Remembering Winter


I had a student named Winter.

Winter Laughter.

I remember the day I saw the name on my roster.

I smiled. I imagined a young mother holding a baby boy

on a frigid icy day. He was wrapped against sub-zero winds.

He was tiny. Dark eyes peered from the blanket, taking in

the vast prairie view. Blinking.

Winter Laughter was a lanky teen, just at that stage of starting

to fill out. To find muscle. To know his own strength. He squinted

sideways, distrust in each glance, arms folded tight across his front

when he finally sat himself in the furthest seat at the end of the table.

His whole self yelled, “Don’t touch me. Don’t come near me. Stay back!”

Teaching teens, you learn to respect that. Sometimes it comes with harsh,

angry language. Sometimes with cold stares. Sometimes with bodies folded

in on themselves for safety. Sometimes with fear or anger bubbling or bursting.

Rarely with laughter.

The journey from infant-wrapped-against-the-cold to young-man-angry-with-the-world

is long and short at the same time.

It doesn’t help to have to deal with alcoholism, meth, and the suicides of friends.

It doesn’t help to be one of the kids not made for school, forced to be in school, 

devoted to learning nothing as a desperate revenge.

To expect a tinkling giggle breathed out in frozen vapor

from an infant in his mother’s embrace is, perhaps, romanticism at its best.

Or, at its worst.


Winter is tough out here on the prairies. Only the strong survive.

It is sometimes too much to laugh at what life sends your way.

It is just too hard to draw in a breath, to hold one’s sides, to gasp for air,

to chuckle, chortle, giggle, guffaw.

On a cold December night just days before Christmas

(Does your family do Christmas? You never said.)

the sirens announced another death. This one was not from COVID. 

Your little brother heard a bang.

He found you behind the shed, making the snow deep red with your blood.

The cops wrapped you in a blanket.

Your mom held you close, rocking you back and forth.

Pieta with beer on her breath.

No laughter here tonight.