Julie and I were passing the alley behind her parents’ grocery store when she picked up a fallen head of cabbage and declared it a metaphor for her life. She liked grand statements and big gestures, so as she stood with a foot on the curb and the cabbage thrust high into the air, I expected her to break out into some poetic explanation of how this brown, wilting cabbage so perfectly encompassed her life’s trajectory.
She said, in boring, plain english, that she felt old: she felt it as quiet nights in became preferable; as her internal clock woke her earlier and earlier; as she worried about her future, plotting ifs and thens until the vast uncertainty of it made her cower. She knew it would come. “I’ll just be driving along and BANG! Future! Out of nowhere!” It would poof into existence as a lamppost in the middle of the road, and she’d run right into it.
Her parents wanted her to eventually run the store, but she aspired to be “more,” something that was done “out there.” It was as if she’d read about it in a brochure and knew it would be everything it promised. I didn’t think “out there” had answers, but when she left to experience it, I wasn’t surprised.
Me, I liked it here. The streets were familiar: I could get a haircut at Jim’s for cheap or a better one at Donna’s for a little more; the 7-Eleven on Salem had employees who forgot to refill the slurpee machines; Pizza Village made the crusts too thin. I knew this place. It was safe.
Her most earnest advice came the summer I was discovering wine and trying to taste the subtlety that sophisticated tongues could savor. Julie shook her head.
She said “wine’s an old people thing, like building birdhouses or worrying about being on time for appointments.” Here, she kicked my glass over and stood on her chair. Grand statements, big gestures. “We’re too young to drink wine. We’re too young to appreciate it. We’re supposed to chug and spill until hungover. We’re not supposed to wonder what it all means. We just do.”
That was when I knew her problem. She wanted to take things as they came, but she couldn’t. Getting old didn’t bother her. It was the fear of accomplishing nothing in the process.
Julie returned a year later with a journal stuffed with adventure: pictures, clippings, crinkled napkins, flattened flowers, grass, placards, and a dusty page labeled “dirt from Sedona.”
I don’t know what it all meant to her, or if she found answers, or how those places could’ve given any.
She says she had a great time, and can’t I see it when I leaf through the book? But she smiles, and I see she’s holding out. She’s seen and done things too grand to be tethered by words. She smiles, and I think, what’s out there? She smiles, and I wonder.