Writer: Gabrielle McAree
The following poem is written by Gabrielle McAree, one of our Holiday Competition Winners!
It’s snowing cats, dogs, and giant gumballs when I decide to make the two-mile trek to Waffle House amidst a “severe weather advisory.” There’s no food in my apartment, the electricity is out, and my neighbor hates me. He thinks I’m an actual “Bad Omen” because I don’t believe in meteorologists or zodiac signs. Whatever. I spent the holidays alone as a sort of experiment. I wanted to know that if I had to marry myself, I could, in like an ironic way. Turns out, I can’t, and I’m dying for human interaction, so Waffle House it is. I don’t care if I have to play Twenty Questions with a trucker named “Randy” or listen to “Louise” rant about her seasonal depression or grandchildren she never sees. If I have to maintain a conversation with myself for another minute, I will go Jim-Carrey-in-Liar-Liar crazy.
I’ve always had kind of a love-hate relationship with Winter. The cold feels personal, like it’s broadcasting my inner serial killer, or inner “happy person.” I’m not good in other seasons. I melt in Summer, literally Wicked-Witch-of-the-West-turn-into-a-puddle melt. In Fall, I’m boring, and come Spring, I’m one of those excessive sneezers, cursed with “hay fever.” It’s different with Winter. There’s something thrilling about flirting with pneumonia and mild hypothermia. It’s like voluntarily cliff diving or jumping out of an airplane for a photo op. In Winter, it’s acceptable to cocoon indoors and ignore “adult responsibilities” and binge eat straight sugar. There’s no bikini bod or obligation to put on pants. That is, unless, you’re heading to Waffle House in what’s being called the “worst blizzard in recorded history.”
I’m wearing oven mitts because I don’t have gloves, and a ski jacket that’s two-sizes too small. It fit, once upon time, when I liked the elliptical. Now, I consider exercise my archnemesis, the Dr. Evil to my Austin Powers, if you will. The wind thrashes against my exposed skin, burning it a raw pink, and blocks the appropriate channels to my windpipe, making me question every awful decision I’ve ever made. The oven mitts are the most ominous Red Flag in the History of Red Flags. I can’t feel my fingers. I want to get swallowed by the storm or hit by a speeding semi-truck, but the roads are vacant, completely covered in white, and the burnt yellow sign of Waffle House illuminates in the not-so-far distance. It almost looks inviting.
By the time I arrive, I don’t know my address or shoe size, that’s how cold I am. Color is suspicious to me, and I’m convinced everyone is plotting to mug me, though I only have four dollars and a coupon for laundry detergent in my possession. I peel my ski jacket off, hang it on the wobbly coatrack, and collapse onto the closest barstool. I leave snowflakes in my wake like bad dandruff.
A wrinkly woman named “Rose” asks if I want coffee.
“Hot,” I say.
Rose wears a khaki-colored uniform and a hairnet that doesn’t fit all of her hair. She models a collection of rainbow peace sign jewelry and has purple lipstick on her teeth. I decide Rose is one of those hippies who doesn’t believe in modern technology. She wants to know why I walked here. I tell her it’s because I had nothing else to do.
“They’re saying it’s a record storm, ‘the worst in history.’” Rose fills a chipped mug with steaming black coffee. “Blah, blah, blah. They wouldn’t know a storm if it bit them on the nose. Back in ’69, we got twenty-two inches of snow. Closed the churches, the grocery stores, the barber shops. That was a storm. This is child’s play. Cream?”
The warmth radiating off the mug trickles through my skin, rejuvenating my body to its usual dormant state. I imagine my bloodstream restarting, pumping the necessary toxins into vital organs. As I listen to the repetitive clink of my spoon smacking the mug, I’m hit with a wave of nostalgia. I wonder what my mother’s doing, if she’s worried about me, if she’s staring at the same storm I am, only twenty miles away. I should have gone home for the holidays. I should have bought Dollar Tree gifts and drank all the Eggnog and puked in the popcorn bowl. I should have pretended to like the sweater Aunt Kathy knitted and been happy for my brother and his new fiancée—April, Ally, Abby, Something. I don’t know why I can’t be like other people.
I must say this out loud because Rose says, “Honey, trust me, you don’t what to be like anybody else, just like nobody wants to be like you. You get through tough times because you have to.”
I struggle to find how that’s supposed to make me feel better.
“What I’m saying is, every storm ends even if it looks like it’s not going to. Nothing lasts, thank God. Maybe this storm is your personal resurrection. Maybe you’ll leave here a new person. Eh, what do I know? I just serve bad coffee for shit pay.” She tops me off and smiles. “Want to see pictures of my grandchildren?”
I sit in the same barstool for seven and a half hours. I learn about all thirteen of Rose’s grandchildren. A trucker named Mitch buys me an omelet and compliments my hair. It’s been a long time since anyone told me I’m “pretty.” I call my mom, pay my rent, congratulate my brother on his engagement to “Ally.” I promise to come back to the Waffle House off State Road 37. Rose gives me a snow globe she finds buried in the back of the breakroom. “It’s ugly, but when you look at it, you can remember the blizzard that was more of a light dusting.”
When the sun rises, I put on my oven mitts, zip up my ski jacket, and walk home. I’m not different, but I’m not the same.