I suppose I'll begin my story by saying this: it was not what I expected. There I was living in a small town just a little under an hour outside Little Rock, Arkansas... and it was snowing. Now when I say "snowing," I really mean falling from the sky in blankets, full-blown blizzard "snowing." This was the southern United States! Blizzards aren't supposed to happen! Yet, right outside my window, I saw nothing but a storm of white falling from the sky. Granted, I've seen worse growing up in New York state, but I’ll still admit that it was definitely a respectable amount of snow.
The day was December 25th. That's right, it was Christmas. I suppose you might call it a Christmas miracle if you believe in those. Me? Well, I’d like nothing more, but my rational thinking usually won't let me. You see, I’m an idealist—a dreamer—who's cursed with a strong sense of logic. In essence, I’m a house divided between my heart and my mind, a man of faith chained by his reason. God help me and all those like me.
Now, I'm not sure if it's nostalgia from my childhood growing up in white, forested mountains or maybe something more, but walking outside in the snow on a crisp winter's night has a certain... effect on my soul. I would even go so far as to call it magical. When I step out into the snow and feel that rush of the blood come from the cold in my chest, a profound sense of peace flows through every part of my spirit, and all seems right with the world. I was glad it was snowing. I needed that sense of calm and that feeling of home.
Why? Well, despite being in the military for a little under five years at that point, it was the first time I had ever truly been away from my home and most of my family during Christmas. The only reason I was even in Arkansas was because the Air Force had very recently stationed me there after my disenrollment from the US Air Force Academy... but that’s a story for another time. Still, I had always somehow managed to make it home for the holidays the four years prior... but not that year. That year, my maintenance shop told me "No-Go." Of course I had asked to take the time off, but by the time my supervisor got around to my leave request, it was already too late. The shop was shorthanded, I was one of the new guys, and they needed the manpower.
I mean, such is the life of a military man. "Service Before Self" as the Air Force says. Hooah? Hooah... I guess. Honestly, I didn't really have a reason to complain. I had been very fortunate to see my family every previous Christmas. Hey, I had just seen them a few weeks prior during Thanksgiving. Other guys I knew hadn't seen their families for much longer, some of them by choice, others because of military obligations. All things considered, I was blessed.
So, if you’re an observant reader, you may have noticed I said most of my family. You may have also noticed I’m using a very informal and personal narrative and, by doing so, possibly breaking someone’s rules how to write a "proper" story. If you're that person, you might want to stop reading now. Otherwise, you'll have to "deal with it" as the saying goes. It’s the style I've chosen for this story and... I’m letting myself get a bit sidetracked. I'll do my best to limit that to a minimum.
Refocus! Blizzard. Christmas. Miracle-like things. Yeah...
Continuing on, my mom—being the awesome mother that she is—decided that if I couldn’t go to her, then she would fly out to visit me. Again, I'm blessed in more ways than I can count. It wasn’t too much trouble, though. I was renting a two bedroom apartment with no roommate at the time, so I gave her my bed and got an air mattress... because that's what a good son does. A nice, quiet Christmas with my dearly beloved mother, or at least it would've been if it wasn't for a couple of my Air Force friends jumping into the picture.
It was actually my mom’s idea. She wanted to do the nice thing and give some of my fellow airmen who were stuck—like I had been—a delicious, home-cooked meal. It was definitely thoughtful of her, more so than I had thought to be. When I told her only two of my friends had taken me up on the offer, she was a bit skeptical. I had to explain to her how common the ‘invite other airmen into your homes for the holidays’ idea was before she actually believed me. In her defense, I've been known to be less than, uh... completely upfront with her in the past, so it’s quite understandable.
"Invite your friends," she said. "It’ll be fun," she said. Well... she was right. The two airmen who actually accepted the invitation were my closest friends in the area at the time, and with good reason: like me, they were both bronies. While most people typically refer to them by their last names—that’s a thing most military members tend to do in case you were previously unaware—I usually addressed them by their first names: Ryan and Andrew. They’re both incredibly great guys to have around, if not a little loud at times. Heh, I say that as if I’m the quiet one. Not even remotely the case.
Anyways, believe it or not, the snow almost ruined Christmas. The weather began to take a turn for the worse in the early afternoon and nearly kept both of them from making the trip to my apartment. Fortunately, they were able to brave the storm and arrive safe and sound. Once the snow actually started sticking later that evening, Andrew got the bright idea to go outside and have some fun in the winter wonderland that our previously snowless state had become. Being good brony battle buddies (I love alliteration...), Ryan and I were naturally in complete support of the idea.
