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When I think about Yale, I think of a boy in a long dark coat. It’s an image that feels old-fashioned already, but Yale always felt old-fashioned, even unreal to me. So many things—the architecture, the bells, and especially the boys—seemed straight out of a short story about college. When I first got there I noticed boys with hair that fell into their eyes. As the weather grew colder they appeared on Cross Campus wearing long, dark overcoats. The boys at my high school had worn parkas, but now here were these older boys, these young men, with soft sleeves and frayed collars. I assumed that any boy in a long dark coat read poetry and spoke Latin.
I remember walking across Old Campus with one of them. We had met in Intensive Beginning Greek, a setting so appropriately named for romance that I’m tempted to make up something else. This boy had come in late: I looked up from my notebook and there he was, the edge of his scarf brushing my desk. I remember the smell of cold air that sprang from him and the look of his knuckles as they swung in front of my eyes. There was something about him that was so careless and over-confident, so debonair and insecure, that I almost started laughing.
A few days later we walked across Old Campus. I can still picture his messy dorm room, with copies of Penthouse and The Economist thrown into a corner.
Why is your room so depressing? I asked.
Why do you always wear black? He answered.
I remember we ate at Poco Loco, and at the Old Heidelberg. This was the time when I wore long, dangly, literature-major earrings and a lipstick called Raspberry Glace. We slept very late. We studied Greek together. We went to movies at York Square. My friends weren’t crazy about him. There was my roommate, and there was the girl who lived next door. The three of us spent hours together in the dining hall, downing cups of coffee that tasted like cigarettes and bowls of cottage cheese, which we called college cheese. Eventually, the boy and I stopped getting along.
Can’t we agree to disagree? He said.
No, I said, without a trace of irony.
My friends and I moved off-campus. I went to the Anchor bar and drank vodka and cranberry juice. I had Friday lunches at a Chinese restaurant with literary people from the literary magazine. I went to parties in the Taft. I ate cookies at the Elizabethan Club. I fell in love with someone else. During this time the Talking Heads album “Stop Making Sense” played at every single party I went to, and sometimes in the early morning, walking home along Park Street, I thought that this strange but not unwelcome senselessness I was experiencing would last my entire life.
It lasted a long time. I spent a lot of nights reading at Sterling. When I couldn’t work, I roamed the stacks. Turning a corner, I’d catch sight of a lone student, scribbling graffiti with a ball-point pen onto the waxy, resistant surface of a desk. I remember the flickering hallways and colorless floors. They stretched on for miles, throwing mirages of slippery light always just a few steps in front of me.
I left Yale and moved to New York. A couple of years later, the boy I’d met in Greek class died. He was studying in England, and on his way home for Christmas his plane was bombed. I read about it in the newspaper. Although we'd barely spoken to each other since my freshman year, I still thought about him now and then. I still think about him. He died so young. When I think about Yale I think about him, a boy in a long dark coat. I’m reminded that being in love with a place is a lot like being in love with a person.
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