Once, I went to a bookstore to look for Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States”. There was a friendly clerk there, a middle-aged gay man, tall and skinny with thick glasses and white hair. Ira Glass kind of vibe. He helped me look. It wasn’t in stock at the time, so he ordered it for me.
When the book arrived, I got a call from him, but it went to voicemail. He told me the book had arrived, but also asked if I’d like to get lunch sometime, because anyone who likes Howard Zinn must be his kind of person.
I was so struck by this kindness, this offer of friendship from a total stranger. It’s such a rare occurrence to begin with, but it also came at the loneliest time of my life. I’d just gotten out of a terrible situation. I was incredibly broke and in a strange city with no friends. I seemed to only be able to date total jerks. My boss was hyper-critical and I was being groped by a workmate on a near daily basis. I was also just flat exhausted all the time from my 3 hour round trip commutes.
When I went to pick up the book, a different clerk was there. I could have left a message for the original guy and taken him up on the lunch thing, but I didn’t. As much as I wanted to, I just felt like I was way too broken and messed up to carry on with any normal friendship. I had nothing on my mind but my own life problems, and because these problems weren’t unrelated to unfettered capitalism, even talks of Howard Zinn would have led right back to the center of things. I didn’t want to burden this bright, positive person with myself, the only self I had to offer.
I know it’s popular thinking to say that people will care if you just reach out, but my own experience taught me the opposite. Most people just see you as a burden, even if they’re good people. Most people get bored and just want you to be happy. So maybe I was right about that. Maybe I did the guy a favor by not responding to him. That’s how I saw it at the time.
In my entire life, I only have two and a half regrets. The half-regret is something I do regret but don’t believe I could have changed, even with a time machine. Of the two remaining regrets, not getting lunch with this guy is one of them.