Virginia Beach Dethaw

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Few things in life are as annoying as having to brush snow off your car before work. It’s morning. I’m already groggy and angry. Why must you torment me? (Original photo by Mark Burr.)

It’s official. I’ll be spending my 26th winter in a row in the Midwest.

To make matters worse, I’m only 26 years old.

Midwest winters are perhaps the most authentic in the United States, a cold, blustery, and snowy event. It’s everything they tell you about winter, and then some. There are sometimes weeks – possibly months in the worst states – where hitting 32 degrees is a major accomplishment.

When you think about what the pioneer settlers in the Midwest had to endure every year, you realize that land in the old country must’ve been in ridiculously short supply. You had to be especially desperate to press on through the winter in states like Wisconsin. You lived in a makeshift house with poor insulation; food was scarce, dependent on the fall’s harvest; Indians with tomahawks eyed you whenever you went out to take a leak.

It was horrible then and only tolerable today.

When Molly went to work as a traveling occupational therapist, taking 3-4 month contracts in locations across the country, part of the allure was that we could finally escape winter. Come November, we’d conveniently wave goodbye to the dreary Midwest and depart for sunnier climes. I pictured myself laughing on the phone as friends and relatives told me stories of the terrible snowstorm they’d just survived, how a snowdrift had buried their car and it’d taken an hour to get out of the driveway.

“I think I was wearing shorts that day,” I’d tell them. “Though it’s not all fun and games down here. I do think my tan has lightened up a bit. But y’know how it is – solstice and all.”

That dream came quickly crashing down when Molly accepted an extension to her contract in Iowa. Sure, we’ll still make it to Texas and Georgia eventually – we’ll just have to freeze here for a few months to earn it. Not that I’m mad. It was a smart move for Molly. For us.

Thank God I packed that old gray pea coat my uncle donated to me. Turns out we share similar builds, and it’ll serve me well in a few months.

To console myself at the prospect of another brutal winter, I thought I’d reflect on my time in Virginia Beach.

I keep telling myself that only two short months ago I was basking in the sun on the soft sand, the Atlantic Ocean at my feet. The throngs of people, a colorful blur of humanity, filled the soft afternoon breeze with laughter, a steady soundtrack punctuated by the waves and the occasional burst of music from a car on Atlantic Avenue.

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Modern architecture: any beauty is a concession. (Original photo by Virginia Hall.)

Ah yes, Atlantic Avenue. Sometimes, you need a street like Atlantic Avenue to feel like you’re truly on vacation. The side of the street closest to the ocean is dominated by high-rise apartments, rows of rectangles and squares painted in cheery summer tones. The shops and clubs are on the other side, with the aggressive salespeople in bright polo shirts urging you to sign up for ill-advised credit cards and travel packages. The best plan, I’d say, is to get a drink and watch the action from a patio. There’s a happy buzz on the streets, and it says, simply:

Relax, you’re on vacation. Kiss her (or him). Tell her you love her. Hold her close. Life is for moments like this.

You can’t possibly understand the strength of the ocean until you see it during a storm. Growing up in Michigan, people often compared the Great Lakes to the ocean. Certainly, both impart a sense of limitless. But even the most ferocious waves on a lake look like the work of a toddler in a kiddie pool when stacked up against the full brunt of Neptune on the open sea. From the shore, it looks the ocean is being sucked up by the sun, only to be hurtled back to the beach when the weight of the wave grows too heavy.

My first experience with real waves at Virginia Beach was brought on by an admittedly modest storm, a drizzly affair without much in the way of lightning or wind. A storm tame enough that the life guards didn’t mind us swimming. Just not too far out. We were daredevils, sure, but within reason.

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(Original photo by lina smith.)

As wave after wave knocked me to and fro, a strange sense of oneness with the ocean was pounded into me. It was invigorating, life-affirming. I could taste the salt on my lips. I could the feel the energy. Molly watched from the shore, a towel around her shoulders. She tends to take it easier. I do the stupid stuff – like wear my glasses in the ocean.

A particularly strong wave slammed me to the ground, and off went my aviators. I searched frantically in the vanishing spray of the wave, but it was too little, too late. My backup glasses now belonged to Davy Jones. My main pair, square plastic hipster glasses, was in a drawer back home… broken.

Of course.

But hey, I could still think of about ten worse winter stories.

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