“Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” Abbi said. She sat on my bunk bed, legs crossed, looking at me with eagerness. I sat in pensive silence—threatened only by the perpetual sound of sirens in the outside streets of Berlin—trying to think of the most impressive but unpretentious answer to her question. What were we doing? Trying to fall in love, of course.
On our trip to Germany, my friend and travel companion, Abbi, found this old New York Times article entitled “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love.” We were both fascinated by the idea that the complexities and idiosyncrasies of such a thing as love could essentially be boiled down to just 36 unassuming questions. In Barcelona, where we had been before Germany, we had exchanged cheap rings we bought from street vendors at the Cathedral in a faux engagement just for fun, and now we thought why not try to induce a state of enamorado. I had never fallen in love before, so I thought this could be my chance to try it.
“I would say…Hayao Miyazaki,” I said instantly regretting it. Miyazaki made a bunch of anime movies for kids, and I have always idolized him, but now that I am an adult, I guess I am a bit embarrassed to admit how much I still love them.
“I love his movies too!” she responded. I was pleasantly surprised. I was in good company, it seemed. “I would choose Lin Manuel Miranda. I feel like I could actually talk to him.” The questions started off innocent enough, but as we moved through the questions, they begin to become more intrusive, heavier somehow.
“Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” she said with a gulp. Neither one of us wanted to answer for fear of willing something prophetic into the universe; but, still, we had to be truthful or else we may not manage to fall in love. We could not accept failure.
“I think I’m going to die tragically,” I said. It came out of my mouth as simply as my sandwich order at Viny’s. I was trying to dull the reaction I might get with such a morbid proclamation, but instead I feared I came off a bit sociopathic. Quickly I uttered “I don’t want to die…but I just feel like I won’t die naturally. I feel like something may happen to me.” (I knock on wood while writing this). Abbi looked at me dejectedly.
“I don’t have any idea how I will go,” she finally said. She was smart. She didn’t give the universe any crazy ideas. The sun had finally set fully and, boy, those sirens sure were loud. The next question instructed us to tell our “life stories” in four minutes. Fall in love with 36 questions; recount your life in 4 minutes. It all seemed incredibly reasonable. Abbi went first.
“I was one of those ‘gifted kids’ when I was little, and I guess now I feel like that messed me up. Because now I just don’t feel good enough.” She awkwardly shifted on the bed. “Oh, I went to performing art school where I sang and danced. I did theater too. It was the best decision I ever made to go there. My friend Mara I met there is going to be famous one day. I’m not good at those things anymore, but I used to be.” I had noticed how light she was on her feet at the club and how beautifully she sang at the karaoke bar, but I had no idea it had been such a big part of her life. Isn’t it sad how easily big parts of our lives can become so vestigial as time goes on? “I didn’t know I was bisexual until I was in college. Everyone I know who is gay says they ‘always knew,’ so I thought it was impossible. It was hardest to tell my brother. I waited until the last day of summer break and knew I would hate myself forever if I didn’t tell him before I left. I was lucky. I knew he would love me.” The timer beeped. Four minutes, and a whole life, had supposedly gone by. Now it was my turn.
“I grew up in the same place my whole life. It’s really nice and sunny in Pasadena. Uh…” this was actually harder than it looked. “I have a twin brother. He is the person who knows me the best in the world, but I am also constantly under his shadow. He is good at everything. It’s hard. I’m worse than him. I used to do theater too. Was never really good at that. When I was a junior I had my first boyfriend, Blake. He cheated on me within the first few weeks, and I really think it messed me up. I haven’t been able to open up to people and haven’t been in a relationship since then. I feel like I am not—” the timer beeped loudly.
Although we ended up not finishing all the questions, and I guess technically not falling in love, Abbi and I went from near strangers to close friends so quickly. I felt that we had been somehow destined to meet each other and felt even slightly jilted that we would have to say goodbye to each other in a few months. I hope at some point we can finish those questions…