I don't much remember the winter I turned 16. I just remember darkness, a long stretch of darkness like the night of the solstice just lasted the entire winter. I was bored and restless yet apathetic and without energy. I despised myself. I remember thinking about suicide, but not having any interest in the violence of the thing. Instead, I wished for a peaceful death just to come upon me.
The true memories I have from that winter are just a few scenes and I watch them from above, all of them at night. In the first a group of teenagers is as minimally dressed up for Halloween as could still merit candy. We don't know it yet but it's our last year really for trick-or-treating. We are sharing a cigarette under a street light. It was my first time smoking and I was afraid to inhale. But the sense of community and the tang of smoke in my nostrils were irresistible.
Another night, this one colder and in a field covered in snow. Five girls in a circle, a new pipe with a small orange circle is being passed from hand to mouth to hand around the circle. We had a few crazy carpets and had tried sliding down the hill, but the sleds got slowed down by the tall grasses rising out of the snow. It was my birthday, my supposed sweet 16. The orange glow of the pipe kept us warm in the cold, white night.
Another night, and I am taking a break from mucking out the stalls or feeding the horses. The light from the barn spills onto the concrete pad of the barnyard, casting a golden rhombus, as I look out. There are northern lights in the sky, and they are shape-shifting as I watch. I feel like the only person on the planet, and not in a good way.
Eventually, light came back and so did I in the spring. I started driving lessons and a couple of my friends got their licenses and we were finally free. I got my license the following summer. And I began the arduous task of learning to like myself, a task that, as much as I'd prefer otherwise, is never really complete.