Cold Feet This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   I hate winter. Whenever I hear people making an excitedfuss, "It's snowing outside," I just want to sneak away and sit in acorner by the fire.

I used to love winter, though. When I was little Iwould hurl great snowballs at my unsuspecting cousins and laugh when they got hitright in the face. Some of them screamed, while others would chase me. The olderones used to lecture me, "Sarah, show respect for your elders."Whenever I'd hear that, I'd just look innocently at them, and with my face allred beneath my colorful winter hat, I'd say, "But it's winter!"

They couldn't really say anything after that, because yes, it was winter,and yes, I was just a little kid trying to have fun. Little did they know I wasactually paying them back for all the lectures I received through the longsummer. It worked for me, since all of them looked just ridiculous after thesnowball smashed against their noses.

It's not the same now. I could makeup a bunch of excuses, and the lamest would be that I don't know how to makesnowballs anymore. I do, but I've convinced my family that I don't because that's"kid stuff." When they're not looking I make nice round snowballs tohand over to my eager little cousins. Their aim is bad, but they'lllearn.

I stopped liking winter last year. I hate talking about it. Lastyear was pretty much the worst. I don't know how it started, and honestlydon't care, but it changed me more than anything ever has.

Anyway, it wasclose to Christmas when it happened, and the last snowy day I ever looked forwardto. Our Christmas tree was already standing proudly in the living room. I musthave been in a pretty bad mood that day, and so was my dad. Anyway, there was abig fight that night. It started off about nothing serious, but toward evening itwas getting major. By midnight my dad and I were screaming at eachother.

I remember it all very well, the way Mom looked with her tiredeyes, staring at me as if I was a stranger in her home. She took her husband'sside, like she always did. She stood next to him with her arm against the wall asif she couldn't support herself. She wore an old green bathrobe that matched ourChristmas decorations. She was quiet during the whole thing.

I don'tremember ever being as scared of my dad as I was then. He looked like a lunatic,his eyes shining with bright anger. I could hear the hate in his voice as he spatevery word across at me. I could practically see the steam coming out of his noselike some bloodthirsty bull ready to charge.

I'm not sure how it happened,but my dad grabbed me by the elbow and pushed me out the door, locking it loudlybehind me. I stared at the door as the click echoed in the cold stillness. I'mnot sure how long I stood there, staring at the door, seeing the whole sceneagain in slow motion.

When I moved my feet it felt like trying to movethrough Jell-O. I had to get away from them, from everything. I turned andnervously crossed the street. I walked down the sidewalk in short, angry steps,but as I thought about what had happened, I walked more quickly. With every stepI began forgetting my fear and instead substituting hate. I had never beenangrier. I was never going back. Never. I would sooner die than walk back throughthe door, down the hallway and past the depressing Christmas tree.

Itoccurred to me that I wasn't wearing shoes or socks, and that my jacket washanging in the hallway. I stared down, horrified at the sight of lack ofprotection on my feet. Yet, I wouldn't allow my mind to even conceive of the ideaof going back to the warmth of the house. I didn't allow myself to think, Itdoesn't matter what happened, it was just a fight. Just ignore it and go back.That wasn't true. It wasn't just a "typical family fight," and itcrossed the limit. I didn't want to ignore it. If I did, it would all come backto me when something even worse happened. I shivered in the cold and felt my feetmove again. If I move, I'll get warmer, I thought stupidly, continuing down thesidewalk. I knew I wasn't going to get warmer no matter what I did.

Nothaving a jacket didn't really bother me. I was used to the cold. Before all thishappened I had liked the cold. Whenever it got a bit chilly I would walk proudlyoutside without a jacket. My family would say, "How can she not be cold whenwe're freezing?" I would ignore them. Sure, they were worried about me, butit's not like I'm the world's biggest idiot and don't know to put a jacket onwhen I get cold.

I was trying to ignore the pain. It felt like littleneedles poking through my tender layers of skin. I tried to think about somethingelse. There was no snow, only dampness on the sidewalk, and little puddles everynow and then to remind me that it was probably no more than a couple of degreesabove freezing. I wouldn't be able to take it much longer. I knew that. I wasn'tstupid. I quickly thought about my options. I would have to find some place whereI could warm my feet. Everything was closed. It was the middle of the night. Iwas walking through layers of dark stillness and I couldn't stop thinking aboutmy shoes below my jacket in the hallway. At home.

