Narrative & Argument
Living without regrets includes both doing things you want to do and doing things you would regret not doing. Unfortunately, you never know if you’ll regret something until you do it. For me, this has included forcing myself to go to a bike carnival called Tour de Fat thrown by New Belgium Brewing Company despite disliking beer nor being an avid biker and joining a pick-up soccer game at the neighborhood park even after my friend told me they couldn’t make it. At the first, I ended up meeting my future roommate and best friend while I was in Colorado. At the second, I realized I should never try to participate in community athletics again.
When I decided to move to New York City it seemed vague enough to be glamorous. I had spent the last year-and-a-half in Denver and even though my roommate and I often joked the Denver was this emotional desert in our lives, during the last two months leading up to my decision to leave, I had I really good time. I was going to technology and arts events all the time with new friends I had made and felt really involved in that start-up scene. I had started dating a guy I liked and he was showing me new places in Denver that I enjoyed. But within four days, I finished my last day of work, packed up all my belongings until they fit into four suitcases and found myself in city I had only visited once before for five days. And I hadn’t really cared for it.
In many ways, people were more excited about my moving than I was. It didn’t feel like I was going to a place, but rather that I was running away from Colorado. I was staying with my friend Katie, who was an actor and had moved to the city only three months prior. The first night arrived we were riding the subway together, and she, overcome with the emotions that actors are prone to, kept intermittently bursting “You’re in New York! I can’t believe you’re in New York! How do you feel? Jack, you’re in New York.” I would concede that yes, I was. She prodded me to some more, willing me to feel more, “How do you feel? Don’t you feel anything?”
To her disappointment, I couldn’t really name an emotion. There was no object or event I could direct excitement towards, though I thought life might become more exciting. I should have been nervous, but at the time I felt pretty comfortable just sitting in the train with her. I was happy to see her, but not happier then than we’d met up for coffee when we were in college.
“I know I should feel more because I’m in New York,” I look around the nearly empty illuminated train to find some inspiration, “But I just feel fine. Like, this is just another place.”
At this point I have to admit that I know very little of New York as a story. Knowing the nuances of a place shares the same empty drawer in my mind as “current events” and “pop culture” in my brain. I knew it was the hero, a place that many people coveted, but I wasn’t sure exactly why. I am constantly fighting my inner hermit and spent my time in Denver forcing my self to participate in things outside my comfort zone because I thought (still think) I can train myself to be more outgoing. I am not a very adventurous person, New York was just another one of these tests.
Why was I always testing myself? I feel like I had only gotten better at convincing myself to go somewhere but I never got better at what I should do when I actually get there. In Denver I worked in this co-working space who’s open floor-plan and modern-industrial design made it the perfect location for events, which they hosted almost weekly. This could be anything from entrepreneurship events, to art exhibitions, to screenings of Colorado’s bread-and-butter: action sports movies. I always convinced myself to go, to meet people, to have fun, but whenever I walked through the mingling groups I seized up and walked with fake purpose. Or stand by the wall sipping my drink until I cursed myself into trying again. At one point during the night when the hostess saw me and asked with concern: “Why are you sitting alone in the dark?” To me, I was taking a peaceful break from the pressure of socializing, but she made me aware of how I really looked: I was sitting in the middle of an absurdly long couch in the empty café area that had been cleared of all the other furniture, lit only by the two openings on the far wall where my room adjoined the events space. Though, to be fair, much of the light was obscured by people standing in the doorway. To her, it was depressing.
“Just sitting,” I say with a light-hearted nonchalance and a smile to try to reassure her. She made a puzzled face, but let it go so that she could returned to the crowd.
It was obvious when I got to New York that I all my practicing hadn’t quite solved the problem. If I went to a party with the intention of meeting someone, why didn’t I go a meet someone? And If I want to sit on a couch in an empty room, why couldn’t I be the most confident alone-couch-sitter you ever saw? Because, I reminded myself, when you forget about the people on the receiving end of meeting you.
Katie and I deiced to the Chinese New Year’s festival in Chinatown. She’d never been to a Chinese New Year festival and I was keen on getting some delicious pastries. It was a brisk February day and, if there had been clouds, it would have been snowing. Canal Street was flooded with even more people than it usually was and, to our amusement, a good number of people didn’t know what was going on and why the streets were closed. Seeing all the street vendors I was grabbed by the impulse to get a hat. Barely making our way through the block of people, we stop at a vendor and I can see a pile of fleece berets in a stack. I grab a dark gray one and try it on while the store own flocks towards me to tell me how great I look and hand me a mirror.
I turn to Katie, “How does it look?”
“You look adorable! I really like it!” She says enthusiastically. What a good actor. I turn back to the mirror and see my small round face drowning in the hat. Not sure where to wear it up front, or in the back, or off to the side; to fluff it up or pat it down. Mildly aware that it itches and feels like it’s falling off. I never wear hats. They never fit and they always mysteriously turn my head into a vividly obtrusive shape. I could count the number of times in my life on one hand where I’d worn a hat by own choosing. Still, I think turning my head to the left and right in the mirror, it wasn’t terrible.
I decided to get it. If nothing else, it was a way to stay warm while we were out all day watching the parade and I could abandon it later if I wanted. The parade was about to start and we still needed to find a place. Leaving the shop, we struggled through the current of people, getting trapped on some corners, walking further down through this alley and that to find a place were we might be able to see over all the people. The whole time as we walk through swarm of people I am hyper aware of this Thing on my head. Hundreds of people are seeing me for the first and probably the only time in their life and they’re seeing me with a hat on my head. At first I wonder if they know, as I know, how bad I look in this hat. Logically this is ridiculous: I will be an unremarkable background figure in their memory of the day and they probably only saw me as an object in their way. There are just too many people here for them to notice one small hat-wearer.
They saw me as a hat-wearer. They had no idea that I’m not a hat-wearer. I felt this growing sense of liberation that I was tricking so many people. They didn’t know how self-conscious I felt. They didn’t have a clue! Not unlike Batman, I’m sure, I had transformed into this alter ego. If you had to ask these people about me later, if you forced them to describe me for maybe a historical account of the day I imagine their testimony to go something like: “Listen, I all I know about her is that she loves wearing hats.”
In fact, no one in New York knew. I could be anyone one I wanted for these people and I instantly be that person in their eyes. That idea of a clean slate starting over fell into place. No, I wasn’t going to be going to school with these people everyday. No, I wasn’t going to be working with these people. No one had to know how anxious I am.
“Katie!” I pull out my phone and pat my hat securely on my head as breeze passes by, “Come on, let’s get a picture of us in front of the parade!”