Sam's Little Larks
PREVIOUS SAM: Where should we talk?
PRESENT SAM: Let’s go to our favorite place.
PREVIOUS and PRESENT are on Collis porch eating breakfast sandwiches.
PREVIOUS: This one?
PRESENT: The other favorite place.
PREVIOUS and PRESENT are atop Holt’s Ledge dipping carrots into hummus.
PREVIOUS: This one, then.
PRESENT: This is our favorite place. But maybe the other one?
PREVIOUS and PRESENT are toasting marshmallows on the banks of Reservoir Pond.
PRESENT: A great spot, but I was thinking —
PREVIOUS: Doesn’t “favorite” imply a superlative? Can there be more than one?
PRESENT: Having one favorite is like having one eye. You’re gonna miss some depth.
It is the last day of classes and simultaneously June 4, 2013 and May 31, 2016. PREVIOUS and PRESENT are reclined in hammocks strung between trees on a dusty bit of shore jutting into the Connecticut River. The water is like cellophane stretched taut across murky depths. There is hardly a ripple. It is golden hour. The trees are bright with faint glow sundown and bats and swallows swing low over the water catching bugs. Smoke from a woodstove hovers downstream, an apparition departing Gilman Island. Everything is so splendid that it hurts. They each crack open a beer.
PREVIOUS: To you.
PRESENT: To us, of course. You’re done with freshman year. That feels nice.
PREVIOUS: Not as nice as graduating.
PRESENT: I am certain I’d much rather be where you are.
PREVIOUS: How do you feel?
PREVIOUS: You’re done with classes, right? And that paper’s almost written. You’re in good shape.
PRESENT: Is vertigo a shape?
PREVIOUS: I’m not sure what you mean.
PRESENT: I think it’s like the bonfire.
PREVIOUS: What is?
PRESENT: Dartmouth. Four years. Like, it never seems that they leave enough time to build it. The Thursday before Homecoming there are but two pallets stacked together. And then, somehow, in hardly a day it grows and it grows and it towers and they put your class year up top. It’s your bonfire. And for four years you are running around the inferno, seeing these faces and catching the arms of friends, running a lap, running another, bright stimulating excitement and the feeling of meant-to-be. And we stay to watch it collapse. We cheer its collapse. It means the fire was hot enough and we ran long enough. Creation and destruction are so sweet in with each other. The next morning someone has cleared any ashy evidence of the pyre. You stand in the middle of the Green trying to remember what you have gained. It feels like nothing more than a sooty circle and tired legs.
PREVIOUS: You’re leaving with more than that.
PRESENT: Yes but what? I am not particularly skilled. I cannot build a motor or a car or an app. I don’t have a job or a fellowship or a boyfriend. I can open a beer bottle with a lighter, and I can make a mean Foco to-go box but what am I gonna do with that in the rest of my life? I’m occupying all this brainspace trying to parse the difference between apathy and agency and passivity and creativity. I want to do it all over. I want to fly fast out of here. I’m assuming other people feel the same. But I don’t know. I’m not them. I can only be me and that’s heartbreaking sometimes.
PREVIOUS: We had a different sort of conversation on the first day of school.
PREVIOUS: You were much more — I don’t know — reckless? You said it was okay to be late for class. You wanted me to spend way too much time at Collis. You said syllabus day is a waste and everything is predetermined and exactly what it’s supposed to be.
PREVIOUS: What happened?
PREVIOUS: That wasn’t an explanation. I actually have more questions now.
PRESENT: To be as unaccountably and inexplicably lucky as we have been is to, in turn, amplify and augment that wealth. I’m not very good with money and this is a midsize fortune.
PREVIOUS: It’s going to be okay.
PRESENT: Of course it is. It must be. Dartmouth has been the finest springboard I could leap from but I suspect the water is colder than I am used to.
PREVIOUS: But you know how to swim.
PRESENT: And if I didn’t, I couldn’t graduate.
They are quiet for a time. The night breeze is insufficient to sway their hammocks but they aren’t hoping for a windstorm. Their beer is still cold and the bats still flit.
PREVIOUS: You didn’t have any advice for me in September. Predetermined and all that. How about now?
PRESENT is silent for a long time. PREVIOUS wonders if he’s fallen asleep.
PRESENT: I think we all want to go through the looking glass but we inevitably get caught up in our own likeness and so submersion becomes impossible. But the attempt — the reflection — is worth it. It must be. Advice? I only know myself, and I am made up of small things. So. Make dinner for your friends. Make a big pot of marinara sauce and noodles enough to strangle their hunger. Eat garlic bread. Witness the concerts and performances and dances and readings of your peers. See how other people use their time. Be proud of them for it and let it affect you. Tell them that it did. Talk about your feelings. Use metaphors. Find roofs for perching but don’t perch there too long. That roof is somebody’s ceiling. Sit in the sun. Sit in the rain. Sit in the snow on a chairlift that moves too slowly. It is fast enough to get you there. Leave your phone at home. Look at people. See them. Walk around the library and see people. Walk across the Green and see people. Walk through the Hop and grab Warner Bentley’s nose. Hold on. He is yours for that moment and you can make that moment last forever but your legs will get tired and the building will close. Let the building close and thank the custodians when it does. Let the doors close and do not slam them shut. Sleep outside. Go to cabins. Do it all over and over again. The repetition will not make it routine. The repetition will make it accordion out into such beautiful and memorable music. Sing that song and teach it to your friends. They’ll contribute some verses of their own. Take a dip in the river every day. You will get wet and be better for it. Spend a golden hour with a good friend or a good book. Either will speak to you. And once the sun has set and the day’s light ceases to show you the way, do not turn on a flashlight. Darkness is natural and navigable. Take your towel from the tree and put your hammock in its stuff-sack. Pack your backpack. Put your shoes on. Walk away and concern not about whether you made the place better. Know that you have been made better. That won’t fit in your backpack but you can take it home with you, too.