In high school, my friends and I coined the term panicky-hot, which can most accurately be defined by the sensation one feels in those moments between entering a car that has been baking in the summer sun and rolling down the windows. A secondary definition is the sensation one feels when one is wearing a hoodie that’s a little too snug, and one realizes one’s body temperature is rising rapidly, and one frantically tries to remove the garment causing the aforementioned temperature rise, and one gets an elbow stuck in the armpit and one’s head in the neck of the hood, thereby delaying the removal of the garment and relief from the uncomfortable rise in bodily temperature.
You may notice that a salient feature of both definitions is the anticipation of imminent relief from the uncomfortable temperature. The panic arises from not being able to attain that relief fast enough.
I’ve never used the term panicky-cold because for me, there is no anticipation of relief. When I get cold, I experience a long-term form of panic, more commonly known as despair, and it lasts from about this time of year until, oh, the middle of March. This week was mostly cloudy, with temperatures in the 50s, and until Thursday afternoon, our office didn’t have heat. The thermostat read 57 degrees. On Wednesday I layered a tank top, a t-shirt, a wool sweater, and a hoodie, but I was still huddled into a ball in the chair at my desk, trying to keep my body heat centralized. What if the heat never gets fixed? I found myself thinking. It’s only going to get worse from here and I can’t work under these conditions and I’ll have to quit but what if I can’t find another job and then I won’t be able to pay my rent and Jessica will evict me and I’ll have to spend the whole winter under a bridge or move back to Colorado and either way I’ll never ever ever be warm ever again.
To cope, I started thinking about other times in my life that I’ve been so desperately cold, like every lacrosse game I ever played, the time in Oxford in January when our flat’s heat was out for two days, and every minute I spent touring Edinburgh.
And then there was the time over Christmas break in middle school that my mom asked me to check the mail after a significant ice storm. Our yard in Tennessee had a drainage ditch along the street, and the mailbox was on the other side of it. Happy to serve my mother in this small way, I immediately went outside wearing only pajama pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and tennis shoes without socks. I walked down into the ditch… and I couldn’t walk out the other side. The ice and snow allowed me no traction, and my hands went completely numb after the first twenty seconds of trying to climb out on all fours. I was stuck. And no one in my family noticed for twenty minutes. Entering the throes of hypothermia, I tried every way I could think of to get out of the icy valley, but to no avail. Tears froze on my cheeks as I awaited my end. Snippets of To Build a Fire and stanzas of The Cremation of Sam McGee bounced around in my head. Just as I was preparing to succumb to the Grim Reaper’s frigid grip, my father appeared and pulled me out of the abyss.