Her name was Kathryn but I called her Katie. I called her Katie because I had known her since the age of four, back when she was young and innocent enough to really enjoy being called Katie. The name was conjugated often over Katie's long road to adulthood, and I was there to witness them all: first to 'Kathy' in junior high, shortened to 'Kath' for a short period her freshman year, then to the full 'Kathryn' during high school, back to 'Katie' during college when she completely freaked out about becoming an adult, followed by a disastrous three years in New York as 'Kat,' doing cocaine every night and hanging out with horrible off-off-Broadway actors. Now we're both thirty and she is simply 'Kate' to most, a fairly good columnist in San Francisco for a fairly famous web zine which I'm told I'm not supposed to mention but you can always find them in the 'salon,' wink-wink.

Katie and I had a ritual that we solemnly undertook for most of our childhoods -- the first serious snowfall of the year, each year, we would both emerge from our houses, blinking in the harsh sunlight, and we would build a snowman together. I'm not sure exactly when this cycle of construction began, but I imagine it was in first grade. When you're a kid, of course, the only snowfall that counts as 'serious' is the one that gets you out of school. As a result, our bulbous manlike creatures were in many ways our version of a golden idol being offered up to the benevolent snow gods for giving us this blessed day off of school. I mean, that's not we actually thought when we were seven. We were just more like, "Yay! We're out of school! Let's build a snowman!"

But sure enough, the erection of that snow man over the years really did become a ritual to us, as sure a part of our metaphysical lives as our weekly forced participation in local churches. (Catholic for she; Southern Baptist for me.) Katie was always jealous of me for being a Baptist, because Baptists never had any homework. Katie would regale me of horror stories about the Catholic church, about all these prayers she had to memorize, and this complicated choreographed dance she had to learn -- sit, kneel, kneel, sit, eat the cookie, drink the wine, do the (performer makes Catholic cross over his heart) thing, oh my God, this isn't how the Baptist church worked. When you were ready to become a Baptist you simply stood up in your pew one Sunday and yelled, "I feel the spirit!" And then they dunked your head under the water and you were finished. No rosaries. No confessionals.

But I digress.

Katie and I used to build these snowmen together. And at a certain point in junior high it was actually formalized into a real ritual, with rules and traditions and a sense of obligation -- the first snowfall of the year that produced enough snow in which to build a snowman. And, well, it had to be the right kind of snow as well. There were two kinds of snow where I grew up - wet snow and dry snow. To this day I still don't know what makes wet snow and dry snow different from each other, but when you're a kid you can just pick up a handful and instantly know. Wet snow will stick together and make a snowball, dry snow just flakes apart again when you open your hand and it's of no fucking use whatsoever. Snow activities were a BIG part of the neighborhood where I grew up. I lived in a community full of children, off in a quiet subdivision in a small midwestern town. I lived in what is commonly referred to as "the suburbs," which apparently, from the modern media's standpoint, was a veritable cesspool in the eighth level of hell, a vacuous cultural wasteland that breeds only dysfunction, complacency and guests for Jerry Springer.

But I gotta tell you, my childhood in the suburbs wasn't bad at all. I mean, what ten-year-old wants to deal with the pain and anguish of the postmodern urban lifestyle? No ten year olds, that's who. Ten year olds want to ride their bikes and hang out with their friends and go to the pool and play in the snow. And we did a lot of playing in the snow. We had the act of sledding down to a fine art in my neighborhood. We lived on the very edge of a golf course, whose steepest hill on Hole 14 would become overrun with rambunctious children every December through February. The older kids would come out with buckets of water and form these ice slides down the left side of the hill, complete with a packed-down ramp at the end just in case you hadn't broken your arm yet.

