Talking to strangers has never been my forte. In social situations, most of my time consists of me with my eyes downcast, standing at the edge of the circle of interaction, but never failing to shrink from the opportunity. This semester, looking at passersby in the hallway, I’ve realized that there are people whom I’ve been aware of for years, but have never actually met. One of these people is a guy named Josh. He’s a fusion of emerald green on umber, and now that I think about it, he has always been in my periphery. We’ve shared a few classes together, but I only ever knew him as the debate kid across the room whom I’d seen in a few play productions at Lowell– with the most unrelenting Resting “I Don’t Care That It Takes Less Muscles To Smile” Face that I’d ever encountered in my life.
I identified Josh as a potential interviewee a while ago – prompted by numerous friends and even his brother – but had come up with every excuse to avoid meeting him. It would be weird to reach out to him out of the blue. There has to be a more approachable person to contact. He has absolutely no idea who I am. What if he thinks I’m a murderer? Maybe HE is a murderer?
It took one of our mutual friends texting him without my knowledge – rendering all other options invalid and making it too awkward to back out– to finally get the ball rolling. After a decent episode of me facepalming every time I encountered said mutual friend, Josh agreed to meet me at an overpriced coffee shop after school, where I dedicated the next hour to getting to know him while indignantly ignoring every inkling of anxiety.
Sitting across from him, as the curtains opened, it became clear that he was not the person I assumed he would be. He acknowledged that I’m not the first to wonder about his possible murderous tendencies, due in large part to his Tony-worthy poker face. Behind the mask, he harbors a fondness for his friends, his family, and a persevering armadillo named Frida. In one respect, he did live up to my expectations in that he is definitely an intimidating intellectual, opting to summarize his high school experience via a quote from Slaughterhouse-Five. Surprisingly though, he isn’t immune to the symptoms of senioritis. When he isn’t occupied with school, his time is consumed by mock trial, forensics, drama, and volunteer work at the zoo.
I was startled to learn that, like me, Josh has an affinity for birds of prey. (Apparently he also shares my peculiar fascination with fire, but that’s for another time.) Whether or not he’s drawn to them specifically for their state of ever-singing Poo-tee-weet, I wish I’d asked. Regardless, he’s eager to work with birds at the zoo and seems to have an impressive reserve of porcupine photos as well as an extensive knowledge about their respective eating habits. While he isn’t too fond of red velvet (“What even is red velvet?”) and cringed while I suffered my way to the bottom of my latte (“What does that taste like, besides pain?”), he is a tea person, often opting for Trader Joe’s Winter Wake Up blend over coffee.
Sure, his psychopathic vibes are at times unsettling at best, but meeting Josh made me realize that maybe I’ve had nothing to fear all along. Contrary to popular belief, he is startlingly, stunningly, surprisingly human– quite a resolution to all my years of over-thinking without the guts to step out on stage, look a stranger in the eye, and deliver those tentative introductory lines. It’s daunting and inconvenient to venture into uncharted discussion, but it’s interesting to think of all those undiscovered friends and chance interactions that may have opened up to me if I had taken action sooner. Much earlier then may I have found a fellow bird lover, a potential accomplice to commit arson with, and someone whose sardonicism would give my own a run for its money. Perhaps it’s best to take a chance, to trust in the flow of improvisation, for maybe– just maybe– some of the best experiences are unscripted.