Clair McFarland: Home Air Conditioning And The Stages Of Hypothermia

in Clair McFarland/Column

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

I can’t control the weather, OK? 

Yes, the Wyoming year is a cradle swinging too close to the fireplace then too close to the frosty window, endlessly, over a dirt floor jutted with cacti. And yes I love it, but that doesn’t make it my fault.  

We’ve been in the fire lately, so The Husband would call me every morning at 11 to remind me of it.  

“Did you shut all the windows and blinds?” 

“… Yes,” I said, tugging the last window shade down with my toes while gripping the phone in one hand and a mug of hot ramen in the other.  

“Did you turn on the swamp cooler?” he asked.  

“Not yet,” I said, rushing outside to flick the swamp cooler switch on.  

My bare feet minced across the hot planks; the sun crept into my skin. I closed my eyes, bathing them in the smooth lava glow of my sunward eyelids.  

“Did you go back inside and open the swamp-cooler window?” asked The Husband.  

I thudded across the deck, back into the house and dragged the sliding window open for the humid, roaring jet stream.  

“Yep,” I finally answered.  

The Husband sighed. “Aren’t you excited to have air conditioning in a few days?”  

“Sure,” I murmured, sticking my upper half into the washing machine to peel away some chewing gum caked to its barrel.  

But the truth is, I thought the home air conditioning was a myth. Sure, The Husband had an outdoor fan installed a couple months ago. He also spent a lot of time monkeying about with some shiny, square metal tubes down in our basement.  

I washed dishes and sang folk songs with our sons, wondering just how much fun The Husband was having downstairs sticking his sparkly tube maze to the ceiling.  

Then he came upstairs and carved neat rectangles into each room’s floor, fixing metal vents into the holes as he went.  

“Oh honey, you’d better not do that,” I said.  

He looked at me like I had four heads.  

“Lots of LEGOs will go missing,” I explained.  

But The Husband just shook his head and went back to his man-project. His labored groans echoed up through the new vents as he angled the pieces together and drove screws into their sharp overlapping hems.  

“Sure sounds exciting down there!” I chirped through the vent.  

“MMMGGGHH!” agreed The Husband.  

Then came Monday. The Husband turned the air conditioning on. The thermostat, whose unholy blue glow splashed drunkenly across the floor, was linked to his smartphone.  

Holding my wellbeing in his hand, The Husband set the day’s temperature and left for work, whistling.  

My skin cinched into bullet points. My joints gelatinized. Complex words and ideas slipped out of my head, leaving a dull weary hunger and the glug-glugging of my intimate pulse.  

That’s the first stage of hypothermia.  

I called The Husband to let him know the end was near.  

“But Clair,” he protested. “It’s a whopping 69 degrees in there. You should be fine.”  

“P-p-please,” I chattered. “Turn it up to 75?” 

“Nah, put on a sweater,” he said.  

See, all the seasons suit me because my brownish skin fades and darkens with their passing, welcoming or dampening the sun as needed. There’s no need for air conditioning and in fact, there may be some human rights violations in the whole barbaric torture ritual of chilling one’s skin below its proper acclimation level.  

The Husband does not acclimate. He’s the inverse of a bear, preferring to hide in a dark cave all summer and hunt for bargains and helpless sandwiches all winter.  

I swam into The Husband’s biggest sweatshirt. My eyes shifted slowly, trailing blurred traces of the world like tadpoles across my vision pool. My heart stuttered. My brain boomeranged in its cage.  

That’s the second phase of hypothermia.  

Two of my boys were delighted… Two were miserable.  

“Wow, Mom, do you FEEL that?” asked my firstborn son with a grin. “Feels pretty good in here, huh?” 

My eyes glazed over.  

My middle-born son nodded. “Yeah, no more sticky swamp cooler.” He stretched his pale toes, revealing the fine pearly webbed crescents between them.   

My lungs crackled. My ears grew hot.   

Just then, the twins waddled into my office.  

“Mama,” began the big, sweet twin. “We’re cold.”  

The little, feisty twin clung to Big-Sweet’s arm with his skinny brown fingers.  

“Can we snuggle?” asked Little-Feisty.  

“Yes, dear,” I chattered. “We must all cling together and share body heat.”  

The twins and I sank together onto my office floor, knowing that if we froze on this particular July Monday, at least we’d be surrounded by books, clasped in each other’s arms, hallucinating about inept swamp coolers.  

Middleborn hmph’ed.  

“Lame,” he said, turning to Firstborn. “Let’s go get some popsicles.”  

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