I moved to Pittsburgh in 1994. It was the end of the year, just past Thanksgiving. I moved here knowing only the few people I worked with and nobody else. My closest relatives were in New Jersey. I was flying by the seat of my pants, but it felt good to be putting myself out there.
The first week after I arrived, the apartment complex I lived in (moved in sight unseen...) had a Christmas mixer. Maybe it was a holiday mixer. Holiday was more PC. My neighbor across the hall was married, but I hijacked him and we went to the mixer together. We played pool and drank until the apartment manager came over and offered to introduce me to some people. She introduced me to Leslie and her roommate.
We settled in, scraping bar stools together to chat about life in Montana, and "what are you doing in Pittsburgh??" (what would become a question I'd answer by rote) over gin and tonics and beer. Many drinks later we left the bar and drove back to the apartment in her Hyundai Sport. The black paint sun-damaged ("black is hard color to keep" the Hyundai dealership told her), the car freezing cold. We scraped a hole in the frost large enough for the driver to peer through and stupidly drove home.
They invited me the following week to their own Christmas party. My apartment complex was flight attendant central, and the apartment across from hers was vacated by friends who let her party spill over into their apartment.
I went to the local liquor store and asked the guy working the counter, "What's a traditional Pittsburgh drink?" I explained where I was headed.
"Pelinkovac," he replied.
I got to the party and produced my traditional Pittsburgh drink to the collective cricket chirps and confused head scratches of the gathered party guests. Nobody had heard of it. We all took shots. It was awful. To this day when I reference Pelinkovac nobody knows what I'm talking about. Nobody.
I became a fixture at Leslie's apartment. We hung out and listened to Zombie by the Cranberries. Because the apartment next door was vacant they would blast it as loud as their speakers could handle. It shook the fixtures. When we finished they'd press play again. We watched Friends and barbecued on our tiny patios. We drank wine and played tennis. We went out to dinner. But we didn't date.
And I think we didn't date because for the first time I was truly enjoying the friendship of a woman without fucking it up by dating her. And she was...and is...the first and only girl I've ever not gotten tired of. We had our ups and downs for sure, but beneath our relationship was always the foundation of friendship that we built in that first year in the apartment complex.
She took me on a blind date because she was nervous about the guy she was going out with. She took me to weddings when she didn't have a date. And ultimately, she liked me. And I liked her. But I wasn't going to fuck it up by dating her. Because history had shown me that there's no surer way for me to fuck up a relationship with a girl than by dating her.
And then my sister and brother-in-law came to visit, and my sister fell in love with Leslie and fell in love with the idea of Leslie and her little brother, and she pushed her into my arms.
One night after watching Friends over wine, she confessed she wanted to date. I sat that there thinking...do I fuck this up, or do I say let's be friends? What the hell...
I stood up and walked to the door. Leslie told me later that she thought I was going to ask her to leave. Instead I turned the lock on my front door. I slid the bolt home. That's not a euphemism. Well...
More to come.
|Leslie from her "Rachel" phase. I'm sporting the "Chandler". She loved this picture, but I used to give her endless shit because it looks like she's cupping my genitalia. This is at a wedding for one of her flight attendant friends.|