Celine had learned to keep her hair cropped short in the winter so that it was easier to dry. Going to bed with a wet head promised a cold by morning. She pulled her grandpa’s sweatshirt over her long-sleeve blouse, liking—always having liked—how the heavy sleeves hung down over her long, fully extended fingers. She must look like a child in a cartoon, the way the thing swallowed her up. Next, she tied her wool scarf around her neck, the same way she might idly tie a strand of grass round a dandelion. This part of her wardrobe must look silly too, she thought, because she’d never learned how to tie a scarf properly. That’s if there even was such a thing as a proper way to tie a scarf. She zipped her heavy winter coat on next, but the waistline of her sweatshirt still hung out past the coat, absurdly.
Celine was wearing two pairs of jogging pants over a pair of long underwear—the underwear was an idea that a cold breeze had whispered into her ear. She pulled a snow-hat down over her ears and gloves over her winter-rasped hands. She never dared to raise her apartment’s thermostat above fifty-five at night; if she did, she’d have to miss a meal.
No TV, but she kept a small reading lamp with snails she had stenciled all over the lampshade beside the fold-out couch her parents had given her. Other than that, she only had a chair and a little end table, so she didn’t ever risk tripping when she walked through the dim of her house, and her eyes seemed to have evolved to drink up the dark anyway. As she settled down into bed and pulled the sheets around her and clicked her lamp on and grabbed the collected works of Flannery O’Connor up from the floor, she wondered if one day she might wake up blind like a fish in a cave. She smirked, turned a page clumsily thanks to her gloved hand.
If you were to ask the young woman why she lived so sparsely, she’d laugh faux-cynically and say that, well, she didn’t choose to be modest, per say. And that was true. She expected that if she had landed a receptionist gig which paid more than minimum wage and that if she didn’t have a house’s worth of school loans to pay back, she’d live more extravagantly.
But her heart had ennobled her new lifestyle, called her choices “sacrifices,” made a “home” out of her sparse resources and her tiny apartment. So she didn’t mind that her place was always dim or that she’d gotten her shower time down to a minute and a half. She felt a sense of pride for not owning a television. She’d tell you that this sounds cliché, but, honestly, when she walked into a warm building now, the warmth was warmer. She had never really understood warmth until this year, when she had set out on her own, when she didn’t just have warmth and instead had to earn it. She understood the preciousness of energy, its limits and its gifts. She coveted every joule and because she did not waste, she could tell herself without irony or much doubt that she really was doing something worthwhile, something good. Celine thought that probably when she eventually moved up or out, she’d keep her current habits. There was something nourishing about the idea of her small but nevertheless real and important sacrifices, the sense of nobility she felt. Like reading through a difficult story and working to parse out its meaning all on her own. Like generating your own answer.