They met each other in a philosophy course, the first semester of their second year in college. They then shared a Portuguese class, then an English literature class, then a cultural studies course about Chicano literature and art. They never sat next to each other in class, but they often worked on homework together. Their last semester, they had a pottery class together. In the pottery studio, they often worked on their pieces at the same time. They would listen to music on the beat-up, clay-smeared CD player some grad student had left there. He would play Tom Waits, and she didn’t like it. She would play The Pixies, and he didn’t like it. He would play Prince or she would play Atmosphere, and they both enjoyed it.
They went to the same parties, some of the same concerts. They would sometimes run into each other at a campus bar or pizzeria, but they rarely talked to each other on these occasions. He was with a girl named Alexa, she was with a guy named Mark.
During their last year at college, they would sometimes go for coffee in the late afternoon. They argued about movies. She thought Jarmusch was worthless; Kurosawa didn’t connect with him. They discussed immigration policy, public funding for the arts, Camus vs. Sartre, public vs. private schools. They argued about whether Wisconsin or Vermont produced better cheese, about whether one could truly enjoy Mariah Carey while sober, about whether she had received a fair grade for her project in a course about immigration in America since the 1960s. She didn’t like Hemingway, he detested Chilean poetry. He thought Sebastian Joe’s had the best ice cream, she was a die-hard believer in Izzy’s.
After graduation, she broke up with Mark, he broke up with Alexa. They spent a summer canoeing and cycling on the weekends, between job interviews and apartment hunting and the general mayhem of post-college uncertainty. They both briefly considered sleeping with each other, but the thought created a storm of doubt and fear over what it might mean for their friendship. They never told each other that maybe there existed something more than just a platonic relationship. Instead, they would go grocery shopping at midnight, granola and peaches and soy milk loaded into the back of his ‘92 Accord wagon. Sometimes after grocery shopping they would drive for a few hours through the empty city streets, the windows down and 89.3 FM softly emanating from the radio speakers. They traded novels; he lent her Alice Munro, she lent him John Updike. Sometimes in the early evenings they would sit and read together on her porch, he on a lounge chair and she on the porch swing, listening to the buzz of summer cicadas and sipping on cold white wine.
They both found jobs that better suited their newly minted professional skills. He moved to Kansas City, she moved to Miami. They wrote letters to each other. In his letters, he complained about the Baptists, the monochromatic and uninteresting people, the disappointing arts scene, the lack of decent coffee shops. In her letters, she complained about the heat, the crime, the swarms of sweaty fratboys from Maryland, and the unrealistic body aesthetic standards. He was with a girl named Suzie, she was with a guy named Carlo.
She sent him postcards of Florida’s sunny beaches. He went on solo road trips through the Ozarks and sent her odd postcards from forgotten little towns in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Some weekends she drove to a beach near St. Petersburg to watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico, strumming her guitar while sitting in the sand.
After a few years, they both moved back to Minneapolis. They started going to trivia nights together, trying to reconnect with old friends they both had left behind. They complained together about the cold weather, the lack of Cuban sandwiches, the lack of good ribs.
One December night, they went to trivia with three other friends from college, but afterwards they didn’t want to go their separate ways. He was living in an apartment building in St. Louis Park, she was renting in a house a block away from MCAD. They walked together in the snow to another bar down the street. She thought about putting her hands inside the pockets of his thick winter coat. He thought about brushing the snowflakes from her light brown curly hair that peeked outside of her cap. She gripped his elbow, he turned his head so he could smell her shampoo, his nose and upper lip just barely touching the top of her head. They entered the bar, staring at the floor, and slid into a wooden booth. They ordered pints of Surly, but barely sipped at them. They talked about the snow, her new hairstyle, his new glasses. They reminisced about bad roommates, bad professors, kegs of beer gone bad, bad weekends working until close at the sandwich shop. They laughed about the time he fell out of a canoe during a weekend at Lake Independence. They laughed about the time she sang “Walking On Sunshine” during karaoke night and puked two lines into the chorus. In the hazy half-light of the bar, he concentrated on the cream-colored line of her cheek, just under the shadow of her eyes. He felt heat, he felt himself being dared to do something, and it was slowly being revealed all over his face. She felt much the same way, but was doing a much better job at concealing it, and looked on with amusement at his uncertainty.
At 12:54 AM, they left the bar, making vague statements about going their separate ways for the evening. Three steps outside the door, she hooked an arm around his waist. He wobbled slightly, then bent his head down to whisper something into her ear. She smiled. In the background, the distant roar of a city plow truck accompanied their padded bootsteps on the frosty sidewalk.