Eleven years ago I met Alex. He had just moved from San Jose to Washington, hoping for a change of scenery. Inside his suitcases were broken flip flops and faded t-shirts, but he remembers the weight of the baggage to be a lot heavier. Both of us were working at a coffee shop that boasts a nippleless mermaid. I was his superior, of course. On his days off, he’d come in to grab a coffee before heading to the climbing gym. Many people might have thought “oh cool, he’s a climber, that’s hot” (remember this is 2006ish and Ms. Hilton was the bees knees). Mostly, I couldn’t get past the auburn colored Puma jumpsuit and pristine tennis shoes. This was not someone I would have even noticed had we not worked closely together three days a week. I suppose Alex could say the same for me, minus the jumpsuit. “Bat-shìt-crazy” was the term he used to describe me. Maybe it was the “no customer, I will not put fifteen pumps of carmel in your mocha because that would put you in a diabetic comatose and then I couldn’t live with myself” remarks made daily? Or perhaps it was the unpredictable outbursts of song and dance with the mop that screamed “cray?” Needless to say, neither of us felt particularly compelled to one another.
One day, Alex asked me to try out rock climbing and because there was zero pressure to impress him, I agreed. Like all people new to the sport, I was horrible. Flailing, pawing and slamming my body against the wall I was certainly fulfilling my role as least impressive friend. We spent the next few weeks climbing together or in my case, falling off the wall over and over again. At one point I attempted to get Alex a date with another girl who was giving him the eyes but for some strange reason he ignored her desperate gazes. My ignorance avaded me and I ignored all the Alex’s subliminal messages. Until one day, it clicked. Holy shit, I think this California bro wants to be more than just friends! For many days, I considered the situation:
Inside Jenna’s brain
Okay, Alex wants to take this up a notch. He totally lingered with that last hug. He texts me just to say “good morning.” That’s got to mean something. Sure, he’s incredibly attractive but he showers daily and doesn’t have a beard. I can’t smell his b.o. and he doesn’t know anything about climate change. This would never work. We are just too different. He’s too tan. He wants to go backpacking? Climbing? Whoa, slow down. Dreaming about a partner who wants to do those things with me is one thing, but actually finding that person is just bonkers. What does he see in me? Oh my god, he’s trying to cross off the “bat-shìt-crazy girlfriend” checkbox. I’m just another pawn in Alex’s beautifully tan and giant eyebrowed game.
A day later, Alex and I made it official. There were some events that occurred before the actual acknowledgment of boyfriend-girlfriend status that only the closest of friends know about. That information is locked away in a safe surrunoded by hot lava, hungry hippos and a haze of Ivanka Trump’s perfume.
Eleven years later and we are still together. Alex has retired the jumpsuit and I’ve thrown away most of the crazy. Our relationship is entirely different than it was back then. Both of us have grown immensely. Alex took his sweet time figuring out the big picture and I took equally long to love myself. At times, loving one another was very hard to do. It’s incredibly diffcult to be intentional with your love towards someone when you are consumed with insecurities. Through it all, one thing has not changed; our adventures together. I plan them, pack for them and set the alarm. When it’s time to strap on our packs and hit the trail, Alex commits himself fully and carries an emergency dose of support and encouragement. I am notorious for planning ambitious objectives and when that ambition morphs into regret thirteen miles in, Alex is always prepared to bust out the emergency rations. Sometimes they come in forms of cheesy jokes, other times they are the silent agreements that while we trudge up this steep ass hill, no one will dare utter a word.
Some days, eleven years feels like twenty, while other days it feels like only seconds. We are still learning how to be present for one another all the while fulfilling our own pursuits. I don’t think that’ll ever change. Every once in a while, Alex tries on a jumpsuit at the Goodwill and struts through the store hoping to surprise me. Instead, I find the closest object and serenade him as loudly as possible.