This post is a personal essay written for Colette Weber’s sophomore English class. From the assignment: “Philip Lopate in The Art of the Personal Essay sees the hallmark of the personal essay as its intimacy. He says, ‘The writer seems to be speaking directly into you ear, confiding everything from gossip to wisdom. Through sharing thoughts, memories, desires, complaints, and whimsies, the personal essayist sets up a relationship with the reader, a dialogue—a friendship, if you will, based on identification, understanding, testiness, and companionship.’”
by Dana ’17
While most people can enjoy the luxury of sleeping in on a Saturday morning, I have to get up by 6:30 in order to get myself ready for a busy morning of work outside. Since it’s wintertime, the first sleepy rays of the sun have just begun to peak out over the horizon, casting a low light over campus. Checking the day’s temperature, I shiver just from thinking about the intense cold waiting for me outside. One layer quickly becomes three, which then becomes a total of five layers with a scarf on top. Finally, I feel ready to face the outdoors. I quickly walk down the stairs of the dorm, trying not to let my footsteps, made heavier by snow boots, echo too loudly. Leaving the dorm so early seems wrong at first, as though I’m running away from home, or going against the schedule that everyone else tries to follow. I always worry that I’ll wake someone up, and be confronted about why I want to leave so soon.
Then, I step outside. Red square is quiet, free of the sound of stereo music and friends talking. The only sounds are my footsteps, my layers shifting, and my breathing. It feels like standing in a huge concert hall, waiting for the orchestra to come out and play. Part of me comes alive with defiance, because no one else walks outside, and part of me relaxes, like this is where I should always be.
Even though clouds predicting snow darken the sky, and the sun has not completely risen yet, there is still a surprising amount of light. The streetlamps are lit along the side of Meetinghouse hill, creating small, warm, yellow orbs of light along the tree line. These orbs of light touch the places on the naked trees where leaves once lived. A soft blanket of snow, fallen the day before, captures the sparse sunlight and lamplight, making the ground and rooftops seem to glow. Adding to this gentle distribution of light, the library rests at the end of the road acting like a light left on at home. I wonder if the lights remain left on because the library acts like a cornerstone for the campus, or if it is because no one wants to turn the lights out on the books.
No cars drive down the path, no golf carts go zipping by, no other students stroll along; even the squirrels are hidden away in their trees. The light has no choice but to illuminate the buildings and trees and road, since there is nothing else to brighten. With nothing in the way, the straight path down Meetinghouse road resides completely exposed to the world.
I can’t help but smile, thinking about how the world appears so open right now, and yet safe from the usual gaze of many people. Almost everyone else is fast asleep in their dorm, warmed by heaters and blankets, and made content by their ignorance of the fact that the outside world never sleeps. It’s like I’m finally being let in on a big joke that has been told for years. I want to stop in my tracks, halfway down the road, and burst out in laughter; I want to laugh at myself, for living so innocently for so long, and I want to laugh at the poor souls who still don’t know that they are missing out on anything at all. This makes me wonder: If a crazy student laughs out loud early on a Saturday morning and no one else is there to hear, does she make a sound? I choose to find that out on another day.
The wind nips at my face, playing with my wisps of hair sticking out and pushing against my layers of clothes, looking for a hole through which to reach me. It circles around my ears, calling for me to open up. Although I have been kind enough to come outside and act as a playmate for the wind, I have behaved a bit rudely by shielding myself. Noticing this, the playful wind blows over me and moves on to find some fallen leaves to spin around. I flex my shoulders, testing the weight of the layers against my body, and bury my face in my scarf, half-wanting to hide from the cold and half-wanting not to miss out on anything.
Now I’m almost in front of the meetinghouse, the place I consider to be midway between the dorms and the barn. The next step will take me into the realm of hard work and out of the realm of sleep. With my feet already set in motion, my body will continue on without hesitation. Yet, a fragile point exists between lifting and setting down my foot, where I don’t quite stand in either realm. I’m just breaking free of the blanket of sleep, and about to resurface into the air of movement and activity. When my boot finally reestablishes itself on the ground, any thoughts of going back to bed banish themselves from my mind. The dorm feels like it’s miles away in another world, instead of right back up the road.
I take a deep breath in, experiencing the icy air enter through my nose down my throat and into my lungs. The air pours back out, warm and visible, as though I’m a dragon breathing smoke. Winter has a specific smell of snow and ice and bare tree bark. Neither flowers nor rain clouds can permeate the air with other smells. Instead, winter air smells clean and brisk, because it is pure, harsh, and cold.
As I reach the barn, where I’ll spend the next four hours or so of my day, I see that someone already turned the lights on. I know that the horses must’ve woken up by now, with the sun persistently rising, and they have already started talking to each other. Some of them will patiently wait for me to feed them, while many others will be pacing incessantly in their stalls. I can’t stop smiling now, thinking about the looks that some of the impatient ones will give me when I finally bring them their food. What nerve I must have, waiting until 7:00 on a Saturday morning to feed them. From their perspective, I’m the last one to finally wake up and get moving.