The fire pits outside the Sadler Center are broken. Three out of four, that is. One of them works, although it is turned off promptly at 10 p.m. on nights when it is even turned on to begin with at all. Yet all four still sit on the terrace or their lonely patch of grass, draped in white cloth, useless and ghostly.
Useless like a lot of things this semester. Like the water fountains in my dorm, or some of the awkward protocols and rules we nod our heads at so we can keep walking forward. An over seven-day turnaround time on census COVID-19 test results? No problem here.
Ghostly. Like the hallways of my dorm that creak and squeak when handles are turned but never feel the ricochet of laughter like they use to when it was emitted from the common spaces where boys and ghouls used to gather.
Surprisingly, the fire pits seem to only require some new AAA batteries to be fixed. In their conception, they were a delightful solution to the problem of indoor congregation. In their execution, they are but symbols of false hope.
We all want to socialize outside whenever possible. It’s the safest way. But, when it’s 30 degrees or colder out I find that my peers from below the Mason-Dixon Line have a hard time putting on their boots and coats and untangling themselves from the blankets sprawled across their bed.
The fire pits flickered like hope for me before coming to campus. Though I’ve excitingly recommending them to the business fraternity, AKPsi, as a way we could socialize outside: we’ve yet to have a good opportunity to capitalize on the assets that have already been depleted of the minuscule charge in their AAA batteries.
Thankfully, Campus Recreation and Tribe Adventures — a saving grace on this campus — decided to offer moonlit nighttime hikes to campfires in the Matoaka Woods. Real logs crackling while free hot chocolate is poured is an entire experience: an improvement over an electric fire.
After this offering, the embers of hope return to my eyes and this time the flames are not bound by the power of a AAA battery.
I’m scheduled to go next Friday with two of my funniest friends on campus. We plan to tell ghost stories about another friend from our freshman year who hasn’t returned since the pandemic began. We’ve heard little from him since dropping him off from our spring break trip to the Outer Banks last March: the moment before the other shoe dropped. Our old friend has been reduced to nothing but a ghost of semesters past — squashed under the shoe of a pandemic poltergeist. The less funny of my two funniest pals, during a twilight walk to Colonial Williamsburg last weekend, attempted to convince me our old friend wasn’t even real. Whether he was just gaslighting me that our long-lost fourth musketeer was now a ghost or foreshadowing that our vanished friend will never materialize out from under his white cloth hiding him from appearing in my life again: who’s to know?
I’m just hoping the campfires at Matoaka don’t need AAA batteries.
Addendum, February 26: They found some batteries. Good on them. However, the cold weather is almost at a close, and sadly I never saw the fires available in January nor early and mid-February, which is when they were most needed to encourage outdoor gathering. Good ideas. Late execution. Just like the census testing results. Need some Red Bull, College of William and Mary?
Taylor Robertson ‘23 is from Lynchburg, Virginia. He is a member of the business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, and the social fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha. An intended finance major and creative writing minor: this is his first time ever submitting work for publication. Thankfully, the fires were fixed a few days after writing this piece (batteries obtained!) and he enjoyed their light and warmth three nights in a row, once by happenstance sharing a fire and roaring conversation with a fellow Jane Austen fan. Email Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.