Winter Yearning, Commonly Known as ‘Melancholy I Can’t Put My Finger On’

by Naina Rathi

For three years as I walked in and out of college: away from the same dead-end, down the same street, towards the same train, everything remained the same. Almost everything. In all those years, for all of the year save winter, a creeper hung from a balcony. With pretty orange flowers decorating a pretty corner of a house that was too huge to be pretty. Gone during the winters, leaving me lonely again.

It wasn’t unconscious, no, but had become second nature for me to look across and find them hanging down. Fiery orange against marble white. Until then, I hadn’t really like orange. I still don’t – some things never change – except that one pretty shade. They weren’t a brilliant painting or a streak of light in the dark or had an otherworldly shape or smell. They were pretty in a slightly more than normal sort of way, the way most pretty things usually are. So normal that I believe most (not me, but most) people wouldn’t notice them had there existed other flora around them. But I would, I did. Because, to me, it was unfathomable how such a beautifully normal being could bloom in a place I had only associated with plain dread. Plain because it fell short even when it came to being terrible; it was a tired sort of dread like it was bored of its mundane nature, of how uneventfully uneventful it was. But those drooping flowers were orange as hope. As though life was trying to escape the locked mansion, even if it meant having to jump down.

That was many many years ago. 

Back then, I didn’t know what it was like to have one’s hands weighted down. Not by gravity but by something much stronger, more powerful, tiring and hateful. I didn’t know what it was like to have winter bring me down. I didn’t know how winter brought with it a sea of sadness that wells up your eyes before you can end a sentence. Uembarked goals and silly regrets that flash before your eyes before you can end the year.

Because it’s not just the season turning, it’s the homecoming of all your heartbreaks and unfinished dreams. October days are fine, the promise of chill soothing out a year’s worth of heat, the winter sun warming your bones. But November opens its doors to winter’s permanent companions: yearning and melancholy. A yearning for warmth that must accompany the bitter cold. Familiar warm hands that must dissipate the cold. And melancholy that must end up replacing the lack of them both. 

Because it’s not just the season turning, it’s the time for rituals and festivities: year-end trips, office gatherings, weddings, homecomings, Diwali. The time of year when everyone’s hopping from one Diwali party to the next while you’re reminded you have none to go to. All your favourite people are celebrating Diwali in chillier continents (although yours feel bitter-er). You imagine what would you do if you were at one of yours: you had your people, your place, your food, your laughter, your songs, your cheers; you remember that good things become better and best only when shared. However, all you can see is one girl, cornered in her own home, flashing her teeth and the brilliant lights never shining her smile. You find that loneliness rips through your imagination too. The happiest time of the year suddenly reminds of you your adult incompetence to form meaningful friendships. Friendships that change into family. But how many families can one have the strength left to build after having to rip themselves, year after year, out of each?

Because it’s not just the festivities, it’s the year ending. And you cannot help but feel like a loser. We have a terrible habit of tattooing our failures and never remembering our wins, it’s what unites us all. Every year, this time, a ringing noise invades my brain. A voice from the year before I first saw the orange blooms. A voice that told me I would never accomplish anything in life, almost like a premonition. Throughout winter, I’m told I’m a failure who will quit before she can be challenged, who will not weather through any storm. Whom do I convince that it’s not for lack of trying?

Because it’s not just the year ending, it’s the time for longing. For throughout the year your aloneness is not threatening but winter begins to crack your walls, shake your bones. In winter, solitude morphs into loneliness. Loneliness jo kaatne ko daudti hai, that’s chasing me to take a bite out of me. How do I possibly explain that my loneliness doesn’t run deep, it spreads across the horizon? Everywhere I look are endless, empty skies…of me. Alas, no one else but you will do. I long for your familiarity, for you who know me. I long for parts of myself that I’m losing and for you to please pick them up for me. 

Because it’s not just the season of longing, it’s the time for melancholy. Melancholy; the old English word for sadness they couldn’t put their finger on, for what they didn’t know then to call depression. That’s what sadness in winter feels like: something old and ancient, that you simply cannot put your finger on. While I’ve prided my memory for its top-notch bookkeeping, this winter the ink’s running dry and I’m missing many entries, time and complete days. I’m told and know that that’s common for both melancholy and depression, they freeze your memory and no matter how much you skate, the ice won’t break.

It’s November again and I’m ready for melancholy to knock at my frozen door, bring despair with it. They are my familiar companions now.

Winters change, years shift but they remain. 

I returned to my place of learning some time ago, walked down the path that was once my favourite even if it led me to a place I merely despised not even fully hated. And it was while leaving that I remembered about them, the wildflowers. I remembered them because my head turned of its own accord, not even knowing it hoped to see something, and found that the creeper was gone, as was the balcony. The house had stayed but it had changed, it had gotten bigger. Home of the plants taken away to make room in a house already too huge. My flowers were missing but my hope believed that they finally escaped.

I realised I only remembered them because they were gone, and continued to walk on.

Author bio:  Naina Rathi is a writer and filmmaker (wannabe) from Hyderabad where she has lived most of her life. She studied media and literature, worked in advertising and this year, finally quit it. She now freelances for the Times of India and always struggles to her make bios wittier.

