“I had one of those dreams last night where you don’t love me anymore. Probably just because of cold,” I say to you.
That last bit about being cold is tangential. I say it more so you’ll know that I don’t blame you for the nightmare. So that you won’t get defensive or think I’m saying it’s your fault that I felt insecure. I try awfully hard not to be the kind of person who punishes other people emotionally when I have a bad dream. Someone who mixes up what’s going on in my own internal world with objective truth that affects other people. Projection, displacement, all that jazz.
“Aww… the thermostat set itself lower,” you say, “but I fixed it halfway through the night.”
You’re fixated on the last part of what I said, about it being cold. I realize then that what I really want is for you to reassure me with words. So I prompt you to assure me that you love me. “It’s okay,” I say, wanting to start with reassurance myself, before adding, “you still love me, right? Just a dream?
“Very much,” you say.
I smile. That’s all I needed. We talk about something else for a while. Within a few minutes, I’ve completely forgotten about the dream. The cold. All of it.
And then out of the blue, you cut in with, “Hopefully you’re warming up a bit this morning. I turned up the heat.”
And as I sit there, I become so grateful. For you, yes. But also for the fact that I understand your love language (acts of service) so much better than I used to. That I can take this act of service and translate it into something I can understand (for me, that’s words of affirmation).
Here is my words of affirmation romantic translation of it:
Me: Tell me you still love me.
You: Of course I do. I will make sure you are never cold again.
The Heat Went Out for Days
It’s something I think about repeatedly a few weeks later when the polar vortex sweeps into town (that dreaded povo), the power grid fails, and we’re without power or heat for days (and temporarily without running water when the disaster cascades and ushers in over 130 busted water mains in our county).
Yes, I’m originally from Maine and am very used to cold weather, but I’m physically cold for days, even as we seal up our home, stick to one room, cover the walls and windows with blankets, shove towels under doors, bundle up, build makeshift tents in the living out of blankets and chairs — for us and for our animals (we consistently worry about our animals more than about ourselves during the ordeal).
We turn ourselves into heat generators, trapping our body heat and using it to warm the pets.
We trap every bit of sporadic heat that we can get. I quietly survey my surroundings, making a mental list of which belongings I will burn first in our tiny, mostly ornamental apartment fireplace — if push comes to shove.
Even as the bedroom drops to 35 degrees, we manage to keep this one room (the living room) above 50 degrees using cold weather tricks. But it’s miserable. We can barely sleep. Can’t stop worrying about the animals. We build the birds a warming tent with a candle for heat.
I keep one eye trained on our cats. One of them is pacing frenetically and yowling, sometimes hyperventilating from anxiety attacks. In the middle of the coldest night (when it is -2 degrees and we have no heat), he wakes me up at 3 am when he screams from our bathroom. I’ve tried to calm him down multiple times to no avail; now I’m mostly just concerned he’s going to knock over the candle that’s keeping the birds warm and start a fire.
Even as We Froze, I Stayed Warm in the Ways That Mattered
During the blackouts, the present cold really isn’t the worst of it. The worst part is not knowing what happens next. How long we’ll be without power.
The worst part is not how cold we are — but not knowing how cold it’s going to get. It’s the uncertainty.
We do our best with what we have. We survive. Eventually the heat comes back. And the water.
And as I write this piece several days later, I can see clearly… that even as we froze, I stayed warm in the ways that mattered. We protected each other and the animals. You kept that unspoken promise.