I am starting this because
a) I am going to be in Philly a little longer than I thought.
b) I miss writing.
c) My friend base is now even more spread out than it was two years ago.
I think I’ll start with a story from a few years ago, because I think it’s appropriate, don’t you?
“I’m sorry, but I think you’re beautiful, and I was wondering if you wanted to join me for coffee later this week?”
I looked up from the book I was reading–I don’t remember the title now–and my eyes panned over a pair of sneakers, skinny ankles with no socks, runner’s calves, a nice face. Probably not a psycho.
“I can’t,” I said. “I’m moving to Philly tomorrow.”
His nice face fell slightly. “Oh.” I wondered if he thought I was lying. I still could barely believe it myself. Then I decided that it was just outlandish enough of an answer to be believable. Fleetingly, I pondered the acute irony of the situation. Here I was, in a bookstore, living a scene right out of a chick flick–the kind of scene that we scoff at, not because of the sheer improbability of it, but because it is not probable–and I was starting a new chapter of my life in 24 hours. That was just the kind of luck I had. I would have found it frustrating or bittersweet if it were not for the fact that I myself was mildly amused at how ridiculous it all was.
“So what are you doing in Philly?” he asked.
“I’m going to be a teacher.” It sounded awkward in my mouth. A lie that wasn’t.
“That’s cool, what are you going to teach?”
“Middle school social studies.”
“Social studies. That’s cool. So why are you moving to Philly to teach?” Prolonging a conversation for purposes that were never going to be served–haven’t we all been there. I tried to see myself from his perspective: small, sitting cross-legged on the carpet like a child, black sweater, pale face, curly dark head bent over a book. How old did he think I was? Was he also doubting my choice to be a teacher, my potential to lead groups of unruly children to academic success? No, he had too nice a face for that. The kind of guy that asks a girl out on a whim in a bookstore is not a skeptic. More likely he found it charming that I was sitting on the floor, when in reality it was just more comfortable. More likely he found it fascinating that I was so engrossed in my book. And now, he probably found it interesting that I was moving halfway across the country to teach. He probably thought of me as plucky, bookish, a risk-taker–and in reality, I am none of those things, I don’t think.
What he did not see. The nervous, borderline-pleased flutterings at picking up and starting over in a brand-new city where I didn’t know anyone, something none of my friends were doing. The anxious stirrings that I would forget something very important behind and jeopardize my whole summer. But most of all, the sheer terror below all that, solid and relentless as a block of ice at my core: what if I failed, what if I made no new friends, what if my students hated me, what if I was actually a terrible teacher, what if I taught them all the wrong things, what if I couldn’t find an apartment, what if I couldn’t earn enough money, what if I got fired, what if, what if, what if. I was blindfolded, walking along the edge of a windswept, lonely cliff. What if I was about to make the biggest mistake of my life? If I thought about the what ifs too much, they started to rise up in my throat like bile.
I did not like to discuss the what ifs even with my closest friends; I did not want to discuss the what ifs with this stranger, however nice his face might be. So, instead of the long, drawn-out answer to his question, the one that I had tired of repeating to people over and over again during the past two months, I simply said, “Well, that’s where I decided to teach.”
“Cool.” He nodded. “Well, good luck.”
“Thank you.” He walked away, his runner’s calves, his skinny ankles. I wondered if he was in the habit of picking girls up at the bookstore. Or perhaps this had been the first time he was able to work up the courage, and look at how it had turned out. Maybe that was his kind of luck. Either way, he had not known how his gamble would pay out, yet he had gone ahead and taken a leap anyway. And in that way, we were kind of alike.