A few months ago, I was treading on a millennial version of your 20th-century cobblestone in downtown Manhattan when I picked up my broken but still smart phone and called my best guy friend from home. (The only way I’ve managed to preserve friendships from Istanbul is by calling them while walking from one place to another — usually during my morning commute or during an unexpected work assignment where I have to switch from the PATH to the MTA. And yes, the MTA is better than the PATH; and yes, I blame Chris Christie for everything that happens in New Jersey.)
My best guy friend and I started a friendship way back in high school when we ended up on the same school bus that took us at least an hour away from our school on the European side of Istanbul — we lived on the Asian side. For a few weeks, we did not talk at all even though we ended up being the last ones to be dropped off. He sat in the front of the bus, right next to the bus driver, listening to a radio show and awkwardly laughing by himself. No one knew why he was chuckling until I finally asked him what was so funny. He was listening to a talk show where the radio host imitated a mosquito. He still finds the mosquito to be hilarious. I never got the joke.
Separated by thousands of miles while he became a robotics engineer and I a journalist, I told him that my life — which should have followed the plot line of one of many rom-coms that I had watched growing up — had led me into believing that I was maybe not the protagonist of my own life. “How come I don’t feel like I’m the lead character in this story?” I asked him; “Is this about me or someone else?” “I don’t know, he said.” He hadn’t thought about life that way.
Months later, I — as usual — sit on my balcony and watch one of my neighbors try to light up their barbecue. Small flames create little sparks that fly up above and reach my apartment as smoke. I miss a Sunday dinner party, we used to have them a lot at home. I cannot cook for my life but I would cook for a Sunday evening dinner party for friends who — for a night — agreed to lower their expectations for food and enjoyed the concept, and accepted me for who I am: the antihero.
It’s not that I’m not the lead; I’m just not the lead that I had thought I would be. (I can see why in a movie, it might be harder to root for my character.)
“So does this mean that you won’t judge anyone anymore?” another best friend asked me over Whatsapp as I waited for my brunch-friend-date to arrive. “I probably still will,” I said, “But I now know that life is not black or white. It’s gray. It’s pretty gray, actually. If I can be awful at times, I feel like everyone can be.”
Why hold people to a higher standard when I do the things that I would judge if they did?
Chelsea, October 2017