Cold Mornings

I love cold mornings.

I’m talking about the mornings that are so cold the air burns my throat as it slides down into my chest. And, my breath feels trapped in my lungs, as if the cold air has crystallized my organs.

I particularly like to experience these cold mornings while wearing shorts. There’s something about how the frigid air feels against my bare legs. I can sense every inch of my skin, every hair follicle, every goosebump.

I’m not a glutton for punishment, at least I don’t believe I am. I’m also not an extremely warm-blooded creature who thrives in bitter temperatures. I don’t like cold weather; I like cold mornings.

No, I love cold mornings. I love what they make me remember.

In 7th grade, I had basketball practice every day before school, November through January. Practice went for two hours, meaning we had to get to the gym at 6 a.m. to have enough time to work out and shower before school started at 8:15.

To this day, I am amazed I didn’t quit when I found out about the early practices. I quit band the prior year for that exact reason. I also got put on the worst team, an injustice, in my head. I thought about quitting, quite a few times, but I didn’t.

I stuck it through for the entire basketball season. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. every school day, threw on a t-shirt and shorts, pulled my hair back in a ponytail, and slid on my Adidas high-tops. I did all this in silence, trying not to wake up my mother, grandmother, and our numerous pets.

The only person in our household who woke up before me was my aunt. Her shift at Taco Bell started at 8, but she always woke up at 5. She spent those three hours alternating between doing her hair and makeup and drinking coffee while watching the news on her TV.

As a byproduct of her early wake-up, my aunt took on the task of driving me to the middle school for basketball practice. She always started her car a good half-hour before she went anywhere. She reasoned that gave her SUV enough time to warm up to a comfortable temperature. It burned a ton of fuel, I know, but it also made her vehicle lovely to ride in.

My aunt parked in the gravel lot that circled behind our house and our neighbor’s house. The distance between our back door and her vehicle was only ever about 20 feet max. On those cold mornings, I would fling open our back door and sprint to my aunt’s SUV. I remember how the skin on my legs would prickle and my lungs would struggle to inhale the crisp air.

Within seconds, I would reach my aunt’s SUV and flop my body into the passenger seat. The cold air was replaced with dry heat shooting out from the vehicle’s dashboard. A mixture of smoke and perfume flooded my nostrils. I wish I could remember the smell of her perfume.

I wish I could remember a lot about my aunt. In the eight years since her death, I have forgotten so much. I remember how she looked — I have photos to help me with that. But I have forgotten how she smelled and how her voice sounded. I can’t remember how she laughed or what it felt like when she hugged me.

When I think about all this, I feel extreme guilt. I don’t understand how I could forget someone who loved me so deeply and for whom I loved just as much. I don’t want her to be a victim of the innate flaws of my human mind.

I think that’s why I love cold mornings — they make me remember her. I can’t escape the frigid air. It demands to be felt. It demands I remember, even when it hurts.

I love cold mornings because I love her.

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