He was in St. Paul. I was in Minneapolis. Nine miles separated our dorms; no one would call such an arrangement a long-distance relationship...but somedays it felt like it.
The Professor had a bike, and I had a bus pass. Neither of us had a car. To visit him, I took the campus bus to St. Paul, hopped a city bus to apartments near his school, then hiked into campus. When he visited me, he biked four miles and took the campus bus to my side of the river and hiked to my dorm.
We got caught in a storm once when we had decided to meet in the middle: the Professor was biking home in a scene of Indiana Jones meets Twister, with straight-line winds rushing toward him as he peddled madly toward his dorm and safety (the textbooks he had in his backpack were never the same). The campus bus I was on had to stop and wait half an hour because the driver couldn't see through the rain.
Needless to say, we didn't see each other more than once or twice a week--a devastating blow after falling into a summer habit of near-nightly trips to the grocery store for snacks and movies and long chats into the wee hours.
We spent a lot of time on the phone--hours and hours as we put off homework and talked about our days. Sometimes I longed to get off the phone and join my friends as they "studied" loudly in the lounge or watched American Idol or played pranks. I got in on plenty of those things, but sometimes I wanted to do more.
But something held me back. I knew that I was doing those fun college-y things, even if it wasn't every night. And I also knew that, while those things were fun and memorable, they weren't as great as I made them out to be in my head.
And I knew that the Professor was my best friend. And he needed a friend to talk to, to rely on, to listen to him.
The Professor is a homebody by nature; he had never traveled much and was used to spending most of his time with his family or me or a small group of friends. Dorm life was new, school was intimidating, and friend-making didn't come easily that first semester.* Most high school relationships would have faltered under the strain of one homesick person and one embracing college life, but I knew that we were different.
Our "dates" weren't filled with trips to Applebee's or dance parties or putting snowmen on other floors of the dorm building, but they were filled with genuine heart-to-hearts, encouragement, exploration of our new surroundings, and a deep companionship that neither of us had ever felt.
And I wouldn't have traded it for any amount of typical college fun.
*Don't worry about the Professor; slow and steady wins the race. As time went by, he made good friends and fully loved college life...which is funny, since I started out in love with my school experience but eventually grew tired of it--and that's when the Professor was there for me like I got to be there for him. But that's a different story for another day.