Carrie had a boyfriend. Someone she knew from High School.
We never saw him, but we heard all about him.
Then, one night, she showed up crying. He'd dumped her by letter. Couldn't even wait until they saw each other. Couldn't call her (although it was before cell phones, back when long distance still meant anything).
She waved the letter and we looked at it. It was filled with typos and grammatical mistakes. Someone said "he's an illiterate dope, you're better off without him." This made Carrie cry even more.
I took her for a walk. We went down the hill. To the statehouse with the big fluffy lawn.
I made her roll downhill on the lawn. This momentarily made her feel better.
And we walked back up the hill.
"I never thought we'd be together forever," she said. "But I thought we'd make it to New Year's Eve."
And she started to cry again.
I wanted to hug her, but I didn't. Instead I distracted her with a story about a girl I knew in High School.
It was a funny story. And it made her laugh.
But she would have rather had the hug.
When we got back to the dorms, she thanked me for the walk. Then she hugged me.
"Maybe you and I should hang out later," Carrie said.
And I nodded. I wanted that too.
But I didn't want to swoop in after she'd been dumped.
And it was right before finals.
So I didn't do anything about it.
And then Carrie started dating this guy named Marc. And whenever she saw me, she'd give me a sad smile.
A smile that seemed to say "you should've hugged me."
A girl who lived in the Rockies and hated the lack of snow in New England my freshman year of college.
But then it snowed overnight. And that made her happier than I'd ever seen her.
"We should go sledding. Down that big hill near the sports center," she said.
But we were college freshmen and we didn't have sleds. Or anything that could pass for sleds.
Still, I wasn't about to let her go without sledding, especially since the idea made her light up so much (and since her lighting up made everyone we knew happy as well).
So I hatched a plan. (Okay, more of a scheme than a plan.)
We'd sneak hard-plastic cafeteria trays from the dining hall, use them as sleds, and return them later.
But it turns out the workers didn't want us taking the trays out of the dining hall.
So elaborate plans were drawn up.
Diversions were planned and executed.
Trays were tucked into backpacks and under shirts.
And our small group, 11 guilty-looking nerds and the girl who grew up in the Rockies, tried to hurry through the door and out into the fresh snow.
But just before we made it to freedom, the seemingly ancient woman who guarded the door called out: "Stop."
And we all stopped. We sheepishly turned back, prepared to give up the trays.
The girl from the Rockies stepped forward. She started to speak. I knew she'd take the blame for all of us.
But the seemingly ancient woman waved her off with one wrinkled hand. "Do you think I'm stupid?" she asked.
We shook our heads and shuffled our feet.
"Good," she said. "When you remember this, remember that I was nice to you."
We stood there, unsure what she meant until she added "You better bring all those trays back this evening."
And we did.
Years later, I remember the snowfall and the act of sneaking the trays out of the dining hall. I remember the girl from the Rockies. But as much as I search my memory, I can't recall the actual sledding.
But maybe that's okay.
Because right before we brought the trays back, she took me aside, and she kissed me and she thanked me for being the only one who understood what the snow meant to her.
And talking about poetry. The lines of a haiku. The imagery of the Beats. The way a stanza stretches and curves to accommodate the listener. The fragrant sultry popping of P words and the lush liquid sound of the Ls.
Long after she's gone, the conversation lingers.
And you sit in bed at night, listening to the world. Wondering if she's listening to or if she's at another party. Enchanting the guests with her talk of poetry, her poetry of talk.
Or is she obvlivious? Spreading her gospel of poetry, then moving on to the cool ascetic prose of a monastic life?
It's hard to know.
But not impossible.
Years later, I saw her at another party.
Talking sonnets to the hostess.
So I asked her about the poetry, about the effects on the other guests, about the ascetic prose.
And she swept up her hair, curled a long length behind her ear, and looked at me quizzically. "I just like poetry," she said. "There's nothing magical or amazing about it, I just like poetry."
And she turned back to the hostess. And I saw she was still wearing the knee-high boots.
And I knew she was wrong.
Which somehow, at that moment, was the most beautiful and sad poetry of all.