This is a little story about an empty bottle.
In the back of my closet, underneath an ever-expanding pile of clothes, I have a small plastic set of drawers — the kind you might find in the dorm room of a budget-conscious suburban 19 year old kid shortly after his move from his parents house into the dizzying expansive freedom of COLLEGE. My girlfriend has been asking me to get rid of the drawers for years now, because they serve no purpose, take up space, and are full of junk.
One particular object contained in this plastic drawer is an empty plastic bottle which once contained Honey-Spirulina juice. It was produced in Austin, Texas by a company which specialized in unfiltered, unpasteurized juices called Goodflow. For whatever reason, Goodflow juice was one of the first things that really imprinted on me after I arrived in college.
I had spent nearly 18 years in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, alternatively ripening in the sunny glare of vast parking lots and retreating into fantastical worlds of Playstation RPGs in my perpetually air-conditioned bedroom. My childhood would be the envy of billions of souls who had come before me, in that it came and went without incident of physical violence or privation of any kind. I never went hungry and the worst that could be said for my education was that I didn’t apply myself enough and got a few “B”s where I could have swung “A”s, much more to my parents’ chagrin than my own.
Of course, it was boring. My fearful immigrant parents seemed convinced that I emitted a pheromone trail irresistible to all manner of maniacs who wanted nothing more than to kick me in the shins and stain my nice clean khaki shorts — possibly even to kidnap and murder me. I was expected not to do much running around or going into town, certainly no staying out past 11:00 PM. It was, by and large, an adolescence of the Chilis/Denny’s variety, punctuated by the occasional steakhouse for special occasions.
Maybe that was why, once I finally made it to Austin, I found myself so drawn to those Goodflow bottles. The stuff was clearly authentic — it came in a no-frills plastic bottle with a single sticker on it, and it was (probably) pretty healthy. I could see this bottle in endless situations through which I would be venturing into unknown territory and meeting new people, discussing politics and philosophy. It didn’t seem out of place for such a bottle to be sitting on the windowsill of a giant treehouse while dozens of vibrant people with creatively-styled facial hair stood around in a circle drinking beer, watching topless fire-spinners (an actual scene at a party I once went to with some friends early in my sophomore year).
There was a sense that no matter what I could imagine, it was all laid out before me, just ready to be dived into. I could shoot a movie, I could start working out and get really fit. I could try out for a play, try to learn Italian, or take archery lessons. I could build my own fixed gear bike and brew my own beer. In this magical new place, crackling with energy, my lot in life wasn’t dictated even a little bit by the expectations of my parents or what my teachers thought I was capable of — even what I thought I was capable of, but could be assembled based on my own passions.
I had a great time in college. I spent endless warm afternoons lazing around with my close friends, walking around watching the city landscape change around us, and I have to admit I did spend probably too many hours playing video games. But I never did shoot a movie, or even write a script. My efforts to stick to a gym schedule were short-lived at best. I’ve still never acted, tried to learn Italian or seriously attempted to ride a fixed-gear bike, let alone built one. When I looked at that years-old empty juice bottle, I felt the ache of opportunities left by the wayside.
In the hindsight of the 7 years since my last day of college, my life has grown richer in many ways. I’m developing a career, I’ve met the love of my life, finally gotten a dog…I certainly live in a nicer apartment than I did in college. But the days I get to spend aimlessly wandering around with my friends planning our next adventure are comparatively rare. While I try not to ever relegate myself to being bored of what life has offered me, it’s hard not to feel like every day that goes by brings with it the tiniest shutting of any number of windows and doors, any number of paths to lives I’ll never live. Holding onto that empty juice bottle, in some small way, reminds me that life can be immense, dizzying and wonderful. I hope to hold onto that, even if I don’t always hold onto the bottle.