By Ruby Pressman
We’re allowed to make mistakes, I thought to myself, as I looked in the mirror at Banana Republic that day. I gazed at my face. It looked tired and grave, and there was a line above my lip from worrying too much. I was going to meet Chris, a guy I had gone out with about six years ago.
When I first met Chris, we were at Newark Airport. He had popped his head between two people’s bodies to see me. He had blonde hair that fell just below the ears, he was wearing a green polo shirt, and he smiled at me playfully, then hid his head again. He was wearing a Lacoste belt and presented himself as being a superficial guy from Florida, but there was something else I saw in him.
We were both heading to Ireland, on a volunteer trip right before our senior year of high school. Before I met him, I kept on hoping to meet a nice, smart, funny, and charming guy who had things in common with me. I was a big fan of the Law of Attraction and The Secret, and made grateful lists often. Chris liked this part of me. He admired my list-making and thought it was cute how I wanted to check a map and read from a tour guide book every time we were visiting a new place. He was funny, smart, confident, seductive, and had led an interesting life. He had lived in Florida, Hawaii, and New York, and he had traveled to India with his father. We had great conversations and were really in sync with each other. Even the things I didn’t find immediately attractive about him, like the fact that he smoked pot often, had dealt it at one point, and had used LSD seven times didn’t push me away from him; we were able to talk about it and I accepted him for who he was, though the person I got to know during the trip was sober Chris.
Now, here I was at age 23, worrying endlessly about things and being overly-cautious. I was wearing a soft, white cashmere sweater I had just gotten and had blown my hair out straight even though it is naturally curly. I wanted to see Chris again someday and had planned this meeting, but it didn’t feel particularly special or magical. I peered around the store, but wasn’t really looking at any clothes, and then came back to the mirror and thought I could see a hint of happiness or excitement on my face.
I walked around a little more, and thought of something a family friend told me once recently: “I regret the things I didn’t do more than the things I did.” This phrase somehow rang true for me in the moment.
I walked back to the mirror and thought, “I could go back, but then what would I do?”
If I went back home, I would just be alone, since I was living in my own apartment and would have nothing to do and no one to see. I walked around a little more and then went to look in the mirror one more time. I didn’t look happy or elated about the idea of seeing him, but instead I looked indifferent. I didn’t see a glimmer in my eye, telling me what to do like I had seen many times before, or any kind of expression on my face that made it clear to me what to do next. My face just looked blank and motionless.
So I made a decision to walk to where I was supposed to meet Chris, not completely excited, but feeling somewhat removed. It did not feel whimsical or dream-like like I had expected it to, but I kept on walking, maybe because I didn’t want to turn back now.
I went to where we were supposed to meet, at Bryant Park, and I stood by one of the entrances, wondering if I was doing the right thing. Then I got a message from Chris, asking me to meet him by the carousel. I ambled over there nervously, excitedly, and with some hesitance, and then looked around for a few seconds, wondering where he was. Suddenly I saw a young man rising from his chair in typical Chris-like fashion, walking swiftly over to me with a strut in his walk. He was wearing a shape-fitting button-down shirt, cufflinks on the end of each sleeve, and left a large brown leather briefcase on a table nearby. As he walked toward me, he removed his sunglasses and said, “Heeeeeeeey”, with a long airy sound in the middle.
He hugged me and I really wondered if I had done the right thing. He said, “Hey, I haven’t seen you in so long. Ruby…how have you been?”
He hugged me like a friend and I couldn’t get over that he looked exactly like he did when I last saw him; blonde, slim, and confident, except slightly more muscular. He had a definite strut in his walk, kind of like how he used to at times, but this time it seemed more fake, more insincere.
He asked me to sit down with him and kept on getting up, plopping his briefcase down and then walking around like no one would take his briefcase ever. This guy who looked exactly like the guy I used to know – he was still Chris, but he was different. I had loved Chris, and now I was looking right at him. He came down to sit next to me and I sat next to him silently, feeling like I was about to cry. I looked at his profile. He had light skin, rosy cheeks, hazel eyes, and an upright posture. This was the Chris who had told me he had run around the reservoir when he was twelve to lose weight because he thought he was fat, this was the Chris whose parents had gotten separated, this was the Chris whose mother smoked pot, this was the Chris whose father didn’t like that he smoked pot. This was the Chris I had held hands with and walked around for a week in New York City with, this was the Chris I kissed in romantic places in Ireland. “You left me without saying goodbye,” I said.
He looked at me, surprised. “Oh my god, Ruby! It was a summer fling! You’re still upset about this?” He paused for a second. “Ruby, I thought you would have moved on by now.”
I started to cry and wiped tears away from my face, but he didn’t get it. I asked him if he had remembered what had happened, if he had remembered the guy Jimmy he had hung out with the day before he left who I realized later was a drug dealer, or that he was stoned and drunk on the last night I saw him. He had thrown up in front of me, and after about an hour of stroking his hair on the ground and trying to convince him to leave Central Park with me, I left him by the 92nd Street entrance on the Upper West Side, feeling some regret but also concerned for my own safety. He said he didn’t remember this.
I couldn’t believe that he didn’t remember it. Was he just being facetious, or did he really not remember? I sat there, trying to figure it out. I had no doubt in my mind that he had used many drugs, but how could he not remember?
I wanted to leave, but I felt like I couldn’t.
He led me to a table nearby the one he originally sat at when I first came over to the carousel. We sat down, and he left his bag there again, got up, and paced around some more. I didn’t understand why he kept on leaving his bag places and then getting up. It seemed overly-theatrical, almost like it was all an act.
“Chris, why do you keep leaving your bag there? Someone could take it, this is New York!”
He looked at me, his eyes laughing. “Why would someone take it? Are you serious?” Then he paused, came down to sit with me, and said, “I have drugs in here, that’s why I keep on putting it down and walking away from it for a bit.” He didn’t say anything for a few seconds again and then said, “This job is just a cover.” I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not, so I felt a bit of panic rising inside of me.
“I’m kidding!” he said. He looked at me, laughing. “You don’t believe me? Here, look inside my bag.” He opened it and showed me all the compartments. All he had in there were some papers, a math book, and a calculator. He said, “Here, look, you see. I’m such a nerd.”
He told me he was working for Greystone selling suits, and he was studying to become a broker. He had gone to FSU and had gotten a degree in business.
Here was this person who was so open – overly-open – and I was closed, feeling stiff with my lips pursed. I had already spent the last year feeling stuck in a relationship with someone who didn’t want to change, and I had criticized two friends of mine for different things who eventually stopped talking to me. I felt tired of criticizing people and closing myself off to people. I didn’t completely trust Chris, but I didn’t want to leave either, say goodbye to all our old memories and end things like this. I didn’t want another relationship to end so harshly.
Then Chris asked me if I wanted to get something to eat with him. I sat there frozen, face tight, and speechless. I moved around in my seat and didn’t say anything.
“C’mon, Ruby, I really wanted to catch up with you. Do you really want to end things like this?” The idea of leaving things like this was too much for me to bear, so I opened my mouth and said, “Let’s go.”