December

The neighbors’ porch was wrapped to look like a candy cane. I noticed this with a slight shock when I went to close the blinds about an hour after sunset. I had been back in Oregon City two weeks, but hadn’t noticed it.

That afternoon, driving in the harsh December sun, I was starting to wonder why I had thought Christmas in the US would be nice. It was so inconvenient to get anything done around Christmas time. Everywhere there were long lines, and so many people, and the aisles were crowded with merchandise, and there were all these dubious sales, and way too much traffic. Even things that should work didn’t want to. The day before, at the post office, I’d gotten so frustrated that I had kicked the self-service machine. They’d replaced it in the two months I was gone, and whatever they spent on this replacement was an absolute waste of money. It took three times as long as the old one, had no touch screen, and was essentially unusable. I was so mad that I was shaking as I gathered up my boxes and went to stand in line.

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I have this feeling. I feel that If I walk down the right street, I might run into my younger self. December, three years ago, was very important to me. The world was opening up to me in ways I could never have anticipated, and though my life was mostly unstable, each day was threaded through with a fierce joy. The sun must have been orange, as it is every December, but I remember grey skies, and crisp cold air, and hot chocolate made on a stove. I remember we raided Katelyn’s cupboard for a few spoonfuls of Dutch cocoa powder. I know I still had my red Volvo. The heater wouldn’t really work if I was going under 35 miles per hour.

I am learning to be happy wherever I am, and that includes right now. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss Ivano-Frankivsk, the cobblestone streets, the high-rise buildings, and the little blue elevator. When I leave my house I wish I was walking to the church building, that I could walk up those steps again and open the heavy wooden door, and stamp my snowy boots on the rug and take off my scarf, and hang my coat with all the other coats. I wish I could turn, and see everyone sitting around the table, with steaming bowls of soup, and baskets of bread.

Everything is changing around me, quickly, but inside of me change happens so slowly. I’ve been trying to break my bad habits. I’ve set alerts, downloaded extensions. But sometimes victory just means ten minutes less time on Instagram. One extra day of a clean kitchen. Taking a walk in the sun. I’ve been frightened by how quickly time can slip away. Two weeks have gone by before I even really looked out my window. If I haven’t noticed that, what else am I missing?

I can see the lights twinkling in the hills as usual, but tonight they are softer in the white fog rolling in from the river. I have a pile of Christmas presents to wrap, and Nutmeg is watching a live stream of an aquarium. Every so often she paws excitedly at the swimming fish. I need to switch my laundry over.

The sun won’t rise in Ukraine for another two hours.