This is a story I wrote during my MIT years. Except for a small change to obscure the name’s of some lotus eaters, I have resisted the urge to edit the writings of my teenage self. Enjoy.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that January in 1985. It wasn’t just Sydney. It wasn’t just Ross and it wasn’t just the snow; it was everything. This was my first real vacation in two years. Naturally it was time to party, and party I did.
I remember watching Sydney’s svelte frame dancing as coloured lights played off her long blond hair. I remember laughing with my new friend Ross, laughing like I hadn’t laughed since before my brother’s death. But most of all I remember the trip to the ranch.
Ross had invited Sydney, five other friends and me down to his ranch for the weekend. It was a very special trip home for me. True I had never been to Ross’s Ranch before but I am a Texan. For us home is not one house or one city but a whole land. I suppose this is why I like Ross so much. We are both very Texan. We both know how to ride horses, we both know the frustration of putting up barbed wire fences, we both know the loneliness of hearing the wind blow across the Texas plains on a hot summer day. Most of all we both have a strong love for our land. All of this allowed me to form a very close relationship with someone I had only know a few days.
The trip was a great adventure for all of us. Driving to the ranch involved fitting eight of us into a pickup truck and driving not just on the highway but on a two mile stretch of mud which had once been a dirt road before the rain began earlier that day.
The two miles seemed to be about two hours as we trudged ahead (at somewhere between one and five m.p.h.) occasionally seeing the eyes of deer glowing in the headlights. Sydney’s boyfriend Greg and her roommate Doug road out back to aid the trucks traction. The remainder of us got to listen to Ross tell a ghost story. It goes like this:
Long ago in a small Texas town a beautiful Spanish girl was getting ready for her wedding. Her parents had got her a very elegant wedding dress. It was very long and was a delicate white. The church bells were ringing and the whole town was gathered at the church. Everybody that is except the groom. They waited for hours but finally the bride’s parents were forced to cancel the wedding. Upon hearing this the already upset girl lost her senses and ran out of the church and into the countryside looking for her husband to be. In her confused state she ran near a rattler which bit her on the ankle. Within twenty minutes the girl was dead. Two days later a cowboy reported seeing a white figure, sobbing in grief, running across the land. Similar reports followed. Ross said that even to this day people see this white apparition flowing across the Texas plains in the middle of the night.
By the end of the story we were almost halfway to the ranch house. We made it without too may problems. The house was very cold so after unpacking and watching a movie on the VCR the eight of us went to sleep on two mattresses we had put on the floor of the room in the middle of the house.
I awoke the next day to a great surprise. It had snowed; all around the house all I could see what white and grey – white land and grey sky. We were in South Texas about an hour away from the Mexican border and it had snowed. And it hadn’t just snowed on us. According to the radio it had snowed two feet on the Alamo! This had not happened in one hundred years. The eight of us were overwhelmed by the historical significance of that special day. To celebrate, some of us decided to drop some acid. We also decided to go outside and look around. In about an hour everybody was dressed up in all the clothes they had brought. Sydney wore an electric red rain slicker and a baseball cap. She and her friend Becky look like real outdoors people. I had on a green army helmet with a purple Indian scarf covering my ears. Greg said I look like and Asian soldier. All the other boys looked like typical Texans with cowboy boots and flannel shirts.
Outside things were beautiful. Small yellow flowers poked out of the ground preserved in cases of ice. I could clearly see the leaves and stems of each plant. They looked as if they would be preserved for ever; never changing. Birds moved slowly because of the cold. So slowly that Becky even caught one. Later in the day I saw an image on the ground of what I imagined to be a smiling snow God. It was as if he had come and tried to freeze time by sucking the warmth and energy out of the land. He did not stop time but he did slow it down. For some reason I felt that he slowed it down for me.
At first I thought building a bonfire was a stupid idea without any meaning, but later I changed my mind and helped the others out. When we finished I had a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. I think the rest of the group did too. Greg said “isn’t this incredible? Regardless of what kind of environment man is put in he will always conquer the elements around him. It’s his nature.” It was true. On a freezing day, in the middle of nowhere we had started from scratch and recreated what man is most famous for: fire. It was then that I learned that though in one way fire is meaningless just as life can be meaningless in another way it is important. It was important then because I decided to give it meaning. The lesson of the day was: life is what I make of it and that for me its significance comes from setting and realizing goals – turning fantasy into reality – forcing the element of nature to conform to my will. But this is not unusual . After all it is human nature.
Not only did I learn a great deal that day, I had fun too. At one point Ross and I decided to feed the deer on the land. We got big pails, filled them with corn and starting at the ranch house began walking towards the mesquite throwing out handfuls of the beautiful yellow kernels. What we were doing was almost a form of modern art. Everything around us was dull and grey and we were throwing the golden coloured kernels all over the ground. It was like splashing bright paint on a white canvas.
Later in the day four of us went to watch a small pond freeze while the rest cooked some lunch. True the pond was a long ways away and it would take a while to freeze, but we were tripping so we didn’t mind. The crystal structures would form across the pond and the entire layer of ice would move upward a few millimeters leaving a pocket of air and water underneath. By stepping on the ice we could move the air around. So we amused ourselves by jumping around on the ice for about thirty minutes. At one point I misjudged it’s thickness and got my shoe wet. Though not exactly thesis material THIS was scientific observation at its best!
All the while this was going on we noticed a small but bright speck in the distance near the ranch house. As it got bigger we recognized Sydney. Soon we saw that she was carrying something. We figure that she had come all the way out here to bring us some lunch. Sydney arrived beaming. She proudly present an icy brown box and said “look y’all. Corny dogs!” Why she was so happy I will never understand. Syndey had brought us a box of frozen, uncooked, totally useless cornydogs. It wasn’t that she forgot to cook them. She was just like a little child who wanted to show of her new discovery. To have Sydney walk all the way over to the pond with a box of frozen corny dogs was really funny… At least we thought so.
That night we sat around the fire. It was still snowing but we were very warm. Sydney was walking around with a little pot of beans and feeding them to all of us. I felt wonderful. I was together with my friends, I was happy I was home. But then things changed. Suddenly, with fist clenched and tears brimming from my eyes, I wanted to hold on to that moment and never ever let it go. This feeling was even more intense because I felt the snow god’s spell melting and knew that with each passing second this moment of my life was coming closer to its end. Then, as if she had heard my thoughts, Sydney said “hey wouldn’t it be great if sometime in the future when we were lonely or sad – when things aren’t going well if we could stop for a moment. Turn. And be here; just turn, and be here. It would be just like stepping into a photograph.” I agreed and comforted by the thought relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the weekend.
Now it’s been a long time since that weekend at the ranch. Ross is across the sea studying in Spain. Sydney is at home but I’m far away in a strange place called New England. I don’t know when I will see either of them or my home again. Every now and then things get really bad and I get very depressed. During these rough times Sydney’s words come back to me like a voice carried on the dusty Texas wind. Then I pause for a minute and I slowly turn on my left foot… It is snowing, cool air chills my face. Sydney is standing there with her red jacket on looking like a camp fire girl, and Ross is sitting by my side. For just a little while I’m there and things are all right.