What February Brings

The world was still when I left the house. Birdsong was echoing through the trees in a way that I hadn’t heard in the neighborhood for years. The outside world was muted from the collective of peopIe that were inside their homes to see how Superbowl 49 between the Seahawks and the Patriots was going to turn out. I tucked my bag under my arm and took in a deep breath as I began my walk to the grocery store. I was going to make soup.

I had awoken earlier in the morning feeling as if I had been beaten up. Friday night had kicked off a strange weekend of celebration as my work was holding a party for my farewell. Jon, one of my coworkers, had come to me several weeks before saying something along the lines of, “You know if you wanted a party we could still throw you one if you stay.” I laughed, hearing some of the truth in that.

So when it came time for my farewell party, the refreshments arrived through the planning of some generous coworkers. I had been wrapping up all kinds of tasks, but when 4pm rolled around everyone was still heads down. I understood the nature of certain kinds of office work where it’s someone’s job to make you feel like everything is urgent. As a person who wants to “just get it done” fifteen minutes turns into 30. Then three hours later you finally finish the roll you were on and you’re blinking at the clock that says 7pm. I understood, but I also felt like I wanted my party. I deserved my party. I started to set up for myself. The metaphor for the changes I was planning for myself starting in February rocked me in that moment.

Fast forward to Sunday, the bag was tucked under my arm and I was walking towards the grocery store. My plan was to make soup to nourish my body and make me feel like home. I loosely planned in my head a bowl full of fats, protein, flavor, and color. With my prizes of salted pork, celery, golden beets, and onions I felt satisfied I had the right combination of things necessary to make this soup happen.

I began the process of making a vegetable broth from scratch. I mixed up gluten free bread dough and set it aside to rise. I was feeling content with my chopping of purple carrots, garlic, and beet. During the lull of watching stand-up comedy on Netflix, I heard yells coming from the neighbors. “Did you hear that?” I called to George, my current roommate who was upstairs remodeling the bathroom. “Someone must have made a touchdown. I’m tempted to check the score,” I laughed.

“Do you have a radio?” he asked.

“I do somewhere,” I told him.

Neither of us had been particularly motivated to watch the game. We had spoken casually about grabbing some time at one of the local bars just to sit through the experience. As a San Diego native, George thought it might be interesting to be a part of the things while he was in Seattle. “I just like it when people are happy,” he might say whether you asked him about his affinity for football or any specific team. I thought that was and interesting thing to say for someone who had played football in high school, but I suppose that’s his story to tell.

I found the game on live streaming over the internet. When it came on, the Seahawks were just recently ahead of the Patriots and that served as affirmation of the neighbor’s hollers of celebration. We had already missed halftime. George made plans (jokingly, I think) about going downtown and inciting a riot during the Super Bowl parade if the Seahawks won.

So it was that we found ourselves sitting around the kitchen table watching a computer screen, eating soup full of fat, salt, and protein as the story of the Superbowl 49 second half unfolded before our eyes.  All the struggle, hype, and emotion came to a peak just 20 seconds before the clock ran out on the 4th quarter. Seattle lost.

After the nourishing soup and the game, my body still felt like it was rebelling against me with sore muscles and angry joints. I wanted a bath, but I also didn’t want to interrupt the work George had been up to in the bathroom.

“Doesn’t your gym have a hot tub?” he asked.

He made a good point. I moved my stiff limbs and hauled myself to the gym.

It was the rhythm of the water that brought me back. I felt my shoulders crack and the ball against my hip pop. I moved up and down the lane under water at times, tracing the smooth blue tile that marked the center of the lane. I was swimming and it felt good, yet I was feeling impatient to be done. I wasn’t even sure what I was impatient for. I just know that I was anxious and excited for what February might bring.

The time passed faster when I wasn’t thinking about it, and I finally gave myself permission to get out and go stretch out in the steam room. There was a single person occupying the room when I got in. She was laying flat on her back and I could tell from the cadence of her breath that she probably practiced yoga. There’s a specific style that is referred to as pranayama and she was setting a good example for it. I limbered up and stretched myself out as well.

