Why March Is the Worst

I was visiting with some friends not long ago and the conversation turned to their youthful adventures with alcohol. I don’t drink, so sat quietly listening to their stories, having nothing to add that wouldn’t make me seem prudish. Eventually, one of my friends asked if I had ever been drunk. No, I told him, never had been. I did confess to a weak moment on my 40th birthday when the idea of getting drunk, just once, tempted me, but then I remembered something Garrison Keillor had said and ­decided against it: “March is the month God created to show people who don’t drink what a hangover is like.” The last thing I need is more March in my life.

It’s an odd coincidence that the worst month of the year, March, is smack dab up against the best month of the year, April. March is soggy winter, cold and gloomy, mud, gray skies, rain down the neck, slush over the tops of shoes. April is the bud on the dogwood, crocuses in the Vornholts’ side yard, pansies planted in the town flowerpots by Ray from the street department. March is the fevered, tossing nightmare. April is waking up and realizing the nightmare wasn’t true, that all is good with the world. April is God’s apology for March, the divine kiss on the existential boo-boo.

Every February, glimpsing March on the horizon, I say to my wife, “Let’s go somewhere warm and sunny next month.”

“I have to work,” she says.

“You have lots of sick days saved up,” I point out. “Let’s go to Tucson and you can phone in sick each morning. They’ll never know.”

“You’re my minister,” she says. “You shouldn’t be encouraging me to lie.”

My wife is too religious for my own good.

We’re still nine long years away from retirement, so are stuck with nine more Marches, which makes me want to leap off the tallest building in our town. Unfortunately, that’s only two stories tall, so I’d probably just break a few bones and lie there on the sidewalk feeling like March, dull and depressed. Ray from the street department, installing the flowerpots, would step over me.

Every February, glimpsing March on the horizon, I say to my wife, “Let’s go somewhere warm and sunny next month.”

Ray is in high spirits in March. The big snows have come to an end, so he can sleep through the night. No more rising at three to clear the streets. He takes the plow off the town truck, so if snow should arrive uninvited, it has to find the exit door without any help from Ray. He drives the sweeper up and down the streets, removing the sand he spent the previous three months spreading, stopping to inspect each storm drain, anticipating April’s showers. Before our town bought a sweeper, those same showers swept away the sand, but now Ray has interrupted nature’s cycle, which is mostly what he does the year round — removing the snow and then the sand, clipping the grass, rearranging earth, trimming the tree, lighting the dark.

I suppose if I had Ray’s job, I would enjoy March more than I do. He spends the entire month boxing it about the head and shoulders, a jab here, a hook there, until March is stretched out flat on the canvas. I don’t have Ray’s agility and fortitude, so March sneaks in an uppercut and knocks me cold. Every single year.

I come to in April, nudged back to life by the scents and sounds of spring. I feel as if I escaped my winter’s shell and think this is how cicadas must feel, emerging from their husks to go forth and dance and mate and whatever else it is cicadas do once they have shed their brittle armor. It is joy beyond measure to leave behind my wintry cover, to pull off my long johns and shave my beard, to burn the last few pieces of firewood in the kitchen stove, and having moved the clock forward in March, witness the expanded light of April.

There are those people who drink to forget March, but I’m not one of them, fearing I would forget April too, which is more tragedy than I could bear.

Philip Gulley is the author of A Place Called Hope.

This article is featured in the March/April 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.