Up until around mid-June, I had been wearing the same shoes for about five years. They were brown, unassuming, comfortable. And they hadn’t fallen apart, which is about what it takes for me to buy a new pair—that, or outgrow them, which, to my dad’s not-quite-kidding disappointment, stopped happening about halfway through high school.
Maybe it was having been employed for a year—rubbing shoulders with something like financial security—that led me to finally consider retiring them. At least that’s the achievement I thought my housemate was conceding the first several times he counseled, “Dave, you should get some new shoes.” In time I pieced together that he was saying I looked like an idiot, so I hit the internet.
When the new soles arrived I unboxed, unlaced, and tried them on. I took a few steps and looked in the mirror. Something was off. I cut the tags, removed the laces altogether, and tried again. Nothing.
I proceeded to pretty thoroughly deface them in the process of “finding myself.” Now they’re in my closet, unreturnable, permanently shelved at eye-level.
In a late-night moment of admittedly tame confession, I told this story to my friend R. M., who recalled a similar fit of confidence during which he bought a pair of bright red pants at a department store only to be struck later by the realization—which I like to imagine felt like tectonic plates shifting deep in the earth beneath him—that he wasn’t a “red pants guy” (NSFW). My understanding is that they taunt him from the bottom of his clothes drawer every day.
Maybe R. M. has since given the pants away to someone who can stand the heat, but these things have a way of hanging around—trophies commemorating moments when we, however privately, failed to identify ourselves. For a few seconds, we were deluded. We forgot who we were, imagined someone else. There’s bound to be evidence.
My housemate John will not let me forget, for instance, the three days when I thought it would be cool to get into stop-motion film making. My curiosity lasted long enough for me to buy ten dollars worth of modeling clay, sit down, make one stumpy, disproportioned “character,” and realize that people that do this are incredibly talented, and certifiable. Seven or eight clumps of color and a small too-square figure have been on our bookshelf for about a year. The little guy has picked up a few compliments. The clumps are occasionally chewed by the dog
Earlier this week a friend of mine sent me a list of what The Princeton Review has determined to be the “Top 20 Party Schools” and “Top 20 Sober Schools” of 2013-2014. Our alma maters were not on the same list.
I’ve never had the desire to be, or have been, at a “Party School,” but for a minute I wondered if I was supposed to. All of a sudden I felt like a choice I made several years ago implied something about me I hadn’t considered when I made it.
I forgot the whole thing in about thirty seconds, but sometimes these moments of being thrown back on ourselves do stem from big, important decisions and stick—the schools we choose, the careers we undertake, the people we commit to.
And sometimes we’re wrong more than a change of perspective can rescue, and have to backtrack. I caught myself red-pantsed my first year in college and ended up transferring schools.
But graciously often, missteps like this—even big ones—become objects of humor. A friend of mine once texted me as he was passing the highway exit to my first school to confirm that he was giving the whole town the finger on my behalf; if John’s in earshot when I declare a new, sweeping undertaking, he’s sure to chime from across the house to the effect: “Let’s hope this isn’t another claymation episode.”
At our best, I think, bold failures among friends are nearly celebrated. Who did we think we were?
David Greendonner (’12) is an MFA candidate at Western Michigan University where he teaches writing and is the managing editor of the literary magazine Third Coast.