Happy Birthday, Chris

Chris, the subject of this post, is one of my dearest friends. Today is his birthday, and this story is my gift to him.

Me and Chris on New Year's Eve, 2015

Chris and I have been as thick as thieves since the day we got to know each other, and this story is one of the earliest recallable instances of us getting up to no good. That said, it is nowhere near the last time we did something nefarious. I should note, though, that the exact timing and circumstance of our friendship’s beginning is hotly debated. But this is my story, so I’m telling my version (the right one).

One thing we can agree on is that Chris and I met through our high school’s Model United Nations Club (Model UN). I joined the club when I was a sophomore. Another one of my old friends, Max, convinced me to come to their first meeting of the year. I was drawn to the club because of the genuine intellectual curiosity of diving deep into a topic, arguing for it passionately, and being applauded for my staunch and frank opinions rather than scolded for them. One of my favorite teachers ever, Mr. Pinos, was our faculty sponsor, which also sweetened the deal. That’s what drew me in.

When I joined, the club had the outward appearance of a group of nerdy misfits, or “NARPs” (non-athletic regular people), as we often labeled ourselves. None of us were social outcasts, but we weren’t the coolest kids in school either. Everyone thought we spent our weekends holed in up conference rooms, with our minds dug deep into working papers to resolve complicated world issues. No one really thought twice about us and our little club, which was the most excellent part of our reign.

A picture I took at the NY Model UN delegate dance, which I think nicely describes the unadulterated crust of our weekends.

What made me stay in this benign little club, however, was that it was actually not benign at all. It was actually just about the coolest thing that any of us were going to be able to do with our weekends. Model UN was a perfectly respectable excuse to escape your family for a weekend, go hang out with your best friends in a hotel, usually in a major city, under the guise of learning. Looking back, I imagine these trips caused insurmountable anxiety for our faculty sponsors. Our Model UN trips were often where most of us broke the rules for the first time. They were sneaky, exciting, our coming of age.

Chris and I didn’t really become friends until I was a junior and he was a senior, and he was a co-head of the club with my friend Max (who, by the way, is ridiculous enough to warrant his own story one day). I had finally scored a position on the holy grail of Model UN trips: the trip to New York City for the National Model United Nations Conference, and I was so incredibly excited to spend the weekend with all of my friends, writing resolution papers and being endlessly misbehaved.

I walked into O’hare early on a Thursday morning to check into our flight to New York. As I approached the United check-in kiosk, I heard someone calling my name:

“Chloe! I’m so glad you’re here!”

I looked over and saw the tall, blonde co-head of our club beaming and waving in my direction. I thought to myself, “Am I even friends with Chris? I don’t know if we’ve spoken before.” But I leaned into his enthusiasm, trusted in that smiling face, and reciprocated:

“Hi!! I’m so excited! And I’m glad you’re here too!”

And I remember thinking that I felt like I knew this person was going to become my friend quickly. He had the most incredible energy, so jovial and welcoming and kind — genuinely kind. Plus, I had an inkling that he might be just as much of a goofball as I was, and I was really excited to find another freak.

Chris at the inception of his modeling career, taken in a NY subway.

I’m usually right about people, and Chris was no exception. We got on like we had known each other forever, but I don’t think it’s by virtue of who I am at all. Everyone that I’ve ever introduced to Chris since then has had the same impression: he’s so easy to be around. I think there are two major reasons why.

First, he’s authentically himself at all times, talking your ear off about whatever it is that he’s obsessed with at the moment. Maybe it’s studying Russian, or learning the intricate pathways of his grandma’s Polish neighborhood in Chicago, locating the perfect packaged Pierogi. Or studying the Bible, commenting on its various sociopolitical implications that still live among us today. Maybe it’s even more trivial, like his hours spent mastering Solitaire (a habit he learned from my Dad). He’s so confident in himself and what he loves, that it empowers others to be unabashed.

Second, in being himself so honestly, he inevitably cultivates a teeming glow of intellectual curiosity around him that people are drawn to like moths to light. There is something for everyone to talk about with Chris, you’re never bored. As my dear friend Mia put it, “Not only is he himself but who he is is very appealing. Ya feel???”

I also knew that this trip was likely to be legendary. I’d been hearing lore about people sneaking into the pool after hours, hailing cabs to Times Square when they were supposed to be seated in committee. Even one story about a previous co-head who had scored himself a free helicopter tour of the city (there were serious consequences for that infraction). I’d been looking forward to it for a full year.

