Those I Met Along The Way 3. Joel
Written by
Kari Redmond
February 2014
Written by
Kari Redmond
February 2014

I met Joel at the school we were both teaching at in Santiago Chile.  He was waiting for me by the computers.  I remember thinking he looked a little too straight laced to be someone I would actually hang out with, but I supposed he’d be a fine roommate.  We walked the short distance to my apartment so he could see if he wanted to move into the spare room or not. We didn’t have standards back than, we rarely do now, so I think we both knew the viewing was just a pretense. We liked to think we had somewhat of a choice, even though we knew we would take the maid’s quarters off the kitchen and ask to have the bed thrown in to sweeten the deal.

 We went for our first beer together after he moved in, which consisted of lugging two overstuffed suitcases up one flight of stairs. At the bar, he assured me that his stuffy demeanor was simply a result of the dress code at work. He then proceeded to tell me all of the many ways in which he was the opposite of square.  The fact that we were on our third beer at the time helped.

 Over those beers we learned that we were from the same state and went to the same university during the same time. Even now we joke about how we had to travel thousands of miles away from where we were to finally meet one another.  We wondered how many times we may have passed each other on campus, if we’d ever been at the same party or bumped into each other in a crowded bar.

 I think it is rare that we might remember the first beers we share with someone. Never knowing how important that person might become to you makes it easy to take those first encounters for granted. I am forever grateful I have concrete memories of them with Joel.   The image of him waiting for me by the computers, button down shirt half tucked in, khaki pants a bit wrinkly, ginger hair a week or two into needing to be cut.  Our first beers at Sepia knowing quickly that I would be glad I walked the ginger to my apartment, yet not quite knowing exactly who he would become to me.

 A year passed quickly as we shared the magic of living abroad together, and I was heading south, zigzagging my way down through Chile and Argentina.  Joel was making his way back up to Santiago after traveling all the way south to Ushuaia, Argentina.   Before he left, we made plans to meet in Bariloche Argentina, no small feat considering our only mode of communication was email, which was spotty at best.  Neither of us knew exactly when we’d be in Barlioche, but we assured each other we’d make every effort to get there.

 On the day we were meant to meet, I made my way to the plaza, our designated rendezvous. I sat on some steps near a fountain and watched all the tourist getting their pictures taken with the many Saint Bernard’s that roamed the plaza. Each Saint Bernard equipped with its own barrel around their neck.  I was told, instead of vodka, it contained Fernet, Argentina’s version of black licorice liquor. Joel and I had tried it once at a payday party we threw, having ran out of all Pisco and other liquor, we succumbed to Fernet brought back from a traveling couple staying in our apartment for a time.

 I was anxious and nervous as I waited on the steps thinking about that party.  My eyes searched the crowded plaza for any sign of him.  I began to doubt that I’d see him at all.  And I knew if I didn’t, I would simply come back again the next day, and the next. That was our plan.

 And then I saw him across the plaza, pack on his back, his hair a little longer than I remembered, a little more ginger. I stood up quickly and began making my way toward him. He’d yet to see me.  My pace quickened as I neared him, and I am sure I received more than a few stares as the crazy gringa began shouting his name across the plaza. Finally he heard me and made his way toward me.  It was not quite your standard airport reunion.

 We hugged awkwardly around his pack, laughed a bit at how the few months since we’d seen each other had changed us physically, and began furiously exchanging road stories; any doubt either of us had about this reunion happening erased by the sight of one another in the plaza.

 We spent four or five days together in Bariloche.  We searched for a hidden bar we never found, we hiked along the many trails, we swam in a lake we’d only seen in National Geographic, we joked about a reunion in the states were we ever to return, we laughed.  We parted ways, me heading south, the way he’d come, and him heading back ‘home’ to Santiago.

 It’s been ten years since our time together in Chile and Argentina. The pact we made never to return to the states as long as a certain someone was president was upheld, me moving to Honduras, Joel going first to Mexico and then Ukraine.  We met a few times in the states at Christmas and summer holidays.  It seemed stranger to meet in the states, more unlikely than it ever did to meet in Bariloche.

 There is an ease while traveling, one that does not, cannot, occur in the normal world of everyday life, where reunions happen in tiny hippie mountain towns in Argentina, where lifelong friendships are solidified over a skipped bill at a bar that is not Escondido, where memories are made while swimming in Lago Nahuel Huapi with a rain coat as a swimsuit. It is an ease formed out of necessity, out of wonder and it is simply for the wanderer. 

 Joel has been my roommate two more times since our return to the states. We now live minutes away from each other in the college town we never met in. I couldn’t have told you then, over those beers in Sepia, who he would become to me, only simply that I knew our meeting was more than a fleeting.

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