So, we equipped ourselves against the elements the best we could, using things like combat boots, mechanic's gloves, and whatever jackets we had on hand. I threw on a Wonderbolts ushanka I bought at a brony convention along with my waterproof and slightly (not slightly) oversized All Purpose Environmental Clothing System (also know as APECS) jacket issued to me by the Air Force, which in my mind gave me a slight edge against the elements. However, I'd later wish I had waterproof pants and gloves instead. I’ll say this much: there is a big difference between being just cold and being cold and wet. After we geared up, we ventured out in pursuit of fun. Pure. Unmitigated. Fun.
The snow was perfect... wet and packy. Naturally, that could have only meant one thing: a snowball fight! I honestly can’t tell you how long it lasted or how cold it was. We weren't really paying attention as we ran around in those snow-filled spaces. The wet, white flakes continued to drift endlessly and softly from the night sky as we ducked and weaved in between the snow-covered cars, using them to help make our ammo. I could hear and feel snow crunch beneath my boots with every step as we ran through the lawns and yards that separated the white-topped, two-story apartments. Our snowballs flew with horrible accuracy, but that only drove us to throw more.
We became so lost in our wonder of that night that we were absolutely oblivious to how much time had actually passed, but it couldn't have been all too long before we found ourselves breathless, the freezing cold finally seizing our lungs. Tired of pelting each other with snowballs, Andrew half-joked that we should make a snowman since he had never actually made one growing up. I saw Ryan give him this skeptical sort of look, making some comment or other about there not being enough snow on the ground to do such a thing. I'm not trying to make fun of the guy, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. The many winters of my childhood gave me plenty of experience building snowmen and other snow-related structures, and let me tell you, the conditions were perfect.
Instead of trying to join their argument—excuse me, I do believe I meant friendly debate—I decided to just start working as they continued to argue over the validity of making a snowman in Arkansas... or whatever it was they were actually talking about. I wasn’t paying all that much attention to them by that point. It wasn’t long before I had a boulder of snow a little less than three feet wide rolled up to the side of the parking lot. That was when they finally noticed what I had been doing all that time. Initially, they just laughed from the unexpectedness of it all. I didn't even have to say a single word before they joined in helping me construct the first snowman either of them had ever built. Of course I had to show them a thing or two because of their lack of experience, but building a snowman really isn't that hard. It's literally child's play, not rocket science. I would know, just trust me on this one... sorry, self-indulgent squirrel moment. Back on focus!
It was around that moment when my mom took a step outside to see what exactly we had been up to in our winter shenanigans; we had been outside for quite a while and curiosity was getting the better of her. Not one of us had gone inside even once to warm up from our prolonged exposure to the cold. She couldn’t help but laugh when she saw the scene of three grown, military men building a snowman. You have to admit, some might consider it a rather odd sight to see, but it shouldn't be completely unexpected when considering the “brony” factor. I've noticed that bronies in general tend to do whatever they find fun. Too many people seem to forget what it truly means to let go have a good time as they get older. A lot of us bronies don’t really let things like self-consciousness or embarrassment stop us from enjoying ourselves, especially around each other.
Did my mother know? Oh yeah, she definitely knew I was a brony, but she didn't really get it at the time. She hadn't tried to get it either, she just accepted it. I had never been what most people would consider "normal," so she didn't give me too much fuss over the issue. That hadn't always been the case, though, as she admitted to me a little later that visit. She told me that she had tried to "help" me when I was growing up by doing what she could to make me more like everyone else. It's what our culture pressures us to do, unfortunately, rather than just accepting and loving people for who they are.
"The only thing I can do is ask for your forgiveness." That's all she could manage to say. How does someone like me say "No" to that? I couldn’t. I was just glad that her efforts to make me "normal" over the years had proven futile. I can't imagine what my life would have been like otherwise. I know this: that night would have been very different, and what was about to happen to me, what I was about to learn, would have never happened at all.
Now, somewhere along the line, Andrew got the idea to add pony ears to our little version of Frosty. Well, I suppose "little" isn't quite the right word to describe him considering the fact he was taller than either us. Regardless, we added the ears, and when we had finally completed him, pony-Frosty stood over six feet tall, had a baby carrot nose, a couple of branches from a nearby dead tree for arms, eyes and a mouth made of pennies, and a set of pony ears made of snow sitting atop his head. We made due with what we had. He certainly wasn’t the most impressive snowman ever shaped by human hands, but that didn't bother us one bit. We took some pictures, made some comments about our work, and when all was said and done, we weren't really sure what we wanted to do next. It seemed like such a wasted opportunity to just end the night there.
