It was the late ’90s, and my roommate, Jessica, and I were walking home from the bar. We’d just moved to town and had only a handful of friends, mostly other transplants. A block from our place, an acquaintance of Jessica’s from college spotted us and pulled over to say hello. The next thing we knew, he was leaving voicemails on our answering machine, asking if we wanted to hang out.
Mark played in a band, like almost everyone living in Seattle at the time, and he was easy to be with and quick to laugh. On a sunny Saturday in May, we took a picnic to the grassy lawn of a nearby park and something magnetic happened. I wasn’t looking for a relationship, but it felt like all of my ions were realigning against my will. Suddenly, Mark and I couldn’t be apart.
We spent the next year together camping and hiking, skiing and kayaking, smoking weed and going to jazz shows, ordering takeout and making out on the couch. A year later, when the lease came up on my apartment, we shacked up. His apartment had wood paneling, pink cabinetry, and a green shag carpet. We slept plastered to each other on a single mattress on the floor. It was just a short-term thing, I said, until I figured out my next move.
Each night as we fell asleep, I wondered if this was it. Our mid-twenties seemed like both an impossibly young and perfectly legitimate age to get serious. On the one hand, I loved being around him. No matter that we forgot to pay the bills — he calmed my nerves and made me laugh. I was the happiest I’d ever been. But my mind was halfway out the door. We were two artists working lackluster jobs, slackers feeding on each other’s lazy energy. Something else was out there.
In early June, Mark’s old friend from high school showed up carrying a towering backpack and an ice ax on his way to climb Mt. Rainier. When I opened the door to greet him, something shifted; all my little ions spun. Scott had strikingly serious eyes; he’d just run the Boston Marathon; he was traveling solo. I felt energized just by being near him. Someday, I thought to myself, I would marry a guy like this. Of course I couldn’t marry him specifically, because he was Mark’s best friend, but I told myself I would find someone like him.
The three of us made dinner together that night and had beers out on the AstroTurf deck. Scott left the next day, and a month later I moved out of Mark’s place into a studio of my own. My third-floor walkup had a sweeping view of the Olympic Mountains, and, while Mark and I continued to see each other, I spent most of my nights alone, writing at my desk — plywood balanced across two sawhorses.
By the end of the year, I had the draft of my first book and an acceptance to graduate school in New York. When Mark asked if he should move with me, I said no; I didn’t want to be worried about how someone else was faring while I was pursuing my dream. So we provisionally broke up, acknowledging that we still loved each other. And somewhere over the Great Plains my heart tore apart.
The day before I left for New York, Scott moved to Seattle. A few months later, he met Elizabeth. They both had great résumés, serious competitive streaks, and nerdy, tech-oriented brains. They camped and hiked, skied and kayaked; they went to shows and probably made out on the couch. It seemed like a good match. Elizabeth got to know Mark, and she and Jessica, my old roommate, became good friends.