I’m lucky to have met so many friends and even more lucky to have so many more unknown, untapped, so many friends who I haven’t yet met.
The first time I saw her, it was at a bar. I don't remember meeting her, which one of us approached the other, because whiskey was only €1.50 per. I remember dancing, and I remember smiling when she asked me outside so that she could roll a cigarette. I was impressed by how easily she could roll it, not on a flat surface but on her hands. I don't remember how it started, but I remember kissing.
When the night was over, and she asked me to add her on Facebook, the gesture seemed more imbued with politeness and performance than the intention to actually meet again -- today, you can add a stranger on Facebook with no plan to ever talk again. There were friends staying with her that night, she said. It was a missed opportunity. I dreamed of a world where there were no missed opportunities, a type of heaven. Experiencing life over where every choice and decision is the right one, the one that leads to the greatest happiness over time. No opportunity passed over for one of lesser value. In this situation, I would not have stumbled my words. I would have said exactly the right thing at the right time, and we would have left together.
I was in a new place where I knew no one. Plane tickets were cheap, so I had booked them on an impulse. Hearing about my plans, my friend’s parents had offered to introduce me to someone they knew who lived there, a person who had briefly worked for his dad twenty years ago. He’d be able to give me some advice, maybe take me out for a meal, they said.
The next day after that night at the bar, my first night in town, I met him for lunch. I sat across from him, a stranger that I knew, and I was fascinated with the third-level connection that had brought us together. A not-stranger by only one degree, and he was being so nice to me, buying me lunch and giving me suggestions on what to see and what to do. Is this all that it takes for a stranger to treat you like a friend? To know a person mutually but barely? I was not close to my friend’s dad, this stranger’s former boss, and I didn’t think that he was, either. But that was enough, apparently.
The second chance to see her would be two days later. We had talked on Facebook and decided on Saturday night. But her friend was leaving town and had bought her a concert ticket. There was no way out of it, she said, and I was sure I would never see her again. That night I went to a club by myself. I experienced a not-uncommon weirdness unique to the nightclub environment. I would approach a girl and say hi, and she would turn away, refusing to even acknowledge my existence. Sometimes I wasn't sure if she had heard me, if perhaps she was turning for a completely unrelated reason, and I was tempted to try again. But that kind of unrelenting propositioning is not Ok, and the risk of making a girl feel unsafe or uncomfortable outweighed my dissatisfaction at a potential missed connection, so I left some opportunities potentially unpursued, untapped.
I moved on, choosing dance now as my preferred method of communication. At first, I danced for the pure sake of it, like no one was watching. And because I didn’t know anyone in this club, it seemed like no one was. What did I care what these strangers thought of me? The opinions of strangers always less visceral, less real, than the opinions of people I know. But sooner or later, as is always the case, sex entered the equation. I would dance near a girl, or a group of girls, and I would read their unspoken reactions to my motions before deciding whether or not to get closer or introduce myself. Soon, my dance moves began to feel more performative than fun. I felt like I was competing with the other dancing guys for female attention, performing for an audience of judges and competitors, rather than dancing for the sake of it. It seemed animalistic, a rooster's mating ritual swing and peck to get a hen to notice him. I stopped and went outside, where I began talking to some guys on the steps. One was from California. "So am I. San Francisco," I said, forgetting for a moment our shared state and falling into a habit I had grown accustomed to while traveling, skirting the truth for the sake of convenience. Everyone knew San Francisco, and no one knew the smaller town where I’m actually from. "Cool. San Jose." "Well I'm not actually from the city. I'm from XXX." "Wow, no way! I went to high school there." And from this random shared connection, separated only by a few years, I began to think of the unused potential for other similar pieces of shared personal history. How many people have I passed on the street, in any city, who also went to my high school? The nameless and faceless strangers might have also had Mrs. L for French class, and the connection might go unnoticed, untapped, just because it's impossible to share these details with everyone. How many people have I told that I'm from San Francisco, who might have had a connection to the South Bay but not the city proper? How many strangers would be friends if only it were possible to share these details with each other?
On a walk down a random street in a foreign city looking for souvenirs for my roommates, I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard a familiar voice say my name.
It was Kelly, who ran track on my high school’s team and was a year below me. He was studying abroad here, he said, and had just arrived that day. We talked small for a few minutes, and the entire time I wondered about the odds of running into not just one, but two, people who had gone to my high school so far from home, and I thought again of how many unknown connections I might have to any of the strangers walking by. He ran off, late for his program’s orientation.
Tonight, I would see her again, and I started for the meeting point. Since my internet was variable and dependent on unreliable wifi, we had decided on a landmark, a bar sharing the same name as a part of the city. A tour guide had told me that the bar was not special, that the section of town was named for a family and a geologic feature, that it was touristy and overpriced, that he didn’t know why people thought it was special or why anyone took pictures of it. I was relieved when we decided not to eat there, and to instead go for sushi.
As I sat across from a beautiful Spanish girl in a Japanese restaurant in western Europe, I dreamed of a fully globalized world in which every culture’s artifacts would be fully available everywhere else, and people from every culture would be equally represented in all corners of the globe. But when she said that this was only her second time eating sushi, because her village in Spain was small and had no Japanese restaurants, I thought of all the places still untapped, unaffected by globalization, and how far we had left to go before my dream could be realized.
She spoke English well, but the rare language barrier made our conversations more poetic. When she couldn’t understand what I was trying to say the first time, I had to try again with different and less natural words, and these weird speech patterns held a beauty in their mistranslation. “What do you do for fun?” became “what do you do when you have the time?”
We went back to her place for dessert, and after sharing a few homemade cigarettes after participating in some homemade fun, we agreed to see each other again the next day.
We met at a jazz club, and we talked about traveling. She planned to buy a van to travel around Europe with.
“Can I come?” I asked, joking.
“Sure, why not?” She said.
That sounds like fun; I look forward to long drives and pleasant silences.
And when the conversation turned to places we’d already been, she showed me a Google Maps page on her phone that had all of the places she’d been marked with a star or a heart. Only four places had a heart, including her hometown in Spain and the city we were currently in. I took her phone and gave the city of Boston a heart. She talked about visiting and looked up plane tickets. “Might do,” she said. “Might do.”
We only knew each other for a few days, but they made an impact. I’m a firm believer in everyone’s equal potential to get along, so I talked to her like we were already friends because I knew that we could be.
And because I was with somebody who didn’t know how I normally am, I was free to be who I was.