March is a month of dreary waiting. I love winter, especially as an enthusiastic skiier, ice skater and professional snowball fighter, but for me this is when the whole thing really starts to lose its charm. Even as the days get a little warmer and longer and April crawls closer and closer, there’s still something bare and infinite about the whole thing. Sullen March clenches hopeful buds in unforgiving fists; it pushes back flowers with the steely emptiness of cold nights; it hurls down unique and miserable forms of precipitation rarely found in other, more sensible, months. March attacks; and we are human, we are frail, so we retreat. But we are running out of firewood, clean sweaters, hot cocoa, patience. We dream of leaves and lemonade, until we wake up and can’t remember what they looked or tasted like. It’s still March.
This year my March was going to be different. With so many plans in the making, I wouldn’t have time for this miserable month, for its ides or afflictions: in my mind I would be escaping to a June wedding in San Francisco, swimming in Vermont streams in July, scaling Guatemala’s volcanoes in September, savoring my Peking Duck in a cozy February 飯店 (fàn diàn = restaurant). To be as fortunate, as expectant, as full of plans as I, would unquestionably, conclusively keep March at bay.
March has not been cooperative. It is outside my window every morning; it taunts me with its cold bare limbs as I walk to work. It drives me under my umbrella, pale-knuckled and shivering, wondering if the pain in my throat will become a cold just as my feet shoot different ways on a patch of ice. When my brother and I were little my mother always brought a pencil and paper to boring restaurant meals, so we could at least play “hangman” while we waited for our yucky grownup food. Likewise I have tried to distract myself from this interminable month by engaging Lacey in our favorites: Scrabble, Yahtzee, Cribbage. They do not work. I entered an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Pool, but this will only work until I inevitably begin losing. I go back to my plan-making, but this is March; my planning just feels like more waiting. There is nothing to be done.
There is something to be done. Last night, on a side trip to 7-Eleven after a too-short St. Patrick’s night out, Lacey and I invented a new game. Each of us got to tell a story that answered this question: who would be the most interesting, rewarding person we could realistically meet on the way to 7-Eleven at one in the morning? Lacey’s mystery person took us to a great party, then on to a new bar we had never heard of. The bar stayed open all night for us and our two dozen new and perfect friends, its cheery owner serving free drinks and playing just the right music while we danced on the tables. For my turn our guardian angel was back for a week from China, just for a wedding; he or she had a job with a university that was hiring English teachers with no experience, in a perfect Chinese town with a perfect group of expat friends who were generous and knowledgeable and neither too cynical nor too naive (much like Lacey’s two dozen new Philadelphia friends). For a few minutes the twin fantasies hovered before us, right there on the icy streets, until there was no March without perfect parties, no cold without smiling new friends, no dirty snow without a mysterious Clarence Odbody whistling and strolling toward us just around the corner. For a few minutes March had all of this, and more. It was all we could ask for from any month.