The First Winter Without –

by Ujwalla Bhandari

… anchor – 

My heart has been falling for months. The runs to and from closet to mirror to door to train to work to the end of the day serve to keep it in the air like a ball that an inept juggler is juggling. I’ve been struggling since home ceased to be a place I can go, and turned, instead to rubble. The trouble is masked by the facts – people sell their homes, the city is practically one endless construction site, we needed more space, the family was broken. I flip these thoughts over like totems to keep my heart afloat.

What takes me by the throat is the winter I love, setting in, warming the tea on the stove, as if to compensate for the loneliness of my ambiguous loss. Because of course, a woman who marries for love, leaves her home anyway. She loses her say about what is irrevocable, loses woman to wife, with the haze of her girlhood tugging, from time to time, at her heart. Her falling heart. Can I really fall apart that my house is gone, when I have been gone from my house for years?

The tears come for me when I realize the house was where my loneliness stopped being scary, and somehow felt safe. The walls of my room seemed to say, hey: we’re holding you, feel what you feel. My bookshelves revealed me to myself, mirrored my musings, made them real. I could trace my becoming on the spines of all I read in all those years of solitude. Whatever the mood of the world outside, the chaos or the mess, I could step into the best kind of quiet, and exhale the day away. I could keep the world at bay, and stay in the nook between my bed and the wall, burrowing into the call of isolation. People were always confusion, but at home, they were far away. It was only ever those walls that let me in, truly, that built themselves around me. Home was a place that found me, and I was lost a lot.

… love – 

And then there are the memories attached to you. In my doorway, in my chair, in my bed. Your love first found me there, too, those years, and the first thing I did was introduce you to my sanctuary. I wonder if you were wary of my heart on my sleeve. This strange reprieve from games; me, a girl who was no one, whose mind had been burrowing inwards for years; whose layers spilled into your arms as soon as you opened them.

I have craved to belong everywhere I’ve loved. For a time, we belonged together in that little haven: talking, laughing, planning a life. The ring you put into my blanket-fold for me to find, and exclaim, the glistening promise of togetherness that it signified. Our love story unfolded in my safest place. 

I craved to belong to you, belong with you, belong in love. I thought love would catch my heart and hold it. But now I know, love is about letting go. Sometimes love is a fault line; a door to safety, or an invitation into a storm. I never know how warm your hands are going to be, but the warmest place to hold them was always that home. The one that won’t be there anymore, whose last walls are coming down as I write this.

… truth – 

Ignorance is bliss. I think there are still things I omit from the narrative. The thirty-one years I spent at home were dotted with blanks of things too dark to remember. It was the scene of many crimes, from a child’s hungry eyes. An unrelenting loneliness grew miles and miles of distance between me and anyone else who lived there. But I felt as though the walls cared; the plants the ceilings, the floors. The doors closed when I needed to disappear, and opened when I wanted to run away. And there were many days when I didn’t know which – freezing or fleeing – would quell the screaming inside. In spite of it all, the ball of pain I was for so many of those years, the sight of a bougainvillea rain, pink strewn all over the patio made everything disappear. The years of ache, too, were softened by the abundant happenstances, the little quirks of the house; its creaks and creatures and its many, many blooms.

There was no winter that didn’t bring warmth – a coal fire always lit on the coldest days, as people who’d hurt one another sat around the maze of their feelings, and poured each other wine. We were broken and we were fine. And the house contained us in all our seasons. Being home was a good enough reason to exhale the weight of being misfits in the world. Hands curled around themselves, somehow only ever approximating belonging anywhere – this, us around a fire at home, is an image of the closest we came.

… a Past that speaks to the Present – 

The person standing over the stove in her husband’s house is a stranger. Seasons change and I try to reach her, crossing the bridge of space and time, from a girlhood we have shared. I am still 19 and idealistic, reading on my bed, in my room, in the house of our dreams, that, in this parallel universe of before, still stands tall, adorned in its vines and flowers. I send her the image of where I am, nestled in a nook that has held us both. She is letting the winter have her, resigned to the falling of home and heart. I try to reach through the lonesome fog, to the yearning in her, to the loss of self that she has endured at the hands of tradition and circumstance. You didn’t know when you left, that there wouldn’t be a home to come back to, I remind her. Even if the bricks fall, you can always go back there in your mind. I imagine that she hears me; that’s the single tear that gathers in the corner of her eye is the bridge from me to her. We’ve always favoured winter, for it has taught us how to stay warm.

I watch from Before, and want to hold her; this brave & broken eventuality I know will be me in a Future where our house has been razed to dust. It’s cold, but I will her to savour the tea, the quiet morning, the weight of the book in her hand. I will her to let herself mourn home; everything it was and wasn’t. I will her to feel me there with her, a part of her, that can witness her – witness the loneliness away. As a fragment of her self, I want to offer a sunbeam of belonging, to warm the skin of her soul. I want to remind her of what we know in our bones – that the lonely can grow roots again and again:

for this feeling;

this longing for home –

is home.

