otherwise clear day was blanketed by dusk.
The walkway lights outside glimmered in the sidewalk reflection. I put my weight into each step, remembering the lesson learned in my first tai chi class two weeks ago. Put your foot in front of you, and gently, slowly pour your weight from one leg to the other, like tea into a cup. No problem.
As I moved farther out, I realized that roadway in the first parking lot had been sanded. One of the dump trucks must have come by earlier spreading gravel from its tail-end sander. I then walked on the paths of dirt, laughing to myself. I don’t know why Jenny left when she did, but clearly, if she had waited another 20 or 30 minutes, there would have been no need to heed us warning. I imagined myself texting her with mock ridicule, followed by a colon and lowercase p.
Before I could do so, my foot slid sideways. I was past the first parking lot, heading into the second. The muscles in the left of my back tightened in a sharp clench upward from my lower ribcage. I gained solid footing and took a breath. OK.
I noticed that this section of the lot had not been sanded. I walk slowly, more carefully this time. I was aware, then, that sometimes I walk briskly. But now, I was chugging along, taking another step, pouring another cup of tea. I looked across the crisp, dark, clear air at other people readying to leave.
I remote-started the car, wiped away the fluffy snow off the rear window, and scraped away a thin layer of ice on the windshield. A dump truck crawled by, its sander spewing gravel on the ground. As I got in the car and put the scraper in the back seat, I felt my phone vibrate in my coat pocket. I put on the windshield wipers to clear away the remnants of ice, pulled out the phone and saw a mobile message from my sister. We had talked the other day, on her birthday, about her yearning to sketch drawings like she used to do years ago. I had taken it upon myself to assign her to sketch a nose, one of the more difficult body parts for her to sketch. So I was delighted to get a snapshot of a sketch of a couple of noses. “Who KNOWS what you might come up with,” I had joked to her the other day with encouragement. HAR HAR!
I then realized, in the dark of night, that it had become darker than it was a few minutes ago. I looked up and saw an obstructed view before me. I turned on the headlights. With the hedge now illuminated, I saw thick clumps of snow piling up on the windshield. I glanced out the driver’s side window. I saw no ground, but snow, already a thick layer, and with the help of another car’s headlights, I saw a great gust of wind bring down a billow of more snow.
“Holy shit,” I said aloud. “It’s a fucking blizzard!”
I had been in the car barely three or four minutes, I figured, looking at two noses, one a fairly normal yet somewhat gnarly nose, and the other a crooked one not unlike one belonging to a good friend of mine. Who KNOWS? Who knew a squall would burst through? Certainly not I, who doesn’t check the weather online or have watched the local TV news — or TV at all — in the last two years.
As I backed out of my parking space, my mind darted back to two New Year’s Eves ago, when my last car was totaled in an accident during a snowstorm. I hoped for the best, and crept along, arriving home just under an hour later. Safe and sound.
Some days nothing interesting happens, and some days the universe throws a snowball at you. Maybe it’s just to keep things interesting, to knock the monotony off course, off-balance.
I heard later that my girlfriend had caught the last few seconds of the sunset today, harkening an orange glow over a beautiful blanket of snow, undisturbed, along the trees. I missed that scene by about an hour, but I caught a glimpse of something just as special. So, I cursed my way through it, caught by surprise. But the swears were followed by giddy amazement, a wide-eyed wonder at how impermanent life can be. One moment you’re just walking along. Then you’re suddenly pre-occupied by exquisitely drawn noses. Next, a freakin’ snowstorm rolls through and it makes you think, “I totally did not see that coming.”
Mind your head. The next curveball is coming your way.