I love the winter. Despite my body having little insulation from the cold, it’s become my favorite season. I love watching as everyone adds more and more layers to their outfits by the day and how the tips of noses and apples of cheeks turn rosy red. How couples hold hands and fall together while ice skating, and how friends and family would branch off into two groups— who knows how to ski, and who doesn’t. How dowdy people look in their massive down jackets, hats, scarves, mittens, and boots.
It took me a while to appreciate it. The winter used to be unforgiving. Always too cold, or too lonely despite efforts to keep myself warm with good company or by sitting near the fireplace with a mug of hot tea. Until I met Ben. Ben has always loved the winter. He showed me that I could love it, too.
I took up online dating in the first cold days of November during my freshman year of college. The cold wind ripping through Boston’s manufactured wind tunnels led me to hermit in my decade’s old dorm room rather than trying to meet people at a frat house two miles away in a short dress. When the opportunity to meet people in sweats wrapped up in my comforter presented itself, I couldn’t refuse.
In retrospect, I find online dating to be morally ambiguous. It’s almost too easy to play pretend with your best photos and witty captions about the cool, unique, hobbies you may or may not have. Everyone takes advantage of that, me included. My Tinder profile was a series of photos from summer music festivals and concerts to make it look like I was more exciting than the real me.
Admittedly, I didn’t have any hobbies. I worked every day of the week and slept or did homework in my remaining free time. All I could so was make my Tinder bio a quip about wanting someone to drop everything and move into a cabin in the woods with me. Something dumb. And something to get attention.
College was lonely, and Tinder was the perfect ego boost—meaningless gratification from frat boys. I disregarded every message sent to me on Tinder after reading it with whatever shallow compliments, profanities, or uninteresting pick-up lines. All except for Ben’s.
He made the clever observation that one of my photos was on Lake Champlain’s waterfront in Vermont and that he spent a lot of time there growing up. I certainly wasn’t blown away, but at least it wasn’t gross or misogynistic. Plus, he was cute. Brown, curly hair, and blue eyes. I messaged him back and we made plans to go on a walk and grab some lunch near both of our school’s the next week. I never showed up.
But Ben was genuine. I liked that about him. When he realized I had bailed on him, he wasted no time before messaging me, “Guess not, then.”
I don’t blame him. It was a bad move. When I explained that I did it because I had gone home for the weekend to see my Mom out of anxiety, he didn’t pry any further. He just suggested we try again for another day, and I agreed.
We had an impressively awkward first date. He tried to impress me by recommending an Ethiopian restaurant tucked away on a busy street in Boston that he had never been to. The menus weren’t in English, but we both pretended to read them anyway. When the waiter came to take our order, we shared a look of embarrassment and randomly pointed at drinks and appetizers.
He told me about how he majors in mechanical engineering and about his Italian family that gathers for dinner every Sunday. He told me he plays seven different instruments and that, once, he used a brick as a pillow when he was on a trip in Cambodia. He had a unique way of telling stories. Ones that never shut you out and with perfectly timed pauses. He knew more random facts than anyone I had ever met.
We slowly drank our mystery teas, poked at the unknown appetizers, and talked, shifting our eyes sheepishly between each other and the brightly colored wall décor. I noticed his eyes weren’t just blue, but a grayish blue, a shade that mocked the moon’s color reflecting onto the sea. After an overstay he paid our bill without hesitation and the waiter picked up our placemats which revealed to us the English menus hidden underneath. We exchanged a look and a smile, turning to guttural laughter as soon as we walked out the restaurant door.
A month or so passed as Ben and I went on the most spectacular dates in the brutal cold. I never dressed for the weather. One night, I dressed in a short sleeve, high heels, and flowy white pants, anticipating a brief walk and cozy indoor dinner. Instead, he showed me how to break into Harvard stadium. We squeezed through a gap in the wire fence that blocks the top stands off from the public. He took my hand to help me through and helped yank my shoe free when it got stuck in the process. We drank a bottle of wine he had
“borrowed” from his grandfather and yelled down at the people walking below, ducking before they could look up and see us laughing at them from the top of the world.
We went to various house shows around Boston, where graffiti and deviant art covered the cracked walls of foreign basements which were becoming so familiar. We would stay just long enough until we shared a look of discontent as more people began to close in. Both of us would head for the door without exchanging any words. We would get pizza in the early hours of the morning, me ordering none and him two slices because he knew I would ask for some anyways. We would listen to music through one pair of earphones on the final train home before they stopped running for the day. He would take off his sweater without me asking so I could wear it on the brisk walk back to my dorm because I always forgot my jacket.
But Christmas break came and we both went home. We hardly spoke for weeks due to the hour-long distance between us and his undying hatred for conversational texting and phone calls. He drove down to see me, once, and we watched a movie on his phone in the back of his parked Toyota Camry. Before he took me home, he drove in circles around my block for nearly an hour telling me to listen to just one more song. I did. I listened to all of them.
We reunited in Boston towards the end of January when snow completely covered the ground, and the air was frigid. We went on a walk to get burritos to-go and ate them in the decrepit communal study room in the basement of his dorm. Amidst the clamor of loud, panicked college students, he asked, simply, “What if we just went on a trip? Like, to Maine or something next week?”
“What? Now? In January?” I asked.
“Yeah, now.” He said; “It’s the perfect time of year.” And a week later, he was meeting my parents over Papa Gino’s pizza before we departed for our stay at a cabin in Maine no bigger than my childhood bedroom.
The cabin sat remote on a dirt road in a field of piled snow sheltered by hundreds of trees. It had a lofted bed with musty sheets and quilts and a couch covered in pillows and blankets to hide the potent floral fabric underneath. The windows were small— one slightly cracked open and that we were unable to fully close despite several attempts. The sills were decorated with old spice bottles that reflected light like little stars if the sun hit them the right way. A few five-gallon jugs of water took place of running water sat in the corner taking up way too much space.
What resembled a bathroom was a small green zip-up tent outside covering a commode that sat over a hole dug deep into the frozen ground, accented with a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer and a roll of toilet paper in a bucket. I don’t know what we expected. We paid fifty-six dollars to rent it only a week ahead. It was quaint, and different. Unknowing and unspoken but filled with the ghosts of a million other love stories.
I waited inside as he shoveled a spot to build a fire outside and gathered wood for the indoor stove. When he came in, he cooked us cheap steak on a gas-fired griddle and made a pot of coffee at 10 p.m. We made s’ mores and he played me a song on the guitar that he would later say was written just for me. He told me that he loved me, and I told him just the same.
At the end of the night, I stood up in front of the wood stove in a blanket to escape the cold air creeping in from cracked window and under the door. He kept asking if I was warm enough, but I told him not to worry. Suddenly, the cold didn’t bother me. Suddenly, I loved the winter.
Caitlyn is a senior at Emmanuel College in Boston, MA expected to graduate in May of 2022. She majors in both Writing, Editing & Publishing and Communications & Media Studies and minors in Transcultural Studies. She is a writing peer tutor at her school and an aspiring author and educator.