On a July day in 2011, Lacey Marie Cunningham was sitting in Harbor Perk Coffee Shop in Ashtabula, Ohio, when she noticed a new barista. Ms. Cunningham was a regular at Harbor Perk, where she would often read and study. She had recently graduated from Warren Wilson College outside of Asheville, N.C., and was back in her hometown working on a low-residency master’s degree in education at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt.
The new barista was Brett Logan Spencer, who was learning to pull shots and make lattes on his first day. Mr. Spencer had also grown up in Ashtabula, having recently returned home after graduating Kent State University. Although they had attended the same high school only a year apart, the two had never met before.
“His laugh was this full-fledged laugh with his whole body,” Ms. Cunningham, 30, said. “I could just tell that he just soaked up all that life had to offer.”
Mr. Spencer, 32, would often stop by Ms. Cunningham’s table on the days he was working to ask about what she was reading. They bonded over a shared love of travel and poetry, and he talked often about the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. One day, Ms. Cunningham asked Mr. Spencer to write Neruda’s name down so she could look up his work. He made sure to write his phone number down, too.
The couple began dating, and in January 2012 Mr. Spencer left for Germany to teach English. After he finished the semester, Ms. Cunningham met him in Venice and they backpacked around Europe and North Africa before returning to Ashtabula for the summer.
“We were able to first start traveling together, which ended up being the theme for the next several years of our lives,” Mr. Spencer said.
That summer, they sold their belongings and spent the next year traveling through South America and Southeast Asia, before moving to New Orleans in July 2013, where they both began graduate school. Ms. Cunningham is a program manager at the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities where she oversees family literacy programming, and is completing a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction at Louisiana State University. Mr. Spencer is completing a Ph.D. in geography at L.S.U., focusing on Indigenous rights and urban landscape change on the Mosquito Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua.
In June 2019, Mr. Spencer planned a trip with Ms. Cunningham to visit Nicaragua, where he frequently travels as part of his geography research and involvement in Indigenous land rights and politics.
“It’s the one place that really means a lot to me that Lacey had never got to go to,” he said.
On one of their first nights in Granada, Mr. Spencer asked Ms. Cunningham to marry him.
“The joy she gets out of simple things is just something that will never cease to amaze me,” Mr. Spencer said. “Even now, Lacey’s still able to show me a whole other perspective of things that I care about and things that we do together.”