On Facebook, a high school classmate recently changed his profile picture to one of him and his son. If there’s a surefire way to alienate certain Facebook stalkers (or just, you know, members of your high school class who are still in college) it’s putting up a photograph of you, your kid and your wife/husband (whose presence is implied as the photographer). It’s even more startling than the status updates that say So and so is “engaged” or “married,” not least because of that old adage: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
I studied the photograph for a minute because I could only bear to look for a minute. He is standing next to a large window, a guitar strapped to his side and his arms around a baby boy. He beams genuine happiness, the kind that can’t be faked, a dimpled grin on his boyish face, which has filled out since I last saw him on grad night. His son is cute: fluffy blond hair, sparkling blue eyes, dinner rolls for fists. Behind them, there’s a kitchen table strewn with toys and a worn couch in one corner (yes, I could discern these things from the two-inch photograph). I had taken fifth period Spanish with the kid and now he has a kid. Only six years out of high school, we seem to be living on different planets – he on Planet Married With Children and me on Drifters: Aimless 20-30 year-olds.
Our decisions make us who we are. Somewhere after high school graduation he chose to finish college in a timely manner, land a steady job, marry the girl he met in college and have a child with her. Last I heard, they are living not too far from where we grew up and have a very stable home life, filled with warmth and backed by a steadily growing savings account. I don’t doubt my classmate knew what he wanted and made it happen for himself, but I do wonder what, in our brains, made him want it much earlier than I do.
Closer to my bloodline, several of my cousins are nesting in the same way – no children yet at this year’s holiday parties, but perhaps by next winter someone will be pregnant. When that happens, my cousin Kathryn, currently twenty-two, will no longer be the “baby” of the family. I look forward to these turns of events, welcome the change in our family dynamic and the conversation (from bags and shoes to baby bags and baby shoes… or perhaps not). But to see something in a similar vein happen to myself; that I can imagine, but not in the same vivid colors I imagine other things.
It’s nothing new, to talk of a divided woman, or man, for that matter. The half that craves adventure, the road less traveled (aka The Drifter’s route) versus the side that needs stability, structure, schedules. I have always been this person as I’m sure, have been or are many of you. In each one of us, there are at least two of us.
Still the talk is strange to me. Although no one is asking me to make any choice, I am at an age where what I do, where I live, and whom I spend my time with is equivalent to placing another brick in the path to Settling Down. I no longer try to plan my life out in meticulous detail – God knows how that turns out :(me dropping out with the mentality of throwing everything away) – but I’m more aware of life’s seemingly innocuous digressions that lead a person to where they may or may not want to be.
Perhaps this is all a result of my really not knowing at all what I want. But would you believe me if I said I know exactly what I want and that I just don’t want it all right now? I want it in the future – not too far off from now, say, in five or six years. But my fear, my vivid, black fear is that I should take a step in the wrong direction and end up, five or six years from now, very far off my mark.
But what can be gained from fearing? Progress can stall. Lives can seemingly be frozen because of some dead end job or relationship but time, as we all know, does not stand still. The years will move forward even if I do not, and because of this, I cannot stand still.
Regardless of what steps I take, my optimism for the future remains intact. My classmate has his baby, his wife, his home and hearth and I too, have mine, lodged away in the brimming folds of my future. I spoke of alienation, but it is alienating sometimes, to see some future version of yourself in another. To speak grandly, we all end up in the same place, more or less. The body makes sure of that. What separates my classmate from me, me from the rest of the world and what gives me something to talk about, is the road.