The biggest smiles

DOC first-year trips 2011, J59 (plus Simba), on Franconia Ridge.
DOC first-year trips 2011, J59 (plus Simba), on Franconia Ridge.

I don’t remember much about Torin’s memorial service at Dartmouth, but the flashes I have are vivid: Prof. Mueller recalling a recent email he’d received, saying “Here ya go”  in his heavy accent. The bone-crushing grip of one of my teammate’s hands in mine. Realizing that I had no idea he liked Hemingway, and wondering if these things crystallize after we are gone and can no longer present quite such a multifaceted version of ourselves. Candle flames flickering to life on Baker Lawn. Lots of awkward silence at the microphone in Collis afterwards, until somebody finally decided to tell the bacon grease story. Hugs from Cathy and other Collis Cafe workers, with whom I had previously only talked about my oatmeal.

I remember us saying over and over, “This is the weirdest-looking funeral ever,” because the front 50-ish seats were taken up by green-mohawked men and pink-haired women in suits and skirts, bright green jackets draped over their chairs.

Mostly I remember the laughter, at all the funny and heartwarming stories people had to share about him, and the togetherness and compassion among my teammates and fellow students in the months that followed. And that’s right, because remembering anyone by their funeral is like going to a five-star restaurant and only remembering the brand of toilet paper in the bathroom. Regardless of how nice it is, you’re kind of missing the point.

***

I’m not going to write a long piece memorializing Torin. I couldn’t a year ago, even in my private journal, and I can’t now. Anything I try to write seems totally inadequate. But I have to write something, and I want it to be public this time. So here are a few things I remember about Torin.

***

First-year trips, the second night of camping (the night in Leverone Field House doesn’t count). We’d just hiked Franconia Ridge, having Tripsgiving lunch on top of the highest peak, courtesy of VOX crew. We got a picture with Simba, the friendly, pony-tailed guy on a vision quest who lent us his WhisperLite stove the night before (our old Trangia was having a hard time heating the refried beans for burritos) and played Ninja while my co-leader and I cooked. The second night, we had mac and cheese, cleaned everything up, and were sitting under the canopy of tarps that the freshmen had rigged up.

Following the DOC Trip Leader Manual, I suggested we play a game with some of the remaining jellybeans. (Side note: these guys loved their jellybeans. It’s a good thing I brought two extra bags.) Each color corresponded to a type of story (red = romantic, blue = embarrassing, green = travel, stuff like that), and we’d take turns drawing jellybeans out of the bag and telling stories.

When Torin’s turn came, he drew a red jellybean and proceeded to tell a simple, heartwarmingly-adorable story about meeting a girl when he was fifteen or sixteen on a family vacation and asking her out on a date. I won’t go into the details, but I remember sitting there and being so impressed and touched by his willingness to put himself out there, to be emotionally vulnerable with a group of people he had literally met two days ago. It takes serious courage to do that, and I remember this kind of courage coming through over and over again when I remember Torin.

***

It’s Thursday afternoon, January 30th, two days before the Craftsbury Marathon. A bunch of skiers are sitting in the basement of Robinson Hall, doing homework or procrastinating thereon. Torin was trying to finish up a problem set for Prof. Mueller’s physics class before the deadline. I was trying to help one of the girls in Intro Physics II with a Gauss’s Law problem, but having a hard time remembering exactly how to solve it. He asked me for help on the last bit of one of his problems and I told him to hang on a bit. Torin walked over to my very frustrated teammate and helped me explain the problem to her so she could solve it. When I helped him solve his own physics problem, he looked up from his paper. “Thanks Laurel, you’re a genius,” he said, beaming at me.

***

That’s what we all kept coming back to: Torin’s smile. It was definitely distinctive, and I saw a lot of it in the two and a half years in which we were teammates at Dartmouth. It’s funny, the things you remember about people. For Torin, I think of Trips, and passion for skiing, and his smile, and kindness, and courage. That’s fitting, I guess. As I reflect on a year passing since his death, I think I’ll try to bring some more of that kind of spirit into my own interactions with people. After all, I’d rather celebrate his life than sit around moping. That’s kind of what I’m doing right now, so I’ll close this post.

Miss you, Bucket.

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