Boarding school students don’t get snow days, per se. At my high school, the day students had an option to call in once the roads got bad enough, but classes were never canceled, unless the Headmaster announced a holiday. If I’d been an overachiever, I might have reckoned these self-determined snowdays a source of anxiety. As it was, I basically looked at them as administrative license to skip school.
When the Blizzard of 93 came through, I was already on spring break, so I didn’t even have anything to miss. I felt like this was really unfair and it probably exacerbated a bad mood caused by being (in no particular order) 1) seventeen 2) stuck at my father’s house and thus 3) sharing a bedroom with my eleven year old sister while 4) increasingly running out of food.
This latter point was a serious issue. Food on Dad’s custodial weekends was a dicey proposition in the best of times. He was famously hopeless in the kitchen. We would make a desultory run to whatever grocery offered the most extensive prepared foods department, stock up on yogurt, bagels and novelty sodas and then basically eat out the rest of the time. Left to his own devices, my father would have survived on what he calls “orangies.” ginger ale and the occasional takeout Greek salad that he would eat approximately 75% of. The rest he would stow in the refrigerator, along with hard-to-identify ex-vegetables and unopened, yet rendered unopenable dairy products as part of what looked increasingly like a long-term, biological research project.
We hadn’t anticipated the Blizzard and had, thus, made no effort to load up on frozen pizzas or boxes of macaroni and cheese. By sixteen, I could cook a handful of things, but Dad had no raw ingredients and even if he had, I wouldn’t have volunteered. I’d recently come to the satisfying conclusion that obligatory cooking for men was for chumps and/or slaves to the patriarchy. I was determined to be neither. I would, and in fact did, eat plates of Dad’s rubbery spaghetti clumps (which managed to be, at once, over and undercooked) before I’d so much as boil a kettle for him. It was, I believed, a point of righteous principle.
By Day Two of the Blizzard, we’d consumed most of what was most obviously edible–rye toast, stale water crackers, canned clam chowder, what looked like maybe Gruyere. I re-read The Secret History for maybe the third time since I’d gotten it for Christmas and stared balefully out the window. My sister called my mother on the hour to remind her that our time with Dad was legally done and it was time for her to pick us up. We needed to go home, to her house, where we had things like sandwiches and a video library containing more than Dad’s old tv commercials and a copy of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Mom would respond sympathetically and promise to come fetch us as soon as the roads were passable and the power had been restored at her house. “You girls are lucky to have power,” she said. “Most everybody else is sitting around in the dark.
I thought the dark might be preferable to another go at Roger Rabbit. I was out of batteries for my walkman which meant I could listen to neither Cocteau Twins nor “Your Arsenal” and we’d exhausted the meager, pre-internet entertainments of Dad’s apt-to-crash Macintosh. At some point Dad had directed us to go outside and do something. But we hadn’t thought to pack snow clothes and neither of us were really outdoorsy people in the best of circumstances. So we sort of bundled up in his 70s era ski gear and wore socks as mittens and walked about three feet away from the front door into approximately two feet of snow and stood there, forlorn and befuddled, until a girl I’d gone to public school with came happily stomping down the street. She was naturally blonde and effortlessly popular and had an attractive snow outfit. I was none of those things and was wearing an ancient blue and orange parka with Nixon-era ski tags still attached to the zippers. She was also Jehovah’s Witness, which I knew meant she never had to pledge allegiance and had weird ideas about watchtowers and birthday parties. I didn’t know if discussion of snow days fell under the latter proscription. I decided not to risk it. And so we were left with a literally frigid exchange of “How are you?” “Fine. How are you?” “Cool.” “Awesome.” After an extended period of stultifying pleasantries, my sister and I went back inside, where I hoped I’d discover we’d managed to pass hours but, in fact, the whole hoary outside incident had lasted about seven minutes.
Dad volunteered to make dinner. This consisted of the crunchy, gelatinous spaghetti noodles, the contents of a rusty container of so-called “Red Clam Sauce”(provenance unknown) and a “salad” comprised of Spanish olives, water chestnuts, artichoke hearts and baby corns.
“Antipasti!” said Dad, when he put down the plates. He’d lit candles and turned on “Sketches of Spain” to improve the ambiance and perhaps distract from the contents of the plates.Regardless, sister took one look and started crying. I put on a dress and did my best to enjoy the experience because Dad let me have a small glass of vinegar-y Red Wine (provenance unknown–could have actually been vinegar).
I knew Day Three would be ugly from the moment my sister discovered a long-forgotten can of Pepperidge Farms Vichyssoise behind several years of New Yorkers and a box of Lemon Chamomile Tea in Dad’s uppermost cabinet. I think I tried to convince her it was mine, then attempted negotiations, before she looked at me with the hunger-ravaged face of a picky eater forced to survive for more than 72 hours on little more than granite-hard Scandinavian granola and Black Cherry New York Seltzer. She would not surrender. And I refused to back down.
The fight lasted maybe five minutes total, but was famous for its intensity. My sister tended to go hard and quiet and cruel when angry. She could maintain a steady fury for days, if not weeks, at a time. I was –okay, I am– a slow build, but when I do go off, it tends toward blinding, thunderous, Incredible Hulk-style rage, which lasts for approximately 10-90 humiliating seconds, after which I generally cry, apologize and want to take the person I was screaming at out for ice cream or wine. Given that, I don’t remember how the Vichyssoise argument played out, but I do remember at some point, I was standing barefoot in my pajamas in a snow drift on Dad’s back porch, howling “Fuck You. Fuck You. Fuck You. I Fucking Hate You!” at the boring, hungry and pallid March sky.
By the time I came back inside to restore circulation to my frozen toes, my sister was back on the phone with my mother. She was whispering and giving me a species of furtive glance I took as sign that she and Mom were discussing how fast they could commit me. I apologized (natch) and Sara ate the vichyssoise. She was, after all, my little sister.
Sometime later that day, my mother finally came to get us. I think we sobbed with relief, when we saw her car round the corner onto Dad’s street. It’s possible Dad did too.
We’d be stuck for several more days once at Mom’s house, but it was a productive, happy stuck–with Sassy Magazine and mixtapes and a giant snow bear my mother and sister built in the front yard. By the time they called me out to see it, to pose in front for a photo, I figured the travails of Dad’s house had ended. Things were (more or less) back to normal.
Mom walked out to take the picture.
My sister flashed me a look I knew to be I’m so not over the vichyssoise thing.
I tried to give her a look that said What the fuck was in the clam sauce anyway?
She smiled and flashed a peace sign.
I tugged at my shirt.