A Cold Day In Lander

January 11, 2021

So I just got myself a hotel room.

To share with three 8-year-old girls.

God save us all.

I had planned to do some dour little number about the violence at the Capitol and how we need, as parents, to ensure that our children develop a cold sort of comfort with things like losing, and the word “no.”

Then I came home from work and realized that the propane delivery scheduled to satisfy the unslakable thirst of the 500 gallon monster between my back deck and chicken coop had not arrived, and that it was 42 degrees Fahrenheit in my living room, and that there was no way we were having any kind of sleepover that I wanted any part of with one space heater in my room. So I resigned myself to the fact that my life is meant to be lived paying off credit cards only to turn around and need them for emergencies I probably shouldn’t be having at my age, to begin with.

I’m bad at life. I’m not even going to explain myself, you all know me.

I’d paid the bill in full the morning before, Wednesday morning, the day I longed for Hunter S. Thompson’s ghost to just consult for wisdom as our nation groaned and sighed under the enormous weight of what we’ve created. The pendulous return on one bad investment. The propane people had been less than impressed that I was calling to pay off my last delivery and ask that another be scheduled posthaste because I had not checked my gauge.

In my defense, I was heating with a coal furnace last year and it took me 18 months to go through 500 gallons. This year, there’s a propane furnace. And a learning curve. I don’t transition well. My brain takes a moment to reorient itself. You can’t just start keeping coffee cups in a new cupboard with someone like me, is what I’m telling you.

I did, in my own defense, check the estimate on the website for my propane company. On Christmas Day. I’m pretty sure. It said I was still 56 percent okay.

The day before yesterday? Wednesday? As I shivered in my kitchen and clutched my freshly healed credit card between my thumb and forefinger, about to gut it all over again like the sadistic freak I appear to have become, I checked the estimate online too.

It said I was still 38 percent cool.

I swear that if I could prove that propane tank had feelings I’d commission a painter to turn it into an eggplant just to shame it for what it had done to me.

Anyhow, here I am again, re-victimizing my credit card for a room 12 miles from my house.

I’m not saying this is anyone’s fault but my own. But I am saying that if my choice is $250 bucks for a few gallons of “emergency” propane – because apparently I just have a powerful lust for enough propane to cook steak on a grill until Monday and not a deep need to sustain an ambient room temperature of at least 60 degrees in an ancient two-story farmhouse for the next two days – or for two nights in a hotel with floofy pillows, then my friends, I’m going to choose floof.

Every single time.

Anyhow, we’ve time traveled again. It’s now Sunday night and I’ve dropped the children off with the elders so that I can leave way too early for work in the morning without having to solve a Scooby-Doo mystery like the case of Why are my kids’ snow boots behind the ice machine on the second floor?

I’m sitting here in my cozy 72 degree double queen suite and thinking to myself about what route I’m going to take tomorrow.

I’m driving to Coudersport in the morning. It’s a pretty drive. It’s about halfway to Wellsboro, which so far is the farthest blood drive we host from here. The way has become familiar. I’m relatively confident I’ll be able to get gas and drinks on the way. Stop for stretches and restrooms. It will be cold outside, but I know the road, and the pit stops, and it will be a nice opportunity to spend the morning waking up to a new podcast as the sun comes up.

On the way home, thanks to the fact that it gets dark at 1:30 in the afternoon here right now, it will be as familiar but in a different way. Anyone who’s lived a commuting lifestyle knows what I mean. Certain routes get encoded in muscle memory so quickly that, even in the dark, you have a solid sense of exactly where you are and what you’ll encounter next.

That’s a pretty powerful thing.

There are times, at night, usually around the full moon, when I find myself winding my way out of whatever town we’ve been bloodletting in for the day and digging my way deeper and deeper into the forest that surrounds my home. The transition is palpable. It’s a physical process, the ride back home. I do not do well working close to home because I’ve come to rely on that hour or more in the car between work and home, transitioning mentally as the ratio of trees to cars explodes into the millions.

But climbing the back roads with fields and pastures bathed in the weird, blue, Tim Burton light of a full moon on a clear night, I can’t help but wonder – because anxiety is apparently forever, folks – what would happen if I blew a tire and had to change it with only the bare-bones tools I carry around with me.

What would happen if I ran out of gas?

Who might happen along?

What if no one ever did?

For most of those things, I’d be fine, which really gets my anxiety feeling crappy about itself, so it starts overcompensating and I wonder but what about 50 years ago? 100?

I can tell you right now, flat tire or not, I am not a woman who does well without electricity, plumbing, and a mild to moderate amount of floof. Doesn’t need to be expensive. I’m a big fan of a one-room cabin. But a floofy one. Don’t care if the blanket came from Dollar General but it better feel like I’m melting into a pad of butter on a shoreline of warm pancakes.

It’s just amazing to me, flying solo across the arctic backwoods two-lanes of western Pennsylvania with the whole world shimmering like the individual flecks of silver suspended in an old-timey photograph, how delusionally safe I feel. Sixty miles an hour, just worried about can I finish this episode of Hidden Brain before I get home.

Gazing at how beautiful the scene is beyond my windshield.

Take that windshield away and I am not a happy girl. Take my car and my phone?

Just leave me there to die, then, I guess. That would be my brain’s initial, whining reaction.

I am amazed, sitting here now, hoping that I’ll come home to a little tag on my door that says “your gas is here,” tomorrow and not a frozen pipe in my basement, at how fragile we are but, more than that, how blissfully unaware we have become of that fact thanks to the conveniences we’ve come to rely on. I know this is hardly a new thought, nor is there any real call to action here.

Just, maybe, some night before the thaw take yourself up to the top of a nice tall hill and look down on the world in the light of a full moon and marvel at the reality you’d face if all of our humanity were all stripped away.

If the Matrix dissolved and you were left standing there in just your Nikes and your flannel night pants.

Or maybe it’s just the ungodly, amniotic comfort of a floofy hotel room with a functional heating unit making me loopy.

I don’t think it is, though.

I think we’re really really fragile. And I think it makes life more meaningful when we try to stay aware of it instead of letting it slide back into that older, more reptilian parts of our brains where we stuff memories and inconveniences we’d rather not untangle at the moment.

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