the way i got over you was by pretending that you were in antarctica. it wasn’t my idea. a friend, seeing my pain one day over coffee, suggested it - and it was brilliant. so for many months thereafter, whenever i thought of you, i’d imagine you trekking through a blizzard, walking pole in hand, warm inside an impenetrable parka. no part of you exposed to the wind except your eyes. but i would recognize you in an instant, of course. from a distance.

and for as long as it was winter in new york city, antarctica was real to me. i waited at stoplights, stood in street slush, and thought of how, on your side of the world, the snowscapes were pristine. magnificent. pure. this is how i found my joy for you. i walked home in the dusty glow of street lamps, deli signs, and imagined you stopping in your tracks, brushing snow from your eyes, and looking up in stillness to find aurora borealis shimmering like a great gift, for you.

would you be thinking of me, wistfully? wishing i was there, yet not wishing it, at all? would you be busy befriending penguins, photographing whales, pitching a tent under arctic stars, or joining a scientific expedition? in my imagination, you are unscarred and untouchable. forever safe, frozen in time. there is no past and no future - just your spirit freed - traversing wide new lands without me, in love again.

antarctica explained why, after five years nested with me inside a one bedroom apartment, now - now you were unreachable. antarctica was my anesthesia; covering those years with a white blanket. it was never meant to be forever. it was just for now, i said. we would talk again, come spring.

but when it finally came spring, when the snow slush in the streets melted and daylight stretched itself out into the hours, when all the birds in central park came out and the city people molted their layers, you and i, of course — we didn’t speak. while antarctica was melting in my mind, my heart remembered its past life drowning — at the bottom of a deep, dark lake. but this time, i could bear it.

and so, like this, every year, at the bridge between winter and spring, i think of antarctica, how good it was to me. antarctica saved me from the wreck, moved me past those dark ruins and into a long horizon, with blinding sun and blizzards. there i was, warm inside an impenetrable parka, no part of me exposed to the wind except my eyes. i was a black dot in the snowscapes, my journey the act of putting one foot in front of the other. i walked until i got tired, and then, i rested. and all the worlds within and without were new, numb, and beautiful.

Thank you for reading. I write essays about homesickness, tango, and love. You might also like these other essays — Chicken Feathers and My Dreamer Tries to Forget.

LoveKening Zhu