Breakfast for Dinner – Part IV

[This post is the fourth in a series. See Parts I, II, and III.]

When you moved to Ann Arbor, I’d already been there for a year, and you were still just my boyfriend. I added up the years when I told people you were coming, in an effort to authenticate our relationship, even though my answer to the next question seemed to push us backward a step. “Three years. No, he’s not moving in with me.” Three years, though. That’s everything when you’re twenty-three. If we’d been together any longer, we’d be something akin to high school sweethearts, and everybody knows there’s something a little funny about high school sweethearts who go on to get married, simultaneously wholesome and tragic with a touch of small-town fundamentalism thrown in, and we I weren’t any of those things, although we knew people who were.

If we spent two years in Tucson trying to work the other person into our lives, we spent two more in Ann Arbor laying the groundwork for a life together. We approached something close to domestic bliss in our two separate studio apartments. After class, I trudged three-quarters of a mile up the hill to yours and sat cross-legged on an inflatable air bed surrounded by a pile of textbooks while you cooked. Red chili, and chicken soup, and baked macaroni and cheese. Comfort foods to put us through six months of winter. There’s no room for kitchen tables in studios, so we hurt our backs hunching over on the wood floor in front of the TV, leaning in close to garlicky omelets and quiches made with fresh vegetables from the Kerrytown farmers’ market, or biscuits and gravy with sausage from the over-expensive European grocer we’d taken to visiting together on Saturday mornings, or red potatoes dyed redder with smoked paprika from the Spice House. I gave up coffee our year apart, so we sipped the hot tea that you smuggled from your job at the cafe instead, at all times of day, and especially with breakfast for dinner. Again, a little warmth to get through six months of winter. And there were other days when you let your little Ford pickup coast the same three-quarters of a mile downhill to my downtown apartment, and we’d eat ramen or pasta because I only owned one pot and didn’t keep food in the fridge, or we’d rotate between the same three cheap restaurants within a block of my apartment: do you want sandwiches, pizza, or Chinese? You always wanted pizza, and I never wanted any of it, because your cooking was better.

Ann Arbor is where we learned how to eat and live well. Of course, it doesn’t feel like living well when you’re in it, in the midst of 4:00 a.m. wakeups, and icy sidewalks, and broken down cars, and crappy restaurant jobs, and 20+ pounds of textbooks strapped to your back, and too-loud neighbors at my place and too-quiet neighbors at yours, and rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter, and groceries on credit at the end of every semester, and walking back and forth and back and forth between two separate apartments and why aren’t we married yet?

I’m supposed to write about our fourth diner now. I started writing about our diners two years ago, but I stopped whenever I got to Ann Arbor, because we never really had one there. We never went to Fleetwood together, that greasy spoon in an old Airstream trailer that my law school friends swore smelled like townies and sweat, but you insisted made a decent hash. And you never joined me at Angelo’s, all the way over on North Campus, where professors ordered poached eggs. And we liked Afternoon Delight quite a bit, with its oversized muffins and amusing name, but not enough to wait in line for over 30 minutes on any kind of regular basis, not when we could grab two almond croissants, a coffee, and a boiling hot peach tea for less than ten dollars in less than ten minutes at the pastry shop on the corner of Stadium and State and sit at the only table talking quietly about exactly what kind of diner we’d open on our own someday.