He was good looking, in a Jack Johnson surfer kind of way that I didn't necessarily find attractive. But the Harbour House's typical customers were book club ladies and the wives of pilots--as possibly the only attractive male below the age of 25 who had ever set foot in the restaurant in the nine years I served there, it was hard to ignore him.
And I suppose for him, it was hard to ignore me--mainly due to the fact that in order to get food, he had to talk to me. But also because I was on top of my game: I wore a short ruffled skirt under my waitressing apron, a low-cut top and too much lipstick. It was a slow night (the only other patrons were my aunt and uncle) and the conversation was easy.
He wasn't a local, he wasn't military and he didn't work in the oil field. We both had summer jobs working for the government (me federal; him provincial) and plans to volunteer one day in Nicaragua. I was sold. We made a dinner date for the following day.
By the time our appetizers arrived the next night, we had determined that it wasn't a date. We were too much alike. "I never thought I'd meet the female version of myself," he laughed.
In the back of his car was a longboard, a guitar and a book about Jesus. We drove back to his temporary summer residence (a trailer on the reservation that wasn't burdened with the conveniences of modern plumbing) to watch Step Into Liquid. He lent me sweatpants and told me about the time he almost died. "Why didn't I meet you earlier?" I asked. (That same summer, I had celebrated the night of my 21st birthday by sitting alone at one of the Harbour House's tables writing scholarship applications. Happy birthday to me.)
And in those brief two weeks before I went back to Toronto and he went back to Edmonton, we became best friends. No, seriously. "I'm going out to meet my new best friend!" I would sing happily to my parents on the way out the door. We would talk on the phone on our lunch breaks, sending text messages back and forth throughout the day. We went to Sandy Beach on weekends, laying in the sun and sharing stories of sexual conquests. We drove to the north side of the lake to play flashlight tag with the kids, hiding high in the trees. Late at night, sitting on the playground equipment at Kinosoo, we reflected on how quickly the summer had passed.
And then it was over. He went back to Edmonton and I went back to Toronto.
I was never in love with him, at least not in the way one might conclude from reading this. It would be a lie to say there wasn't sexual tension or suggestions of romance, but it was clear from the start that we were meant to be just friends. (One holiday break, I drove four hours to Edmonton in the thick winter black just so we could go to the movies. That night we spooned, and in the morning he took me for breakfast at Humpty's. There was a near-kiss goodbye, but when debriefed months later, we agreed that it was never meant to be.)
And for the next five years, we exchanged emails, msn conversations, text messages, postcards, voicemails and--when we were lucky--the occasional real-life conversation over beer.
He would have said that it was serendiptous that we met, although I'm not entirely sure how. He really liked that word: serendipitous. He said it in a way that made you believe that yes, even in Cold Lake, magical things could happen.
The last time I talked to him was over a year ago. Actually, that's not entirely true--I've talked to him a lot this year. I've talked to him in emails. (He doesn't reply.) In Facebook messages. (He deleted me a long time ago.) In rambling long-winded phone messages. (He never picks up.) But the last time he talked to me? That was over a year ago.
In January he tumbled back into my life by way of a tumblr account. It's snapshots of someone I knew once. Snapshots of my new best friend's life that I can never be part of and maybe never was part of.
I want to say that the problem was that our relationship was independent from the realities of our everyday lives. We didn't have any mutual friends, we are both busy and we are both in relationships (he may even be married now). But that rationalization doesn't make it hurt less.
I know I should move on from this. It's not like there's a notable absence in my life. But there are the dreams: I dream that he calls me back. I dream that he casually comments on my Facebook status. I dream that he emails me. And I dream that to him, too, I'm still a friend.