“I’m so afraid of losing something I love, that I refuse to love anything” – Jonathan Safran Foer
I didn’t want to miss out, so I hurried through the Chelsea Market to the nearest subway for the 45-minute journey to Coney Island. I wanted to arrive early for fear of missing the seemingly exciting group of creative likeminded photographers. Armed with a charged camera, I disappeared into Manhattan’s underbelly and boarded the train. My sights were set on the excitement of a carney atmosphere built on entertainment, amusement, cheap thrills and fleeting pleasure.
A close friend accompanied me. He hadn’t been on an adventure with one of his guy friends in awhile. Engaged to be married, most of his time was consumed by work and the woman he loved, making the day trip a much needed break in routine. I kept checking my phone, impatiently enduring the long D-train ride to its terminus.
The night before I went out with my friend, his fiancé, and a girl I had started to take a very serious liking toward. We sat together at a bar listening to a mediocre band, nibbling on snacks and sipping drinks. I was calm, relaxed and at ease, but also surprised that this girl was still sticking around and coming out to spend time with me. She was quiet, kind, adorable and yet extremely sensual. What I loved the very most about her but didn’t fully appreciate at the time, was her genuineness.
“There was something about her,” my friend said as we exited the train and passed the giant CONEY ISLAND sign. “She was very nice.”
Stepping out onto Surf Ave, an icy wind slashed my face like a dull razor. I pulled the strings of my hood, tightening the cloth around my head.
“She was, wasn’t she?” I said.
It was February, the month of love, and the land of enchantment was bleak, closed down, empty and especially cold. We hurried across the street toward the glowing orange of Nathan’s Hot Dogs. Once inside, we basked in the warmth and ordered our lunch. We were 20 minutes early.
The rhythm of a faint song buzzed from a crackling radio overhead. My eyes scanned the doorway as we devoured our hot dogs. Maybe someone else would show up early, too. The meet-up was supposed to consist of people from all over the tri-state who wanted to network, make new friends, and photograph the beach town in the winter.
“So, what’s your plan, man?” my friend said, wiping his mouth and leaning back in his seat. He put me on the spot. I hesitated and looked around the room again, taking in the seemingly infinite variety of people around me, even in the lonely off-season. Through the throngs I happened to notice an elderly couple take a seat nearby. The old man pulled the chair out for the woman and coddled up next to her.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I’m just afraid.”
My friend shook his head. It seemed like yesterday when he was out hitting on every girl at every bar we used to frequent. He was certainly the very last person I’d ever turn to for inspiration or relationship advice and yet here we were, at a table in Coney Island in the dead of winter, a table that had suddenly been turned.
In walked the next to arrive. I knew immediately she was from the group because she held a hefty camera and looked like she spent all morning prepping her outfit and make-up. Dressed to impress, she had succeeded and our eyes locked for a split second. I glanced away and then returned the gaze as she headed for our table.
The hipster queen of Brooklyn set her backpack and camera down on a nearby chair and introduced herself. I had seen her photos before and they were quite spectacular, but I could tell within minutes of meeting her that she presented herself differently through them.
“This place is so much fun in the summer,” she said, “but it only lasts for a little while. Then the excitement eventually fades and it’s cold and dark. Glad you guys decided to venture out, though. I’m gonna grab a drink.”
My friend and I watched her join a line at the counter. The faint radio was turned up and the lyrics bounced off the walls of the restaurant:
Are you going to live your life wondering
Standing in the back looking around?
Are you going to waste your time thinking
How you’ve grown up
Or how you missed out?
“Do you miss it?” I said to my friend, “you know, being single?” He rested his head against the wall and laughed.
“You know what I really miss?” he said, looking through the foggy window. “I miss my fiancé. I mean, today has been really fun and all. But I’ve just spent every day with her for awhile, and now that it’s starting to get late, to be honest, I’m kind of missing her right now.”
Of all people, I thought… I had always been the one with countless romantic ideas, dreams and thoughts. Hadn’t I always believed in true love while he was always the one chasing entertainment, amusement, cheap thrills and fleeting pleasure?
“I didn’t expect this, you know” he went on to say, “It was never part of the plan, but now I know what I was missing out on.”
I finished my drink and listened to the rest of the song:
Things are never gonna be the way you want
Where’s it going to get you acting serious?
Things are never going to be quite what you want
Even at twenty five you got to start sometime
The next photographer walked in. He was tall and well-dressed. I watched as queen caught his gaze, gawking and drooling from her place in line. She motioned toward our table to let him know where we we sitting.
After another half hour or so, more people showed up and we set off for the snow covered boardwalk. Icy Atlantic waves lapped against frozen sand making for beautiful pictures, but they were just pictures. The town was eerie and desolate and the meager sun was sinking low, fast. A strange part of me felt empty, unsatisfied, unfulfilled and almost deceived. My friend and I checked out early and headed for the subway to catch the next train back to Penn Station. On our way through a parking lot we passed right next to the elderly couple from earlier, getting into their car. The old man opened the door for his wife.
The sun set on Coney Island as the subway doors closed. The lyrics from the song at Nathan’s still echoed in my brain:
I’m on my feet
I’m on the floor
I’m good to go
All I need is just to hear a song I know
I wanna always feel like part of this was mine
I wanna fall in love tonight
I went to take out my phone to text the girl from the night before, who had become so very special to me, only to find that she had beat me to it.
“See you soon?” the message read. The brutal cold was no match for the warmth in my heart. I couldn’t type “Yes” back faster.
I was sure of it.
I didn’t want to miss out.