October 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
I am a huge Star Trek: The Next Generation fan. Even though this isn’t directly related to my writing exercises I would nevertheless like to take a moment to discuss an episode from season 6 entitled Tapestry. In this episode Captain Jean-Luc Picard is given an opportunity to relive his life at age 21. For the benefit of those who have been living under a rock since 1993, I’ll go over the plot. For those of you who have already seen it, well then, this will be a nice review. Or you can Click this to jump ahead.
At the beginning of the episode Doctor Crusher is trying to save the Captains life after he was attacked on an away mission. She is loosing him. Picard seemingly passes to the ‘afterlife’ where he is greeted by Q. Q informs him that he is dead, that this is the afterlife that he (Q) is God and so forth. They go back and forth for a bit with their dry repartee. Q tells Picard he died because his mechanical heart failed, and asks, “By the way, how did you lose yours anyway?”
“A mistake.” Picard says flatly.
“Is that a regret I hear?” Q asks, mockingly.
“I regret many things from those days.” Picard replies.
Picard sees a vision of a bar fight, in which a Nausicaan stabs him in the back. He laments for a while about how he was young and foolish and arrogant and so forth. Q asks him if he had it all to live over again, would he? Picard replies in the affirmative, and suddenly finds himself transported back in time, to his 21-year old self.
It is a moment in Picard’s life shortly before he gets into that bar fight with a Nausicaan. Q informs him that he now gets to relive his life and after having to making extensive assurances that nothing he does or doesn’t do will affect the timeline (“You’re not that important [Jean-Luc]!”), Picard goes on his merry way, determined to correct all the foolhardy mistakes he made as an arrogant youth.
Picard avoids the fight and Q whisks him back to the future. He’s not dying on the operating table, but he is neither is he Captain of the Enterprise. In fact he finds himself a Lt. Junior Grade in the astrophysics department. His entire life has changed.
Jean-Luc Picard changes that one event in his life and it completely rewrites who he is an entire person. He’s no longer passionate, bold, imaginative, capable of command or willing to take chances of any kind. He never learned to move beyond himself, to achieve great things. Picard demands that Q return things to normal. Q informs him that if events are corrected that Picard will die on the operating table. The Captain says, “I would rather die as the man I was, that live one more day in that life.” Q sends Picard back so that he can get stabbed in the bar fight. He is returned to the sickbay in the future (or, rather, his present) and then deciding Picard has learned his lesson, Q allows him to live.
It got me thinking about the choices I’ve made in my life, and how often I’ve wished that I could go back and rewrite portions of it. I would say there are very very few things from my past that I’m ashamed of. But I would be lying if I said that there are very few things that I regret or am embarrassed by. Some of the things that I regret aren’t even so much based on mistakes I made, but by just being in the wrong place and the wrong time.
I’m going to share three quick examples. One I’m embarrassed by, one I regret, and one that I simply wished I could have changed the surrounding circumstances.
The first story, Embarrassment: During my freshman year at college I met this very cute girl at the bookstore. We were standing in line to pick up our required textbooks and syllabi. We talked and flirted and bemoaned the price of textbooks. It was exciting and fun, especially because flirting was not something that came naturally to me and the fact that an actual girl flirting with me was a concept as foreign to me as the inner workings of the Serbian economy.
Eventually we got to the front of the line, got our printout of what books we needed and went our separate ways. Aside from leaving the bookstore much happier than one normally might after spending that much money on textbooks, I didn’t think much of the experience and quickly put it out of my mind. And it probably would have stayed that way, except that the very next Tuesday I discovered that not only was she in the same lecture hall as me, but she remembered who I was.
I really wanted to be brave and actually ask this girl out. Every Monday evening for 4 Mondays in a row I would tell myself that the next morning in class I would ask her out. And every Tuesday morning for 4 weeks in a row, I chickened out. Luckily, I caught a break. Our professor wanted us to go see a play off in Brooklyn, and then write a report about it. The tickets were free, all we had to do was put in for what day we wanted to go. It was the perfect ‘in’. We both had to see it, it was free, and it was all the way in Brooklyn, which for college freshmen in New York City automatically meant ‘evening adventure’.
