July 3, 2023

I Wish I’d Gone to that Pizza Place.

New York City, 2017:

I was taking a leap by going to a drop-in improv class for the first time. I lived in Queens, so it was only a quick hop on the train to Grand Central Station.

I was in an interesting place in life, yearning to make local friends who I better identified with. Having been in theater and taken improv classes when I was younger, I knew this group was “my people.” I knew I felt alive around this creative bunch.

I was also in a place in life where I didn’t feel particularly well.

Physically, I was experiencing a lot of fatigue and food intolerances. It made me want to do little outside of my job. I pushed through what were supposed to be fun experiences, just waiting to get back to my apartment and rest without noise or stimulation.

I wondered if doing this, however, was making me feel worse—creating a cycle of physical un-wellness and social isolation and depression.

I found the group on a Meetup.com posting and paid my 20 dollar entry fee when I arrived. I sat on a bench outside of our room, talking with two guys who were also in the class. Carlos was younger, clearly seasoned at this improv thing. Even in regular conversation he was sharp and quick-witted.

I was glad I drank coffee before the class, despite it making me feel worse in the long-term. I needed a momentary boost to keep up with these people.

David was an older man from Brazil. With his kind eyes and thick accent he explained he was new to improv, but was looking forward to taking these classes more regularly.

There were seven others: Stefan, Miriam, Richard, Kevin, Kay, Andy, and Steve, our instructor. We came from all walks of life, and despite having different personalities, the joy of being there was imminent in all of us. I didn’t feel like a stranger to these strangers, and I didn’t feel unworthy to play.

Our improv class lasted for two hours. It was fun, it was non-judgmental, and we spent the time laughing throughout.

At the end of class, we all walked out of the building together. Everyone was discussing hanging out afterwards and grabbing pizza. “Do you want to get some pizza with us?” Kay asked me as we all stood on the street corner.

I completely froze. Pizza? I thought. If I eat pizza, I’ll likely feel 10 times worse than I already do. I can’t take that chance.

Instead of saying that, I lied, claiming I had something to do.

I immediately felt some relief, knowing that I didn’t have to expend any more energy. Though I’d had fun, socializing took a lot out of me at that time. I also felt relief that I didn’t have to explain why I wasn’t eating pizza. Explaining my food issues was something that I dreaded constantly.

But despite the immediate relief, I’ve regretted that lie for years.

I watched everyone cross the street one way, as I crossed the other. Kay smiled and waved at me from afar, bidding me farewell.

I wish I had gone to that pizza place. I wish I had realized that it was less about the pizza and more about the friendships. I hadn’t yet learned how to be vulnerable and feel okay with it. I was embarrassed by how I felt and put so much pressure on myself to be 100 percent on at all times.

I find it incredibly difficult to make true connections and friendships as an adult. Whenever I meet anyone whose inner being speaks to mine, I try so hard to hang onto that. In this case, I was lucky enough to have found nine of those folks. But I never saw any of those wonderful people again.

Though my body has healed and I no longer experience the issues I once did, I still can only eat modified versions of actual pizza.

Despite that, should I ever be in a similar situation: I’m going to the damn pizza place.


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