The whirls of the heating vent woke me, it must be nearly five o'clock, the darkest hour before dawn.
I pull myself deeper under the covers. The sheets enveloping me are soft and clean, smelling of lavender soup, dryer sheets and ....
I turn towards the window and wait. It's still dark outside too, I can not see the outline of the window before me, though I know it is there.
There is nothing to do but wait, unless I turn on the light and read. I resist the urge as I find that I am not afraid, though I usually do not sleep in total darkness. I realize by now that I'm not at home, as nothing is quite the same.
I arrived last night, booking a last minute flight after having debated the "go" or "no go" decision for weeks. Everything was a blur thereafter, apart from the smell of fried noodles (my favorite) and the sight of smiling faces that still linger. Though there were too many names to remember any, I managed to inhale most of that delicious late night meal.
Then I crashed onto the guest bed and that was the last thing I remembered.
Now the gray blue of the morning has broken through the gaps in and around the window coverings. I pull them apart to see the face of the rising sun. All red, like a blushing suitor, or an Olympic runner racing to victory. It leaps out, overcoming the horizon, and everything turns brighter by the minute.
I dress and find my way down the stairs. The floor is immaculate, not a single piece of mail or paper, stray shoes from soccer practice or school bags with its content spilling. Toys are all organized into the play area, but the expansive redwood space beckons. I feel like cart wheeling.
I step into the vast kitchen, the size of my entire apartment. Yet not a spoon was out of place, and there are plenty of them to be sure. The granite shines a warm brown with yellow and gold specs, and the room smells of freshly brewing ... oatmeal?
I turn to see Lin has already gotten up, and is just about to finish mopping the floor. Oatmeal is cooking on the stove, and a variety of breakfast dishes spread out on the antique black top farm table. The heating system came on again, blasting out warmer air tinged with lemon polish, honey bread, cinnamon apples, wheat crackers and jasmine tea.
"Are you hungry?" She asks with a raised eyebrow. This is how we (Chinese) say "good morning, how are you, did you sleep well..." we go straight to the heart of the matter.
"Starved." I was too shy to finish all the food last night, only to find out later it was impolite as the whole thing was prepared just for me.
It was still awful early, and no one from the six person household is up yet. It seems intrusive to start breakfast without waiting for the others, especially since all I could do last night was eat and go to sleep.
"Why not? All we do here is eat and sleep. Those are the best things in life. Look outside, everything is frozen, what else could we do?"
She has a point, I came to visit her and her family. I am not here to go sightseeing, shop or do anything important. Spending time with friends means going with the flow of their habits and customs, at least to me it does.
So we dive into the food, catching up on two years of happenings, that's how long we've not seen each other. Lin had moved here to Colorado with family from California, where we met and became fast friends from forever ago.
We pick up where we left off right away. Food is our common passion, and we tend to act like happy teenagers whenever we can get together and munch or feast. We also share a sarcastic sense of humor. The candies on the table look more like artifacts belonging to the natural history museums than on the dining table. But we try everything, giggle and make faces at their strange tastes, making gross noises as soon as the other one is biting into something, and invent "scientific" names to the ones that are particularly inspirational in their unusual (ugly) forms.
The sun is up now, lighting up the garden outside the kitchen. A single blue spruce stand among bare plots of exposed soil with scattered gray rocks. Ice encrusted branches has given up on waving and stood in frozen attentions.
Like this garden, I have been feeling the crushing weight of life lately. This weight has been pushing me beyond the reach of any lightness and cheer. Even under the full sun, all I could see sometimes are the bareness of the ungrowth, the wintry rock scape and the frozen development of dreams. I had a few long long-distance talks on the phone with Lin, and she urged me to visit, in her usual charming hospital way for which the southerners, her origin, is well known. But I still questioned, is she just being "nice"?
In the end I decided it didn't matter. I decide that I had nothing to lose. Besides, what's wrong with being nice?
Though the winter journey to a snow country is never easy, I sigh with relief now as I stare out onto the frozen landscapes and into my arrested hopes. Tomorrow has to worry about itself as this has to be enough for today. This warmth, from the hardworking heating vents, to the sweet and interesting breakfast, to the familiar closeness in conversations, is filling in a way that is tangible yet unfamiliar. I let it be, as it floods into me like the morning sunlight flooding through the windows.
Drip drip, I hear something melting from the inside. The sound of the beginning of Spring.