I looked back severaltimes as my teeth chattered. The only light was the dim, spooky white glow fromthe streetlights. I looked up at the sky and saw no stars. Discouraged, I lookeddown, but after I saw how red my feet were getting, I jerked my head backup.

The gloomy streetlights made me think of when we lived in the country.Dad was a lawyer; he liked to call himself a "man of the law." He woulddrag us from court to court and quiz us on the cases as if those country trialswere the biggest deal ever. When he lost, which was many more times than heclaimed to remember, he wouldn't talk or leave his room for a week. When he didcome out, it was to yell.

I tried to stop my shoulders from shaking.Sadly, I couldn't ignore my arms and legs beginning to rattle wildly. I felt mybones clattering together like angry birds pecking at each other. My mind beganremembering all the stories I had read about people being in the cold too long.People with frozen fingers and toes. People with hypothermia. People whodied.

I crossed my favorite street and glared at it. I thought about allthe people I had followed just for the fun of it. I loved walking outside andseeing who lived around my neighborhood.

Studying people was a hobby. Iwould pick out total strangers from a crowd and study them - the way they moved,the way they talked, who they talked to, if they had any secrets, things likethat. I stared at a person for a while and let everything sink in. I imaginedwhat the person's life must be like. I looked for fake smiles, and saw the waythey set their jaw when they were talking to someone it was clear they didn'tlike. I let my imagination take over. It seemed like, with one look, I knew theminside out.

When it came to following people around, I was more careful.Sometimes I talked to a few, and we became friends. Others, especially the women,were scared. After about five turns and me still behind them, they would turntheir heads just enough to see me. They tried to do this nonchalantly, of course,but how can you not notice someone in front of you turning and glaring at you?They held onto their purses tightly, tripping over their feet as they tried towalk fast. I would laugh uncontrollably as they ran off.

The men were moreup-front.

"Are you following me?" one, sporting a red-spottedtie, turned to ask.

I wasn't going to lie. "Yes."

Hestared for a moment, then asked, "What do you want?"

"Idon't want anything," I said. I couldn't stop staring at his tie.

Hescowled, "Then why are you following me?"

I really admired him.He was the only one who asked what everyone wondered but were too scared to ask.

With their personalities I made up names. I remembered most of theirfaces, too, and the conclusions I had come to about their lives. I felt like Iwasn't just making it up.

Of all the people I had analyzed, there werefour I couldn't understand, even though I thought hard, did everything I could tocompare them to everyone else, but still came up empty. When I finally made upsomething for them, they did one thing that totally messed it up and confused meeven more. I blamed it on their eyes. Their eyes were so set on not giving awayanything. It wasn't a privacy issue for them, it was just that all four wereparanoid and scared that people would know too much about them. They were achallenge, and when I finally figured out something about them that sort of fit,I felt sorry for them.

I stopped analyzing people after I couldn'tremember any more names. One time a lady turned around and started yelling atme.

"You, leave us alone!" she yelled, grabbing her child as ifI was going to start torturing them. "I'm calling the police if you don'tleave us alone!"

"It's a free country," I explained to her."Read up on your Constitution. I can walk wherever I want."

Shewas pregnant and I felt sorry for her. She looked younger than accepted by oursociety to be hiding a child of seven behind her back.

"I'm stillcalling the police!" she shrieked. "Just leave us alone!"

Ididn't leave her alone, and the only reason I didn't was because of what she hadsaid. If she had told me in a normal way to get lost I would have, but she madeit into such a big deal. In the end I did leave her alone. In a way I felt sorryfor her, imagining what her life must be like.

Even though after that Istopped with my hobby, I never really left it. The part of me that alwaysanalyzed people stayed.

There were some side effects to my winter of beingnosy. Whenever I walk anywhere I always have the feeling that someone is watchingme. I don't notice it when I'm in a crowd of people because then I'm busyanalyzing everyone, but when I'm alone, I get the feeling that someone is behindme. Even when I know I'm not really hearing something and I know there's nothingthere, I hear footsteps. I know it's my mind playing tricks. Or maybe I'manalyzing myself as if I were a stranger. Either way, I get really paranoid andwhenever I'm alone I glance behind me just to make sure. No one is everthere.

