I met him in a Literary Analysis class my first semester of college. It was January, 2004. I had just finished my time in the military---I served as a U.S Air Force medic for 5 years straight out of high school. I remember only signing up for the minimum twelve hours required for full-time study because I was so terrified of failing. I had never been to college before, I had no idea what to do, surrounded by sleepy 18 year olds. Only my roommate-like-a-brother guided me along the way, taking me to this office and that, filling out paperwork, showing me how to get from one class to another on time. I rode a really cheap bike to school that eventually got stolen and had a love of 1940's wool coats. I was 23.
I remember sitting in that class in a circle, as the professor, who took a strange liking to my novice writing, had asked her small group of students to do. I noticed him on the very first day, as he would appear to me the next four months: in a corner, quietly reading his assignments clearly for a philosophy class, head bent down under an old baseball cap, wearing a hip-but-not-trying-to-be-hip grandfather button down shirt. He was lanky; over six feet tall and had razor burn. He was 21.
The course was from 8-8:50, Monday-Wednesday-Friday. I went to every one. He tended to miss at least one a week. He didn't care. I noticed. Sometimes, I would glance over at him, while our odd, old, worn professor was waxing on about the lack of published female writers in the 19th century, and find him staring, his hand tightly folded against his mouth. He would blush and look away, attempting to seem irritated.
He rarely spoke, only laughed with the two guys who were always cracking jokes, somehow finding ways to even warm up our cold professor. Sometimes they would make us all laugh so much we'd be holding our stomachs; I'd glance at him and see him wiping tears away, he was laughing so hard. There was also a classical musician and creative writing major in the class. The musician made me uncomfortable and yet somehow finagled my number from me and I somehow always accidentally answered when he called. I had no interest in him. The creative writer was genuinely kind and very good looking. We got along swimmingly, but I knew he was gay. All the guys in the class disliked him because all they saw was Zach talking with all the girls and making them laugh.
But I thought about my tall classmate sometimes, even mentioned him to my roommate, in passing. There was not much to say. There's an interesting guy in my Lit class but I don't know why I find him interesting because we've never spoken? Maybe not.
One day he asked me if he could read the paper I'd just gotten back. It was my first. Ever. In college. I didn't want to give it to anyone to read, let alone him. I said yes.
He took me to the basement of the library, where all of the published dissertations and other old forgotten manuscripts and articles were. We sat next to each other in one of the wall desks. He handed me his paper to read, I handed him mine. I was eager for pointers, considering that I'd heard he was an English-Philosophy major. He chuckled and said, She gave you an A. That's good, you deserved it. I had no idea what I was doing there. He could write. She gave him a B. Why did he want to see my paper and then tell me something like that?
We talked for 3 hours. We asked each other about our families, our lives. I could sense we'd been raised political opposites, but the conversation flowed easily. I'd been going through a paradigm shift since, oh-I-don't-know-9/11, but was having a hard time finding my real voice. I secretly questioned and criticized everything. Nothing made sense to me any longer politically or religiously. I felt angry and vulnerable. Like most college students, I suppose. But I was also just out of the military, feeling angry and vulnerable for other reasons. We shared our personal insights and hopes and dreams. He wanted to be a writer, he wasn't sure how it would work out, but that's what he wanted the most. I was passionate about working with impoverished groups, providing healthcare to the most marginalized. We gave each other space in that quiet basement to be ourselves, no one watching or listening but us.
I went home and told my roommate about him, The Guy In My Lit Class. He was worried about an upcoming exam; he barely heard me. My heart wasn't soaring, but I looked forward to feeling that I'd made an interesting friend. The next class, when I said "hi" he responded and looked away. The next few classes, he left as quickly as he could, ensuring our only contact be with our eyes. I was hurt.
I soon met a C-130 pilot. I didn't like him because he was a pilot. I thought I fell for him mostly because he was a Catholic, and also a bit disheveled and silly. I just got out of the Air Force; he was familiar, but what I needed most was disheveled and silly---seemingly perfect. We quietly started to sort-of-but-not-really-see each other, even though he was in the midst of a divorce that my naiveté was too naive to realize was a terrible idea. He seemed complicated in a sweet way. I laugh to myself now about learning what the term rebound means the hard way---and how dating is simultaneously so easy and difficult in your early twenties.