Well, it wasn’t long after we had finished our snowman-pony hybrid when I was struck with an absolutely brilliant idea: I was going to make a snowpony, or at least I would try. I had seen several pictures of snowponies that other people had made posted to Equestria Daily the previous winter, and I thought, "Why not give it a shot?" It would be my first snowpony. If I'm being completely honest, there was a little voice in the back of my mind telling me that I would eventually realize that I had no sculpting talent whatsoever, and that I would end up abandoning the project only partway through it’s completion, something I seemed to have a habit of doing.
Despite my doubts, I've never been one to give up without at least trying, so I began my work after we all went inside to warm up for a bit. It wasn’t much longer than ten minutes or so until I was back out in the cold, alone and unsure I'd be able to complete the task I was about to start, but before I could begin, I had to find the right place to work. Fortunately, I didn't have to go far. I found a nice, open spot behind my particular apartment with plenty of snow and well-lit by the building's lights. It also happened to be close to a treeline, only fifteen or so feet away, but that just meant more building material and maybe a little less sun to melt my work once morning came around.
With my workplace set, I rolled up what I thought was a sufficiently-sized cylindrical mound of snow to use as the framework for the body, and started sculpting. I first focused on shaping the plot simply because it seemed the least complicated. Yes, yes... I know some of you are probably laughing at that. "He said plot. Ha, ha, ha." Get it out of your systems now. Finished? Good. From there, I worked my way back to the tail. In all seriousness, that was when I first began to feel like I might actually be able to accomplish my goal. The tail actually looked something like an actual pony’s tail from the show.
Eventually, my brony battle buddies joined me in the snow and saw what I had managed to complete on my own. Of course Ryan and Andrew were willing to help me make a snowpony, but when they saw the quality and detail of what I was attempting, they expressed concerns that the project was beyond the reach of their talents. Rather than risk ruining the final result, they were instead content to watch me work for a short while before going back inside the warm and cozy apartment. Did that bother me? Honestly? Not one bit. If you'll forgive the pun, I was glad to take the reins. I was fueled by my inspiration and kept warm by the fire of creativity that was now burning bright inside me... I have my poetic moments.
All the while, the snow continued to fall through that cold, dark night as I slowly and carefully crafted my snowpony. After I finished with the tail and the plot, I went on to systematically molded each part of the body, piece by piece. If I'm being completely upfront with you, I didn't have a plan. I simply focused on the section that was immediately in front of me. I never looked further ahead for fear of being overwhelmed just as my friends had been by the magnitude of the project that I had begun. When I finished with one part, I moved on to the next, making it up as I went along. Looking back on it, it all feels right, strangely enough. Maybe sometimes art is just supposed to happen with nothing but vague inspiration as your guide, and you simply work it out as you go along.
Gradually, I worked my way to the hind legs, the chest, the front legs, the neck, and finally the head and mane. Each patch of snow was placed and shaped with the utmost care in a never-ending cycle of packing and shaving. With each scoop of snow taken in my gloves, every body part, every feature, every curve was shaped and reshaped with the highest of diligence, caution, and determination as the mound of white laying before me painstakingly became a pony.
My gloves were almost soaked from the snow and my hands were beginning to ache from the cold, not to mention that the legs of my pants were becoming nearly just as frozen and wet, but I was consumed in the inferno of my imagination and the passion for my project. I was an artist enraptured by his work. I labored for hours on end, working tirelessly to bring that pony to life. She wasn’t just a whim anymore, she was my pony, and I would be damned if I wasn’t going to give her life.
And then at last... she was complete. Midway through molding her, I had jokingly made the comment—aloud to no one but myself as I often do from time to time—that I would name her Snowflake: The Prettiest of the Snowponies. Now that she was finished, the name just felt right, with the exception of the cute little title. That had just been me being my normal, silly self. I took a moment to step back and admire my work.
I had tried my best to make her life-sized. It was difficult to tell from the references provided by the show, but there was enough fan-created content out there to know that I was at least close to what most bronies would consider a pony’s actual size. If anything, she might've been a little larger than your average pony. I hadn't given her any distinctive features, like a cutie mark, eyes, or mouth. I had a feeling that trying to carve out such intricate details large and deep enough to make them visible in her white form was far too risky, but I was happy without them. The curves of her body flowed elegantly and seamlessly from one part to the next, and even though she wasn't without her flaws, she had turned out better than I ever dared to hope. She was my first sculpture after all. Regardless of any imperfections, I was still proud of her. An artist's love for their work is a little something like what I'd imagine a parent's love for their child feels like, though almost certainly not as deep.
