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The last polar vortex had a grip on the city — and my heart

Winter weather update for the Baltimore area which includes dangerously cold temperatures.

The last time Baltimore was in the grip of the Polar Vortex was for 15 harrowing days in January of 2014. My divorce hearing at the Towson Courthouse fell on two of the coldest days Baltimore had experienced in the previous 25 years — schools closed, power lines went down, locks froze.

I had been dreading the date for months and doing everything in my power to avoid the ultimate showdown. But negotiations with my partner of almost 35 years turned out to be much like bargaining with Donald Trump: Every time I thought we had reached an agreement he would renege at the 11th hour.

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First it was the life insurance payout. Then it was the death benefit from his pension. Each time I had to retreat from my defensive position and yield territory to the enemy. I drew the line though, at his mother’s pink Oriental rug.

ast year I had a panhandling epiphany. Until then, I was one of those people who actively avoided panhandlers. Not only that, but I disparaged my friends who gave them money. Suckers!

“It’s the only memory I have of your mother,” I whined in my opening salvo, hoping to pluck on his heartstrings. “I loved your mother.” His heart was hard, but I persisted. “It’s a lady’s rug,” I finally blurted in exasperation, refusing to capitulate. Ultimately, I wore him down — he didn’t want the rug; it was just complicated to let go.

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Court opened late due to the extreme conditions, and I wondered if the hearing would be postponed. That would only have prolonged the agony; and like a root canal (OK, full disclosure: I’ve never had one), the best course of action was to face it bravely and put it behind me.

My best friend — the one who I played with in the wading pool, got grounded with as a teenager, whose kids and mine grew up together like one big dysfunctional family — grabbed my arm to keep us both upright as we slid or got blown across the empty plaza and made it to the courthouse steps. Battling against the brutal wind across that great open tundra and struggling up the icy steps was a metaphor for the ordeal I was facing inside.

The effects of the polar vortex, such as brutal cold, across Maryland included closing of public school systems, and many private schools, in Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Harford and Howard counties.

This unwelcome whirlwind gripped my heart in its glacial chill. It ripped me away from my complacency and forced me to examine the unwanted changes in my life. Like deep space matter that spins around a center to form planetary bodies, we had whirled around each other in a giddy flux for all our adult lives. But like the polar vortex that swirls around an empty eye, our core became hollowed out. After 34 years of marriage, some of them glorious, our cosmic dance was over.

It took that frigid day of reckoning to make it real, like the first spade of dirt on a grave. The dark time stretched endlessly ahead, a black hole, and I was in free fall. I was chilled in my soul, but in the deepest recesses, unknown to me, a tiny ember still glowed.

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In the early years I came to the Waverly farmers market with my husband to celebrate food and companionship. We would return to the suburbs loaded with provisions and spend the rest of the weekend cooking and eating sunshine on a plate. Later, we came just to have something to do. Finally, we came because we had nothing else to do. In the end, the market was one of the last tenuous threads that held us together.

Then one day, quite unexpectedly, spring came and thawed my heart.

Now, five years later almost to the day, the Polar Vortex is upon us again, but my life is very different. The arctic cold may be raging outside, but inside, I’m stoked. I have fanned the ember into a small, steady flame, and I have plenty of kindling to keep my fire going. I’m grateful for my second chance, and I want to experience every minute of it.

Ruth Goldstein is a freelance writer from Pikesville. She can be reached at ruthgoldstein@comcast.net.

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