And I was right about the trip; it was legendary. It was almost a ceremonious transition into my first stage of adulthood. I learned that sometimes taking risks and breaking rules has more value-add than following the rules, that in following the rules, I was aiming to please others. While I don’t break the rules often at all, I learned that when I did, I was aiming to please myself, and I was learning the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic validation. That weekend, I shed a layer of fear and innocence, and began to understand the Dylan Thomas poem, Do not go gentle into that good night. Now, you might think this is a bit trite given that we’re talking about a high school Model UN trip, and you’d be right. But aren’t all epic moments just a little trite?

This image was kindly borrowed.

There are so many things Chris and I did that weekend, and all of them fall into one of two categories: they are either (1) worth repeating over and over, or (2) never to be mentioned again. Today, I want to focus on one of the final moments of the trip, at which point we had already gotten ourselves up to our ears in no-good. I will save the other New York tales for another post.

Chris and I were late. Well, to be more accurate (and anyone who knows Chris will know this is true), Chris was late and I was trying to get him downstairs. We were supposed to be in the lobby at 11 am sharp to head to the airport and go home. It was 11:15 am and we were still on the 15th floor of our hotel. For additional context, part of the reason we got into so much trouble that weekend was that we were staying on the same floor, just down the hall from one another.

After practically dragging Chris out of his hotel room, we started toward the elevator, cackling wildly at something, as if we were drunk on humor. We probably thought it was hilarious that we were running 15 minutes late, even though in retrospect it’s quite pedestrian. I’m assuming most of you haven’t stayed at this particular hotel (which will remain nameless for the avoidance of potential legal ramifications, especially because I’m not sure if the statute of limitations applies here), so I should mention that the metal elevator doors were framed with mirrors on all sides. In our comedic stupor, Chris decided to use his foot to call the elevator and kicked at the button on the mirrored wall. This is where things truly went awry.

As soon as his foot made contact, the mirror shattered. And it wasn’t just a small fracture, the entire wall broke into a spider web of cracks. We thought chunks of glass were going to start falling out at any second. I looked at him and said “oh my god holy shit” in the breathlessness that made it seem like a single word.

He looked right back at me and said “grab your bag and RUN.”

For NARPs, we absolutely hauled ass down the hallway towards the stairwell, ripped open the door, and began scream-laugh-running down the flights of stairs. I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t form words, and yet so many things were going through my mind. My internal monologue went through epic duality as we descended the stairwell. That’s how long it took us to get down to the lobby (remember: 15th floor).

  1. On one side of my mind, my classic pinned-up personality kicked in, and I began to think “we’re absolutely going to get caught.” I thought about the security cameras, the obviously clumsy blonde teenagers that were about to practically careen out of the stairwell and into the lobby, and the repercussions that we’d suffer at the hands of the hotel, the Model UN conference administration, our own high school, and their travel insurance, and perhaps most severely, our beloved faculty advisors. Whenever we’d get in trouble, Mr. Pinos would tell us we’d “violated the circle of trust” as if he were Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents, except Mr. Pinos was epically more intimidating. I think it’s because he is so kind, but whenever you disappointed him, it was crushing.
  2. On the other, a new part of myself began to emerge. A version of myself that loved the adrenaline of the moment, and cared about none of the repercussions. I felt no fear or anxiety, only pure exhilaration. I looked at the boy running down the stairs ahead of me, his blonde bun of hair bobbing with his chaotic descent. I felt so genuinely grateful that someone had come into my life and made it exciting, even for a few days. Someone had seen me for who I truly was and brought out the best version of myself — the version I wanted to be. Chris allowed me to start looking in the mirror and realize that I was the main character in my own life, which I learned because he was so clearly the main character in his.

We made it to the lobby. And we didn’t really get in trouble for being late. More unbelievably, we never got in trouble for the mirror incident. We actually never got in trouble for anything that we did that weekend. I did, however, eventually break the circle of trust, but I’ll save that story for another time.

Chris, I hope you read this and it puts another brilliant smile on your face. We’ve crashed rental cars, gambled in Monaco, walked through the bogs of Wisconsin, and now we’ve officially exposed our damages to the hotel in question.

Our most earnest apologies.

All my love and happiest of birthdays,

Chol

When I became co-head and succeeded Chris, my dad made us custom felt badges.

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