November 22, 2019 | Narrative
at the pocket-size
a shortlist of the simple things i’m grateful for
Back in high school, I used to stay late after dismissal each day—like, 9 p.m. late. Yes, school rules stated that no student was allowed in the building after 7 p.m. with the exceptions of sports games and parent-teacher conferences. But sometimes I’d get lucky and no one would notice me sitting outside the main office. Other days, I’d convince a teacher to let me stay in their classroom. And occasionally, my friend Mykel and I would manage to hide out in the band room (he was a band kid; I was jealous). Those were the best days.
But on the evenings I got kicked out—a gruff office administrator locking the doors behind me—I’d huddle near the back entrance, book in hand, reading by the lights of the empty parking lot. As winter approached, being outside became more and more difficult. The only indoor locations open late were gas stations, a Family Dollar, and the local Mormon church (none of which seemed likely to let me stay more than 30 minutes). Granted, New Mexico winters aren’t as bad as Rhode Island ones, but cold is cold to a girl with socks for gloves. With mismatched pairs covering my arms and two pairs of long socks underneath my jeans, I’ll admit I looked a little ridiculous, especially with my tearing satchel and worn boots. (Teens who passed by liked to joke that I was “homeless” and throw coins at me—yes, I repeat, throw coins.) But, god, I felt so much warmer. Soon, long socks became a staple of my winters.
Even now, there’s nothing more satisfying than rolling up a pair of my long socks, the kind that hug my legs and reach all the way to my knees. Ankle socks could never compare: They can’t be trusted to protect me against the biting cold of below-32-degree weather. Thank you, long socks—especially the fox-face-patterned pair I’m wearing today. You’ve shielded my legs for years, and in the chill of Providence winter, your work continues.
hot chocolate warming my hands
In high school, I’d wake up early on Saturday mornings to attend my younger siblings’ cross country meets. We’d all pile into our mother’s car before sunrise and drive to the hosting school. Some weekends, it’d be close by (Ojo Amarillo Elementary School), but other times, the drive was longer (Naschitti Elementary School). Once we arrived, it was always freezing, the cold pinching the tip of my nose and stinging the lobes of my ears. But each cross country meet featured a mini concession stand that sold boxes of popcorn, bagged pickles, water bottles, and, if we were lucky, hot chocolate.
The elderly ladies running the stand met each customer with a smile. Sometimes they’d strike up a conversation: “Ayóó desk’aaz, eh?” It’s pretty cold, huh? They were always bundled up, scarves wrapped snugly around their heads. I’d nod, rubbing my hands together. “Aoo’, it’s freezing.” Hot chocolate cost fifty cents; I’d pull out my red ladybug coin purse and hand over two quarters.
“Na’ shiyázhí.” Here, little one. I’d take the styrofoam cup gingerly, muttering a quick “thank you” before caving in to the warmth. The heat seeped through my gloves, slipped past my fingertips, and rippled down to my toes. Steam, brushing my cheeks, removed the cold sting from my nose. That tiny cup of hot chocolate turned a frigid morning into a gathering around the fireplace—all before I’d even taken my first sip. I held the cup as we walked around the track before the race, sneaking sips and sometimes passing it to my siblings, sharing the warmth of the pocket-sized hearth in my hands. In taste, feel, and smell, hot chocolate provides the best kind of comfort.
Here at Brown, the winter air bites my exposed skin, turning my nose, ears, and cheeks a harsh red. But as I walk around campus, hot chocolate keeps me warm. Whether it’s an early November meet in New Mexico or a late evening walk in Rhode Island, I send hot chocolate my thanks.
the collection of photos on my wall
I’m looking at them now: photos pasted on the wall above my desk along with notes and inspirational cards. Family smiles back at me, their joy captured and preserved. Late at night, I hear their calls—rousing me from my sleep, a low hum in my ears. Something warm passes through the air, prickling the hairs along my arm. If I focus hard enough, I can make out their voices, their laughter. Sometimes I can smell the dirt, the cooking, the cornfields, the aged carpet. Memories upon memories maintained in snapshots.
A few favorites include a photograph of my brother and me riding a bike along a ditch, him on the handlebars and me peddling; my father, caught smiling mid-blink next to his latest art piece; my shímasaní and two cousins picking corn from our fields; my grandfather, sporting black sunglasses and a white button-up, overlooking the scenic land of New Mexico.
Some of these photos are frayed at the edges or bent at the corners. But these small blemishes do nothing to diminish the love each image carries. When I reach out and touch them, their surfaces are cold and smooth, one-dimensional. But when I just sit and gaze, I’m met with warmth and comfort. A gateway to the past, a taste of what once was. For these tender moments of remembrance—amidst hectic classes, midterms, and extracurriculars—I am grateful.
Whether it’s long socks, the kind that reach my knees; hot chocolate in my hands, a tiny hearth to-go; or the collection of photos on my wall, displayed haphazardly with letters from home, I’ve never felt more grateful for the small things. And there are other joys: surprise FaceTime calls with my siblings, our best talks always unscheduled; working headphones, because one side inevitably breaks; my little sister’s painted portrait of our cat, Nicole, that I stop to admire every now and then; the pomegranates my friend Roslyn and I share, usually around 1 a.m., and so on. There are big aspects of life to be thankful for—family, friends, education, love. But sometimes, we forget that thankfulness also exists in the day-to-day, at the pocket-size.