Two of my best friends from high school and college, Noam and Benjy, my roommates at the time, got engaged to the loves of their lives a week apart from each other. Short of creating some sort of hippy-dippy polyamorous share-house (though not opposed), I was about to be on my own for the first time in my life with no clear plan for where and with whom to live. Even though both were in long-term relationships with the prospects of marriage always looming around the corner, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat dejected. In our own infinitesimal corner of the universe (at the corner of 14th and C), we were marking the end of an era. Except it wasn’t my choice, or on my own terms. I was living like every night had the endless potential of a Saturday night, just a few pickle-back shots, texts and questionable decisions away from a lifelong memory. Willfully arresting my development was second nature, stuck to my soul, like the cheese on a slice of too-fresh-out-the-oven pizza sticking to the roof of your mouth. And just like that first bite, I was feeling the burn.
The night started out as innocently as any other, with the three of us playing NHL on XBOX for pride.
“So, we have some news…” Benjy started cavalierly, as though he was going to tell me about weekend plans.
“What’s up?” I answered, mostly focused on not giving up another shorthanded goal.
Every time you gave up a goal with an extra player on the ice, you were punished by being forced to take two shots of alcohol by yourself. Not enough to get you drunk, but just enough to throw a wrench into whatever else productive you might’ve had planned for the night. Worse, we usually only had Arak on standby, an Israeli liquor made of old grapes that goes down like black licorice-flavored moth balls. The type of stuff your grandpa had stashed away in the back of his liquor cabinet. As old as time, and tasted like it, too.
Noam brought me back to reality with just three words:
“We’re getting engaged!”
“What?! To each other?” I joked. “I mean, congrats…that’s amazing!” I paused the game and took a second to let the news sink in.
“Wow…” I continued. “Mazal Tov, guys!” I mustered with what I hoped was believable enthusiasm.
“Yeah, we didn’t plan to do it around the same time, it’s just kind of happening that way,” Benjy said.
“Makes sense. You’ve been dating them forever. This is awesome,” I said, more sincerely than the first time.
Fortunately, I was spared having to drink alone from my sub-par XBOX play, and we all took a few celebratory shots together as they each walked me through their plans for how to propose. I had to admit, at twenty-four, with only a friend or two previously married, it was easy to get wrapped up in all the excitement. I was genuinely happy for both of them, and couldn’t wait to share in their celebrations. I knew deep down they were both ready for the next stage of their lives, I just didn’t think it would happen all at once. Maybe it was willful ignorance that this day would come, or just naivety, but I was rudely awakened from a fantasy that things would always be frozen in time – a creature comfort of my own design.
Rationally, I understood Noam and Benjy’s life choices were not a rejection of our current lifestyle, and just the logical next step in their relationships. Emotionally, though ecstatic for them, I was resentful of their abandonment of the way things were for the way things will be. Or rather, and more selfishly, I didn’t want to feel that life was leaving me behind.
Later on that night, after things died down, I began to rethink some recent life choices. Was it something I said? Maybe I never should have dozed off while waiting for the chicken soup to reheat on the stove, nearly burning the apartment down in the process. Perhaps I could have watched TV a little quieter late at night that one time. And all those other times. More likely however, this wasn’t about friendship at all. I lay in bed, listening to The Gaslight Anthem, my favorite band even to this day, and realized I was being plucked from complacency against my will, like the strings of a reluctant bass. Sometimes, change is thrust upon you before you even have the chance to make it yourself. And just like that, I understood what I had to do. My heart was in the East (Village) but I, I was in the edge of the (Upper) West. And like my ancestors of Israel before me, I was going to find a nice Jewish girl for myself.