I would have gladly passed out that night. Anything seemed betterthan just walking and not being able to feel those thick swords that magiciansuse for their cheap magic tricks go into my feet and scrape the insides out. Ihad only been gone a couple of minutes. My jaw was wildly shaking, my eyes werewide open and tired from staring at the lampposts. What was I supposed to do? Ipassed houses behind tall spiky fences and stared at the uglymailboxes.

When I heard a car behind me, my mind came back to the present.I knew it was Mom coming to pick me up. I felt relieved to hear the steady rhythmof the car, but the pride in me would just flee around the corner when I heardher coming. It wouldn't matter how cold I was or how coaxing the car sounded, Iwasn't going to go back unless I was dragged. I didn't care anymore.

Aftermy lungs had had enough of the cold air, I started to cough, and I actuallysmiled when I cleared my throat. Maybe I was getting pneumonia! I thoughtexcitedly. Perhaps I was going to faint, or maybe I would just drop dead. Itwould be a great relief to just die right there on the icy coldpavement.

Awhile after Mom's car turned the corner, I heard another carand turned to see a police car. I don't really remember what I thought then. Ithink I knew when I left the house that something like this was going to happen,though I didn't permit myself to believe it. There wasn't anyone around. Just meand the police car. My dear mother had called the cops. Maybe they won't see me,I thought hopefully, but stupidly, as they pulled up and stopped, blocking my wayas if I was going to run for it.

The two policemen swung open their doorsand with great effort got their big bodies out of the car. I imagined themmunching doughnuts while waiting for the "superhero call." They werewearing ridiculous caps and reminded me of two snotty pigs I had seen in somecartoon series.

They said something I don't remember. I was about to askif they were going to read me my rights or something, but my voice was a tinysqueak. One of them led me toward the car and stood there as if just to make sureI knew how to climb into it. Then we started driving home.

Police cars arereally lousy. They look normal from the outside but the inside is really smalland cheap. It squeaks with every turn, and the backseat is pulled tight so thatyou bounce every time the car turns even slightly.

"What were youdoing out so late?" one of them asked.

"I was out on awalk," I coughed out in my squeaky voice.

"Don't you think it'sa bit too late to go out on walks?" the other asked.

I didn't sayanything. I don't think they wanted to know what I thought.

During theride home I didn't feel the warmth of the car. I didn't feel anything, really,just defeat and stupidity that would probably stay with me forever. I was staringout the window at the sidewalk I had just walked on where all the memories hadcome flooding back to me. I stared into the darkness and still felt cold. My feetfelt horrible. The only thing I felt like doing was crying.

When wepulled up at my house, I saw some of the security guards that uselessly patrolour neighborhood (as if terrorists are just aiming for it) standing in a crowd.All of them were grinning. Just the thought that something had actually happened!I wondered if they were going to celebrate. They stared at my feet and one ofthem snickered.

I ran up to the house but hesitated while I rememberedthe loud click and the slam. When I heard the two heroic cops follow me, I openedthe door, quickly stepped inside and slammed it in their faces. I don't thinkanything felt better than doing that, and I smiled at the door. The house seemedto echo with it.

My dad was sprawled in a chair in the living room, wherehe always sat, and looked very proud of himself. I think I hated him then morethan I'd ever hated anyone. As I looked at him, I imagined the whole thing overagain. And it occured to me that if I hadn't hidden from my mom's car it wouldhave been better for me. Much better.

When Mom got home, the cops made areport about the whole thing as if it was the biggest deal in the world. Afterthey left, Mom looked at me as if I was crazy and just plain trash.

Ididn't get warm after that, not for a while. Mom didn't say anything about myfeet. I took a really nice warm bath, and when I got out I was shivering. I tookanother bath and I was still shivering. After a day or so I was warmer.

Istarted hating winter then. Maybe I deserved what I went through, and maybe Ididn't. Maybe it was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. But Dad and I neverreally talked after it. I didn't care about talking to Dad. I still hated him.What happened that day was different for everybody, everybody saw it from adifferent perspective. I saw it as clearly as I trained myself to think, andthat's just the way it was.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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