All of my major relationships have begun as long-distance affairs, conducted over instant messaging and discussion fora. With a few of these people, I've been fortunate enough to spend some time in person, including my girlfriend. When new acquaintances ask how we met, we skip the online part of the story, and go directly to the tale of how we first met offline, after having known each other for over five years. It goes something like this, depending which of us is telling it:

The first time we met, I took Kells fence-hopping through a holiday-themed amusement park. Oh, no, it's not like that. We had tickets; we walked through the front gate, same as every other guest. We didn't enter any unsafe areas; we gave the roller coasters a wide berth. Apart from these considerations for safety, however, we took some liberties involving employee access routes, deviations from the marked paths, and so on. You know the saying, "Walk like you own the place and have somewhere to be;" well, we did that, and it was a blast.

You can see so many different angles of a place, when you take the trails its workers use. Every display and set piece, bright and garish to one side, is only so much plywood, concrete, and rebar from the back. Disaffected local teenagers lean against these structures to take hard-earned smoke breaks, or park themselves under sprawling oak trees at the park's edge to cool off and chew employee-discounted Italian ice.

It was a pretty tame adventure by my standards; it was never about assuming real risk, and it was entirely about giving her an experience that went beyond the cost of the ticket. As the day wore down, and we spent more and more of our time in the public zones of the park, I could tell from her body language that she still felt awkward and out of place. She's an urban woman with no acclimation to Midwestern Americana. Santa Claus, Indiana isn't exactly the most comfortable place in the world for two women to be openly dating each other, so we'd kept PDA to a minimum, avoiding unwanted attention from the conservative locals. I could tell Kells wanted more physical contact, but I avoided it, knowing as any Bible Belt native knows, that this would be a far greater hazard than our earlier brushes with Authorized Personnel Only signs.

We crossed into the Thanksgiving zone of the park, and I bought us a hot soft pretzel to eat together. I'd been surreptitiously looking for a pretzel stand all day; it turned out there was only one such stand in the entire park. Our little transgressive meandering had morphed over the course of the day into the Great Quest for a Hot Pretzel. Having found our salty grail, we parked our tired butts at a picnic table and took turns breaking off pieces of it, our fingertips brushing against each other, trading warmth between hands and hot laugen bread twisted into a heart shape.

Bread and salt are the currency of hospitality in many cultures, and Kells, the daughter of a skilled chef, understands the language of comfort food better than most people do. It took jumping a few fences and asking a few questions, but she finally found the one thing which made her feel familiar and welcome, despite all earlier sense of displacement.

Maybe someday I'll pay a visit to her stomping ground, and she can show me the side of the city tourists don't see. I hope DC has pretzels.

Iron Noder 2016, 11/30

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