When the steam room was enough for my thermometer, I found my way to the hot tub. There was a man occupying the tub and he was quiet as I showered. However, when I stepped in and settled down in a seat he asked, “Did you watch the game?”
I smiled, thinking to myself how I hadn’t really planned on it. “I did!” I replied. I might have even sounded surprised. “Did you?” I asked in return.

“Yeah,” came his forlorn voice. “That’s why I’m here. I had to work it off.”

Conversation turned to how often I came to the gym and if Sunday nights were a regular thing. The truth was that I liked to avoid the gym in January, but I told him I do like Sunday nights there. Especially tonight, it was quiet. We spoke about the classes and the exercises he liked while the woman from the steam room came out and joined us. “Spinning is hard,” she told us.

The conversation fell into an easy rhythm talking about hikes, working through injuries, and back and forth to football. I came to discover the woman had moved fairly recently to the area from San Pedro and when I asked she mentioned she was doing a yoga instructor certification. I chuckled to myself about the breathing and congratulated myself for being spot on. I also discovered that she was taking the same class as one of my friends.

“What’s your name?” she asked me.

I told her and she admitted that she probably wouldn’t remember.

“That’s ok,” I assured her, “Just tell her that you met her violin friend.”

“So you play violin?”

The man got involved in the conversation again. He asked me if I played professionally. I seem to get that question a lot, and this time I wasn’t fully prepared to hear myself say, “Yes, I do.”

“Really?” I knew the underlying question was whether I was fully supporting myself financially doing so, even if I was getting paid.

“Well, I also published a book this past December,” I told him.

I think his eyebrows went up. “What’s it about?”

I hate when people ask this question because I don’t know how to go about telling strangers that it’s my entire heart carved out on 400 pages. “It’s a memoir,” I replied. I really need to work on my elevator speech.

I explained that I had been writing journals since I was eleven years old, and this book was pulling from those experiences as well as dealing with deaths in my family.

Something in him creaked open and he told me that he dealt with the death of his first wife. She was 28 years old when she died of breast cancer. The atmosphere got heavy. I wasn’t trying to pry but I was curious, “Did you find yourself at a certain pivot point with your grief and how you dealt with it?”

“What do you mean?” he asked me.

“Well, like you reached a certain point and it changed how it was affecting you?”

“No, I can’t say that I have,” was his response. “I think the grieving process started as soon as I hear the news, and it was four years of her going through treatments before she passed away. And when she did, it was almost something of a relief.”

I thought of the suddenness of my brother’s death, and I wondered about the intense burden this man had being a husband to a wife so ill.

“Not a lot of people experience a death like that so young,” he told me. “Death isn’t always a bad thing, but it resets something. It makes you appreciate life more, and some people don’t really have that appreciation. So in some ways it’s a good thing.”

I knew what he meant.

“That sounds really, tough,” I told him. “I’m very sorry. That had to be something to work through.” I tried to lighten the conversation. “Like working through the loss of the Seahawks by getting yourself to the gym.”

He smiled, “Well yeah, not exactly the same.”

I thought back to the years past after Paul had died and the gym was one of my closest friends to “work it out.”

I took my leave of the hot tub group and put myself in the shower to wash off the strangeness of the day. My body was feeling a little bit more relaxed and craving more of the heat from the cascading water. I wondered how different that conversation would have gone if I hadn’t watched the game. It wasn’t about sports, winners, or losers. It was about finding ways to connect with people through similar circumstances with rules that we can understand. I thought of George again saying he just wanted people to be happy.

I stopped to examine the decisions I had been making recently. The van I recently purchased and these harebrained ideas I have of being a professional musician, writer, and vagabond. The  crazy idea that I can take my words, my thoughts, my music, cook soup, connect, and come home; every day.

But for now, I feel as if I may still be swimming laps in the pool waiting for the wonders February may bring.

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