Winter Survival Guide
Breakups are a bummer, but breaking up in Seattle, in the winter, is a goddamn nightmare. A few years ago, I became friends with Sarah and John—a couple who'd been together three years and majorly had their shit together, as they say. They were engaged and good at mowing the lawn and cleaning out the fridge and planning for their future; they juggled grad school, two dogs, teaching jobs, and car payments. I squeaked into their lives just in time to be invited to their wedding, and I always thought of them as a couple, an entity.
After they married, they moved a few times and finally bought a house. When I went through a breakup, I felt lucky to remain a part of their rock-solid lives. While I still felt like a teenager who couldn't properly make a bed, they were making their own concrete countertops for their kitchen in the house they owned. Because that's something you can do, MAKE YOUR OWN COUNTERTOPS. They wrote their initials in the wet cement so underneath the counter it read S + J = ♥.
It's hard to know exactly how it happens. Couples fight. Sometimes a lot. And no one ever knows how much fighting is normal. S and J seemed to have the healthy relationship bases covered—they squabbled, sure, but went to counseling on the regular. In their eighth year together, the house was coming along and plans for babies were in the works. But then one day late last November, without warning, John told Sarah he was leaving. He made her some ravioli and left.
The news floored me. No way. No fucking way! Sarah was hysterical.
That first night, she lay on top of the concrete countertops, on top of the part that hid the S + J = ♥, and sobbed. My heart broke for her, for them, and I braced myself for the worst winter ever. What if brilliant, strong, beautiful S was never the same again? Divorces can destroy people, right? The news came right after a few other close friends also went through monumental breakups, and I felt selfish for my own depression creeping in. We were all getting so old, so grown-up and sad. And it was fucking freezing outside.
For the next few weeks, Sarah would wake up, sob for 15 minutes, put pants on, and then sob for another 20 minutes before being able to put a shirt on. Friends brought over candy, flowers, food; we gave good advice, shitty advice, stayed the night, anything she needed. She was hardly ever alone. Pretty quickly the mood shifted from devastated and heartbroken to "Let's all go buy glittery hair pom-poms and matching fake fur jackets!" and "You don't have nearly enough hot-pink lipstick on!" A month after John left, Sarah found Hot Tub Mike on Craigslist and sent him an e-mail, inquiring about his hot tub for sale. He called her immediately and told her she could come get the hot tub that very afternoon. A few hours later, she met him at a giant garage; he drove up in a Mustang convertible with a kid in the back.
Inside, the garage was piled to the roof with Jet Skis, sleds, lawn mowers, saws, and HOT TUBS! One hot tub sat in the corner, already filled with water. She dipped her hand in and the water was hot. She told him that if he included delivery and setup in the price, and if she could get it installed before December 31, they had a deal. (Since hot tubs take days to heat up initially, and probably also since Sarah is beautiful, Hot Tub Mike invited her to a hot tub New Year's party at his house. She declined.)
The arrival of the hot tub was just as exciting for Sarah as it was for all of her friends—at this point, we'd become a sort of family, rallying around Sarah, rallying around each other, dedicated to the cause of not being depressed. Clearly the hot tub needed a name. Alliteration seemed necessary, for sure—Glitter Gulch and Sequin Spa almost made the cut, but ultimately Sparkle Springs had the best ring to it. Sparkle Springs! A real hot tub in a real backyard in the Central District. It doesn't matter if it's raining or snowing if you're sitting in a hot tub. Have you ever been in a hot tub in the snow?
The hot tub christening was extravagant. Sarah said the one thing she knew was that a hot-tub-warming party would need cake and pink champagne. She picked out the prettiest cake at QFC and asked the woman at the counter if she could write SPARKLE SPRINGS on it with frosting. "Is this what you wanted?" the woman asked minutes later, holding out the cake, having misspelled it SPARKEL SPRINGS. Sarah replied, "It's perfect." The hot tub would be known as Sparkel Springs (pronounced Sparkelle) from then on. Technically it was meant to hold six, but the hot-tub-warming party featured 16 people piled in, winning it a slogan: SPARKEL SPRINGS: EVERYBODY TOUCHES. You just can't sit in a hot tub with more than six people and not touch, a detail made more hilarious and weird since everyone was basically in their underwear or less.
Later we marveled at the world of waterproof toys and gadgets we'd discovered online—it was like this secret society of tan, happy '80s people with waterproof light-up boom boxes. "Psssst, do you need a tiny plastic floating fountain that changes colors every few minutes?" the luxurious '80s people asked through the internet. "You've come to the right place [saxophone riff plays sexily]."
Winter revolved around the hot tub. The rules were simple: No food except grapes, no glass, and no handjobs. A friend made a T-shirt with the last rule painted on the front. Another friend built an impressive screen in the backyard to project rom-coms and football games onto. Sarah bought a set of lockers for her basement to help the droves of friends who came over keep track of their many towels and bathing suits (a hot tub in winter makes you mighty popular). Communal piles of flip-flops in every size were available to ease the icy walk from the house to the tub. Perhaps due to its, uh, origins, the hot tub had some electrical problems that would cause the water temperature to drop after a while. At that point, nothing could faze us. We devised a system of boiling pots of water to pour into the tub—if you got up to go to the bathroom, it was expected that you either put a pot on or took one off on your way back. At the end of the night, a few die-hard buds would often sit in the tub until it became the same temperature as our bodies, smoking spliffs, just talking and talking. One night, as we watched the temperature drop from 104 degrees to 98, a friend muttered, "We're like human ice cubes, cooling down the water."
The hot tub—in all its tacky, wonderful, opulent, ridiculous glory—changed our lives that winter. One night at Sparkel Springs, John texted Sarah to ask, "How are you?" She responded simply, with just a photo: 16 friends in a hot tub, everybody touching. One of the guys in that hot tub? He and Sarah are now dating. The other day, Sarah said, out of the blue, "Remember how fun my divorce was?"