It was indeed years until I saw Joe again. When I did see him next, I was getting gas at a station that I typically did not go to, as it was on the opposite side of the town from my house. Think for a minute about how much time you spend at the gas station if you are only fueling up. I had already gone inside to get my change and was getting back into my car when I heard my name. I looked around and on the other side of the pump was Joe. He had literally just pulled up. In another ten seconds we would have missed each other completely. Every time I think about it, I wonder how many times I have missed someone by that narrow a margin. I was in a rush to somewhere else, probably work, so we exchanged numbers and I went off to wherever I had been going.
I don't remember who called who, but Joe and I did start talking again. It turned out that he lived quite close to my then best friend, Terra. An interesting thing to note is that both Terra and Joe lived on the same side of town that I did, and actually even farther away from that fateful gas station. One day Terra and I took a walk over to hang out with Joe and his friends. Joe had actually moved out of his parents' house, and into a tiny house one house down from his parents. We hung out, listened to music, drank, and had a general good time. Right away I noticed that, in addition to shaving off his hair, Joe had gotten the double earlobe pierced. We continued to hang out and kill the endless hours of our small-town youth. I was seventeen. It was during this time that I started smoking. Literally everyone around me smoked, including my mom. One day I just leaned over and took Joe's cigarette out of his hand and took a drag. It is nearly impossible to describe that sensation, your first drag from a cigarette. At first, all of the nerves in your throat react, almost like getting goosebumps in your throat. Then there is a tightness in your chest, almost as though your lungs are expanding. Your heart starts to pound as you exhale, choking a little from the acrid smoke. Then the nicotine hits your bloodstream, and your head suddenly feels light as a feather. Your scalp tingles. Your eyes widen as your entire body starts to feel like you are cushioned against the very air by some strange force, almost like being wrapped in silk. Is it any wonder that people spend years of their lives, thousands of dollars, and their own health trying to regain this sensation? The catch is that you can never experience that first drag again. It remains an elusive enticement, hovering on the edge of attainment.
During this time, Jim was in Monterrey. He and I talked on the phone about two to three times a week, and we were increasingly fighting when we talked. He wanted to talk about the things that he was doing and learning, I was more interested in using what little time we had to plan for our future together. He wanted me to take care of nearly everything. I wanted him to discuss things with me. We had a lot of those little nit-picky fights that are not about what we are saying they're about. We started talking less. Then one day I walked over to my usual place at lunch and Jim was there. I hadn't seen him in months, and the last time I had seen him was very brief and completely lacking any quality time together. Needless to say, I was ecstatic about his surprise visit. Until he took me aside to have one of the most devastating conversations of my life. He said that he felt the foundation of our relationship was lacking and that we needed to work on being best friends before we could go further in our relationship. What he meant was that he wanted to break off our engagement. I couldn't do anything beyond shake my head "no" while tears poured down my face. Then lunch ended and I had to go to class. He left with his ride back to Monterrey early the next morning and I never heard from him again. Much later I found out that the girl who gave him a ride down was pregnant. As far as I know they got married.