Oh, did I mention that she lived in the same dorm as me? Because that’s an important part of the story.
Later that Tuesday evening (after the assignment to see the show had been given out), I arrived home to find that my roommate and his girlfriend had made 12 loaves of banana bread. I don’t remember why which is a shame, because one can’t help but wonder, why in the world would someone make 12 loaves of banana bread? I guess we can only speculate. Anyway, I decided to use the banana bread as an opportunity to head over to this girls dorm room and finally ask her out.
I picked the nicest looking loaf, took a shower, shaved, put on my nicest T shirt and cleanest shorts, mustered all my courage and headed out. I was almost too chicken to get out of the elevator. But I did. I rang the bell and the door suddenly swung wide open. I was greeted not by the tall, pretty redhead from class, but a small, dark haired, scary looking emo girl. Needless to say, I was a little surprised. I asked her if her roommate was home and she demanded to know who I was. I started to tell her, but she interrupted me by saying, “Oh! You’re the guy from her lecture hall!”
She got this look on her face that was a mixture of excitement and horror. Like when you’ve been standing in line for that roller-coaster that you drove 40 miles just to ride, and you finally get to the front of the line, when suddenly your stomach informs you that “you are going to have diarrhea”. She called back for her roommate who came out of the side room, sporting a similar facial expression, though with less “oh, yay!” and more “oh, shit!”. We stood awkwardly in the doorway and made small talk for a minute or two, and I offered her the banana bread. Her roommate took up a spectator seat on the couch right by the door and watched. Looking back, I’m a little surprised she didn’t make popcorn. Anyway, I was just about to ask her on the big date when this guy appears from the kitchen. In his cross from the kitchen to the bedrooms he paused briefly enough to give me a long, hard stink eye.
It threw me off for a second, but I managed to get the question out. Her face lit up, like I just handed her a box, and when she opened it up she discovered it was full of puppies. But then, she grew pale, and sort of sad, like she realized that puppies, while cute and awesome, cause cancer if you touch them. She didn’t say no. Instead she tried to change the subject.
Stupidly, I asked her, “who was that guy with the wicked stink eye?”
She looked at me like she was the President of the United states I had just asked her for America’s nuclear launch codes.
“He’s just a friend of mine,” she replied with a concerted effort of dismissal.
I tried asking her again if she was interested in going to the show with me, not saying anything about it being a date, just using the excuse that since we both had to go see the show, it might be fun to go together. She waffled back and forth for a minute and said something like, “well I think I was already planning on going with a group of friends already.” She was being evasive, so I doubled down. This time I was going to be clear about wanting it to be a date. I said, “alright, well, I’m really interested in getting to know you better, and would love to take you out sometime. I think you’re beautiful, enchanting, and intelligent. I think that we’ve got a really good chance at something special here, and all it takes is for you to say yes to going out with me on Friday night.” Or… something to that effect. I’m sure that I was totally charming and suave, and not awkward and weird in any way.
She started moving towards the door in that way that says, “we should take this into the hallway,” when Sergeant Stink Eye walked out of the bedroom area and stopped in the hall. He wasn’t close enough to be considered in the room or as if he was part of the conversation, but he was close enough to assert his presence.
I couldn’t help myself. If only I’d kept my big fat mouth shut, we might have had that date that Friday. But we didn’t. Because I didn’t. Instead, I opened my aforementioned big fat mouth and asked, “So, wait a minute, who is that guy, really?”
Her roommate snorted back a laugh. The poor girl was stuck. She looked at me and sighed, “Well, I guess… I guess he’s sorta, kinda my boyfriend.” I was so embarrassed. Not only had I asked this girl out in front of her boyfriend twice, but her roommate got to see the whole thing. On top of that I had to watch Sergeant Stink Eye get called this girls’, “sort of boyfriend” in a tone that clearly indicated this was likely to change fairly soon, possibly within the next 20 minutes. I vaguely remember mumbling something about seeing her in class and hightailed it out of there as fast as humanly possible.
Now, as mortifying as that experience was, I wouldn’t change anything about it. It took a lot of courage to ask that girl out. And despite the awkwardness that ensued, it was important for me to know that I could be brave and do something like that.
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