First Snow In New Haven

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

There was a tradition, I suppose it must have been a tradition, although we felt as though we were the ones who had invented it, that all work ceased as soon as there was enough snow on the ground to cover the bent brown grass, and that everyone who had been working came outside, to the quad at the center of the campus, and assaulted each other with snowballs and handfuls of snow. All the fear we had built up in months of work—fear that the paper would never be finished, the equations never solved, that we would never be done with what we had set out to do, lightheartedly, in the warm weeks at the beginning of the fall—was let out in an hour-long explosion of violence and yelling and snow-chafed skin. The snow distracted us from our work, but without the snow, the work would never have got finished. It was only on that December afternoon that we could see past it, to a life that wasn’t consumed by our private inward efforts, a life with people in it, and moving around, and sound, human sound, which was all the more distinct because the snow had silenced everything else.

I met Gabby on the quad, and when we had fought enough, we ran to the top of the hill behind the engineering building, where other people had already stolen trays from the dining hall, and were sledding on them, down the hill, almost into the parked snow-covered cars at the bottom, and running up again, their faces flushed. Somehow we found trays (the fact that there were enough trays for everyone, even though the number of actual tray-thieves was certainly small, and they could only carry so many trays each, seemed to me at the time, and still seems, evidence that the world is still capable of producing miracles) and we fell downhill, feet-first, head-first, ass-first, watching the ground rush towards us and rush away behind us, like a train that doesn’t stop in the station where you wait. We stopped and stood up, shaking our hands, looking around as though it was amazing that everything could move so quickly and then stop. It was almost dark, and the snow was still falling, orange in the streetlights at the foot of the hill, white in the college lights at the top.

That was when… no. It’s two in the morning as I write this, and it’s begun to rain, and the people in this story have all been gone for many years, and just for a moment I want to leave the snow as it is, falling, covering our footprints, making it seem as though no one has been here. I want to imagine a world without tracks, without history, just for a moment. In that world—which is, I think, the only one where miracles might happen—there’s nothing but weather, and the sound of voices, of people who are no longer afraid raising their voices.

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