Katie and I's commitment to the snowman ritual held up for many years. My mom, in fact, dutifully documented each year's original creation with the aid of her Polaroid camera. Not too long ago I was looking over the fading photographs, stuck in a blue felt scrapbook and shelved away in my parents' basement, next to the GI Joes and the Atari 2600 and about five full years' worth of Dynamite magazines. There was 1980, when we decided to pull off our own little Easter Island by mysteriously constructing a snowman taller than our heads. Did it work? Yes it did. How did we do it? I ain't telling. 1981, the following year, we decided to go the opposite direction and build an entire little community of snowmen across the front yard, none of them taller than a foot. We had about thirty of them -- a snow choir, snow shoppers, even a snow cop chasing a snow robber. 1982, the year after that, Katie and I got into a huge fight that afternoon as we were building our snowman, and she snuck over that night with a bucket of boiling water and melted the entire thing to the ground. Mom got a picture of even that one, after my smartass dad was finished making a body outline in the snow out of black electrical tape.

The ritual continued throughout high school, culminating in our senior-year creation of a snowman giving the finger, constructed with the blessing of my parents but not necessarily of the rest of the neighborhood. After graduation, though, Katie and I headed off to separate colleges, mine the four-year state university, hers a small private liberal arts college on the east coast. It became harder and harder to synchronize our time together during the holidays, and eventually the snowman ritual simply shrank up and vanished. We lose a lot during the ages of 18 to 22, even as we gain so much more. Your freshman year it's all long-distance phone calls to all your high school buddies, and big blowout parties during summer vacation when you're all back home, and by your senior year you can't even remember why you ever hung out with those people in the first place. Such is the way of the world, I suppose.

There's only been two times Katie and I have made snowmen since we both graduated from college. The first was four years ago, at the end of her "I'm going by Kat and doing cocaine every night in New York City" phase. She happened to be visiting her parents for the holidays at the same time that year as I was, and she swung by the house one afternoon and asked coyly if I wanted to make a snowman. We drove around the neighborhood and got high in my parents' shit-brown 1978 Mercury Marquis -- the same Mercury Marquis, incidentally, where I received my first handjob, from Debbie Bertlemann when I was 17 and she was 14. Fourteen years old and giving handjobs -- can you believe it? I remember Katie laying down in the snow that day and making a sloppy, stoned snow angel next to the formless lump which was the sad result of us trying to make a snowman while on drugs. I watched her wriggle around, accidentally pushing the snow up into her trendy black leather jacket without realizing it. She closed her eyes tightly and asked if the world really was the bleak, meaningless void she had come to believe, or was she just having a bad year? I told her she was having a bad year. Then I told her she really needed to stop doing so much cocaine. She sighed and said yes, yes she did.

The second time as an adult I made a snowman with Katie was actually just this past December. Once again we were home at the same time for Christmas -- it was fun and hectic at my parents' home this holiday because my brother and his wife came in, and they live in Washington DC and don't usually get to make the trip. Katie came over one day to visit, and she looked...God, she looked old. Not old old, but she looked firmly like a grown-up, not the girl I had known almost my entire life. She had wrinkles around her eyes. Which made me realize that I have wrinkles around my eyes as well, it's just that I never notice them because they came into being so gradually.

We smiled at each other, and then I asked if she'd like to go out and build a snowman. She said of course she would. My brother's four-year-old daughter came out and helped us last year, 'help' of course being a highly subjective term when it comes to a four-year-old. There was no talk of our lives that day, no endless examination of our inner souls and how they deal with the ennui of our doomed existences. There was only us, the snow, the sky, the uniquely melancholy joy of building something with your own two hands that is destined to destroy itself, like a sand castle or an ice sculpture. There was a small child running around, who apparently finds the rubbing of snow into hair as the most fascinating experience in the entire myriad of human activity. There was you. And there was me. And there was the silent stoicism of our majestic man of snow, appearing magically in the Decembers we really need him, there to chase the dark spirits from our door at the moments we most need protection from them.

I'm glad that you were able to chase your demons away, Katie. If you ever feel them beckoning again, come visit me in Chicago and we'll make a snowman any time you want.