Author bio: Ujwalla has felt in poetry ever since she can remember. She sees the creative word as a language that captures interiority with a kind of magic that evokes the depth within its readers too. She is fascinated by the power of this resonance. She works by day as a psychotherapist in New Delhi, with the resonance of words at the heart of her practice. 

A season of Yearnings

by Affan

Yesterday, I opened my wardrobe and retrieved my blanket. It emanated an odor that stirred my senses, transporting me back to last year’s winters. At its peak, that winter mirrored my emotional fragility. I had pledged that by the onset of the next winter, I would have penned all the stories I yearned to write. As the idealist I used to be, I foresaw myself transformed — refined, akin to a sage, devoid of immoral tendencies.

Now, I realize I’ve lingered in the same state as last year, and the year before, and so on. I’ve merely dreamt of change, never truly embraced it. This season, unfolding from the previous, reveals the fallacies I’ve concealed beneath my social exterior.

As the wind breezes and days pass, I don’t tally the moments I squander, yet persist in lamenting my obituary state of futility.

I remain under the blanket, yearning to rise and complete the drafts of stories and essays initiated long ago. I wish to witness the sunrise, the unfolding day, the birds leaving nests in the morning and returning in the evening. I long to comprehend and articulate life as it is.

My window is open, the blanket envelops me. A gentle breeze sways over my potential resistance to procrastination. I feel a sense of retardation and mournfulness, inducing sleep whenever wakefulness threatens to remind me of my lapse into procrastination. Upon waking, I am further disheartened by the unaltered reality. The seasons change, and as I drift to sleep each night with unfulfilled aspirations, I await an unforeseen change, knowing that with winter’s arrival, dissatisfaction with my present state will intensify. Come summer, I’ll mourn the passing of winter, and this perpetual cycle is destined to persist as long as I live, as long as seasons shift, and I persist in promising change in the next season, ensnared in the cobweb of uselessness.

Author bio: I am Affan, currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Delhi. As a dedicated writer and avid reader from Aligarh, poetry courses through my veins. My aspirations extend to becoming a filmmaker, fuelled by a fervent desire to alter the conditions of the world through transformative storytelling.

All My Leaves

by Nyssa Lowenstein 

I think I’m like a tree.

If a tree wanted to cling to every single leaf it ever produced.

But I don’t want them all the time, so I will bag and box my leaves.

Protect them under my limbs regardless of season.

Use my roots to hoard them, press them in books to preserve them, tangle them in fallen sticks, throw them into junk drawers and lockets.

I never want to lose one. 

What if I lose one? 

What if I forget it forever? 

I spend a lot of time collecting all of my leaves. Dreading, catching them as they fall. Instead of reaching for the sun, or reflecting on the passage of seasons and the passage of time that will produce thicker bark, more rings, deeper roots reaching for deeper wells of water and richer soil. Nitrogen, aquifers. 

I want all my leaves. 

I want to protect and save them, out of my mind, but in physical space. I need them. They say something about me. About how I’ve lived. How I’ve been impacted by the air, the weather, the ones who want to chop me down and the ones who will attempt to rake the leaves that I so desperately want to keep but slowly smother my existence.

I weep when they disintegrate because they are not meant to last the time that I am. 

And weeping harder for the ones that I know I’ve forgotten and will never remember exactly, or the ones I can’t recall at all. 

I understand my leaves are meant for a specific purpose, that they are an extension of me for a moment, absorb the vitamin d, give insects a thing to eat or to mate on, and drop when things turn cold. Not forever. I shed them unwillingly. My aging and growth, my wrinkles and seedlings. 

But I want to protect these fronds and petals. Keep them close. They are precious. How can anyone deny they are precious?

If I were a tree that moved – I would carry them with me. 

I know that they would either fertilize my roots better if I allowed their removal. Time passed, rotated to compost, lowered fire danger, made fodder for bird’s nests, or squirrels would chase each other through them in rustling displays of flirtation. 

They would make grass greener and flowers bloom. 

But if they are no longer mine, they are no longer mine. Would someone understand them as I do?

That I want to celebrate each one no matter how painful and that’s why some of them sit in dusty boxes and others are loved to dust out in the open. Get a birthday cake and a party. Some will live longer in my consciousness because I saw them every day. Memorized. 

The ones that sit in boxes in shadowed altars in back closets peel back scars and wounds when I see them again – knowing they are important and if I lose them I will lose that pain that still rings true each time I see them. That I’m never really healed. 

It wrings me out like a towel. 

I love my leaves. I hate my leaves. They make me look haggard and a little unwell. In many ways they have stunted my growth, but are somehow crucial to who I am. Cozy and decaying. A museum.

How can I be ungrateful for them? How can I show my respect to them if I leave them behind or allow them to be swallowed by nature or the local town dump? How can they produce someone else’s mulch?

Author bio: Nyssa Lowenstein is a writer, film producer, and theatremaker. Nyssa has been previously published in The Remnant Archive, and at The Unsealed. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University with a BFA in Acting with certificates from Yale University and Moscow Art Theatre School. Originally from Denver, she currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Adam, and cat, Milton @nysistrata