Many years ago, twenty to be exact, a huge snowstorm hit the East Coast. It covered Northern Virginia, where I am from (and am currently stranded), with several feet of snow. I was eight years old. My parents were both law enforcement officers and so they worked during the day. Because all the schools were shut down they left with my grandmother (whose house I am currently stranded at). I remember the snowplows had created this massive hill just outside her house, right where the sidewalk ended. I managed to climb up it with my little eight-year-old legs. I stood atop this wintry hill and surveyed my kingdom. My grandmother came outside and took a picture.
When I graduated from school four months later, she presented me with a sort of display board containing all my little kid achievements / awards from that year. She had my awards shrunk so they all fit on the same page and were displayed in this poster-thing. My mother hung it on the wall. Anyway in the center is that picture of me standing on the mountain of snow from the blizzard of ’96. Below it she wrote: “TOP OF THE HEAP!”
In the last two days a similar storm hit Northern Virginia. As I said above, it is almost twenty years to the date. I was eight then, I am two days away from being twenty-eight now. The snow came down hard all day yesterday and all day today. Dante and I stayed inside and read books and drank hot beverages and brooded well into the night. As near as I can tell the snow never let up in all that time. At 11 p.m. tonight it finally tapered off.
I do not have any winter clothes, and the heaviest jacket I have is my old black denim jacket. I suited up anyway. I had to take the garbage out.
I was able to jump down ten stairs and land safely in snow so deep it came up to my waist. By the time I made it across the parking lot and onto where I believe the sidewalk used to be, I was completely out of breath. I was totally exhausted. I trudged on anyway—a stinking bag of garbage in my right hand compelled me to.
I looked around. There were no footprints anywhere. I was the only person who had faced the arctic wasteland since the snow let up. I looked at all the windows in my grandmother’s complex . . . all of them dark. I was probably the only person awake. Which is good because I am sure I looked totally insane hopping through the snow with this black bag swinging everywhere.
On the way back I noticed there was an enormous white hill in the same spot where it had been twenty years ago—back when I was Top Of The Heap. I climbed it. It took great effort. The snow had not yet hardened and so my feet went straight through to the bottom. The top was much thicker and I could stand on it. I looked around. My grandmother’s kitchen light was on. I had been inside minutes before drinking hot tea and reading ‘Moby-Dick.’ It was the only light on in the entire complex. My grandmother wasn’t inside anymore—just Dante.
It was dark and the wind was cold. The snow which had clung to my jeans was freezing up. There was snow in my shoes. My face was numb. Without my army-issue wool cap my newly shaven head would have been numb as well. I was standing in the exact same spot as I had been all those years ago. I looked around and saw a dead and frozen place. No one was there to take a picture so I took a picture myself. I set a timer and stood back. I looked at the picture afterwards. I saw the ghostly outline of sad, lonely little man who is very much not the top of the heap any longer.