Despite the fact it was still snowing, I started to brush off some of the loose snow that had fallen and covered Snowflake in a thin blanket. As I ran my hand across her back, feeling every curve and cleft I had so carefully crafted through my gloves, it almost felt as though I was actually brushing the coat of an actual pony from Equestria. Not just any pony, my pony, a pony I had an intimate connection with. I realize how ridiculous that must sound, but I knew that she was probably the closest I would ever get to the real thing, and that thought actually sent a ping of sadness echoing through the depths my heart.
Pathetic right? I was a twenty-three year-old military man, and there I was kneeling out in the slush and snow wishing that the pony in front of me was real. Is it really so misguided for me to long for a place as perfect as Equestria? Is it wrong to want to know one of its purehearted, adorable little ponies? I know I’m idealizing it a lot. If the series has shown us anything, it's that Equestria isn't perfect, nor are all of its ponies, but you have to admit that it tends to look like a better place than our world is most of the time.
Let's face facts. Our world had me growing up between two houses; our world had me bullied and rejected when I was just a hurting kid who didn't fit in; our world had just recently taken the chance to crush the dreams I had been working towards for most of my life when I hit a wall at the Academy. Did some good come from all that bad? Did I become a stronger, better person from those hardships? Were there still plenty of opportunities ahead of me? Of course, but even so... when a dream breaks, a part of your soul shatters with it, and it's not easy picking up the pieces. That’s the part of me that longed for Equestria most of all, the part that was still broken.
At the time, my moment of introspection was over as quickly as it began, and I made my way inside to let everyone know that my work was done. They were all just as surprised as I was that my snowpony had turned out so well, and the expected praise and pictures followed. I even grabbed my digital camera and took quite a few pictures of my own because I certainly wanted to save Snowflake somehow. No one lingered for too long, however. It was already past midnight, and we were all ready to hit the hay after a long and snow-filled Christmas day. The three of them began walking towards the door to my apartment to go to bed, but I stayed behind. I wanted to spend a little more time with my masterpiece.
Soon enough, I found myself outside and alone again with only Snowflake to keep me company. I took a few last pictures and video of the sculpture that I had worked so hard to create over the last few hours. I knew that she wouldn't last long—it was Arkansas after all—and I wanted to be sure to preserve her memory the best I could.
With the batteries in my camera running on low, I decided it was finally time for me to call it a night. The fact that my pants and gloves were far past uncomfortably soaked and that my was body beginning to shiver uncontrollably from being so cold were also contributing factors. As I mentioned earlier, there's a big difference between dry cold and wet cold. Not to mention it was getting quite late, and there was still a slight chance I had to report into work for swing shift the following afternoon if the snow hadn't caused too many problems, which wasn't likely. Southern United States, remember?
I took one last moment to give a final look down at the pony that I had spent several cold, dark, and damp hours to create. I turned off my nearly-dead digital camera and placed it in one of my jacket pockets as the snow still continued to fall softly and silently around me. It made for a very peaceful calm, and I once again found myself feeling that same twinge of sadness and longing from earlier. In a very intimate (and potentially embarrassing) moment, I dropped onto one of my knees, put two of my fingers to my lips in a kiss, and touched them to her forehead. I closed my eyes for a second as I knelt in the slurry of snow, and wished harder than I had ever wished for anything before that Snowflake could somehow become real, even if it was only for that one night. Of course, when I opened my eyes, she remained nothing but the same snowpony that she had been when I closed them. Realistically, I'm not sure what else I expected.
With no real reason to linger any longer, I got up, turned my back to Snowflake—to everything I wished could be true—and began the short walk to my apartment's front door. I faintly heard the sound of crunching snow nearby, but I didn't think much of it. Being so close to the treeline, I had been hearing similar sounds all evening as the heavy snow fell from the branches. Then a soft, unmistakably feminine giggle, a sound I had not heard throughout the evening, came from somewhere behind me and just barely reached my ears through the chilled night air, but it wasn't until I heard the voice actually speak that it managed to catch hold of my attention.
“Wait! Please don’t go,” it had pleaded.
The sound had been as delicate and soft as the falling snow, and it had stopped me dead in my tracks. I slowly turned around to see who had called out to me in such a sweet, heart-melting tone, not quite sure what I'd find. My eyes went wide and my mouth moved without a sound as I tried to find my words, but I was at a complete loss.
“Aren't you going to say something?” she asked.