Cracked, repaired


By Sarah Harris

Published On: Dec 7, 2020

Last Updated On: Sep 28, 2022

The telltale signs of winter have arrived here in Northern New England. It’s dark by late afternoon. The promise of snow hangs heavy in the air. My body is a barometer too, and I can tell the season just by looking at my hands. Winter is when my skin cracks. 

When the temperature drops into the 20s and 30s and the radiators clang to life to puff heat into the air, I invariably come apart at the seams. My skin morphs into a desert-scape, dry and crackling. Fissures run like deep ravines at the creases of my knuckles, the corners of my lips, even behind my knees. I notice them most when I’m in motion – yawning wide, lunging forward, cracking my knuckles. CRRRRACK. I squeeze a lemon, or bite into something spicy, and ZING! The sting is sharp, searing, and immediate – a reminder that I am not, as I would like people to believe, invincible. 

Fissured skin is unlike other less bothersome manifestations of eczema. It demands immediate attention: a thick cream to comfort the skin and keep it from cracking further. A bandage to provide a barrier that keeps germs out and makes flexing, extension, and contact a little less painful. When my skin cracks, I take more care than usual. I rub in the cream on my hands, and pull on a well-worn pair of cotton gloves to hold in the moisture. It was only in the last couple years that I realized these gloves didn’t have to make me feel slow and clumsy. At the advice of a NEA community member, I took a pair of scissors and snipped the fingertips off my gloves, which made it easier to text and type.

This past summer my husband and I moved back to Vermont. It was one of those Covid-19 homecomings, driven by all that quarantine laid bare for us. We learned so much in 2020. We learned how social isolation can strain a marriage and exact a steep psychological toll. We learned how open space can calm you in the presence of chaos and uncertainty. We realized that California, once a garden of delight and possibility, was thousands of miles from most of our friends and family. The pandemic surfaced so many of our deeper layers. It exposed our cracks.  

Our cross-country move unfolded quickly. We alerted our employers, who generously let us bring our jobs back east with us. We gave notice on our apartment, reserved U-Haul pods, and booked Airbnbs. We packed our boxes, our car, our cats into their carriers, and we hit the road. I cried as we drove out of Los Angeles and into the desert. I hated that this door was closing, but I had to believe we were moving towards something better. It was, I now see, an urgent investment in ourselves and a profound act of self-care.

Since then, we’ve been knitting ourselves back together. We bought an old yellow house in a small town. We have invested in the luxuries we’ve come to prioritize: space, land and time. We’ve reclaimed what we came so close to losing: laughter, and silliness and spur-of-the-moment joy. Covid-19 surges on and our world remains small. We work and make dinner, watch TV and go for walks. But I’m no longer crippled by how small it all is. Instead I’m grateful that amidst the global swirl of chaos, I can find ordinary ways to keep our joy alive.   

This pandemic winter, you will find me at home. I will be wearing my cotton gloves, trying to keep my skin well against the cold. I will be doing the work of keepings life in perspective. Because things will inevitably crack. But the best things are worth repairing.

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