Last night, I saw a college friend, George Watsky, headline a rap and poetry show in Cambridge, MA. It’s his first headlining tour and the crowd screamed and chanted his name, knew all the lyrics to his songs and enthusiastically lined up to meet him after the show. I felt like a Jewish mother, kvelling all over the place in the back of the room — watching some tangible version of his success, which I’d seen online but never in person.
The night before, at the after-party for his NYC show, there were a bunch of people from my college I hadn’t seen in a while floating around the bar. One was finishing up a run on Broadway in Godspell and we talked about her plans to release an album by Christmas. We talked about another friend who just finished a book and is working on a TV pilot. Everyone is heading slowly, but surely, toward their goals. It’s nice to see.
When I started college, I would often look around at my friends and think: “Where will we end up?” “What will happen to us?” We’re a little closer to knowing the placement of the finish line, but we’re still very young — still smack in the middle of the story. The truth is, we don’t know anything about where we will “end up” and though we try to hold tight to the reins, in some regards, we have very little control. The same day as the Watsky concert in NYC, a group of us learned that a friend from our college comedy scene had passed away suddenly. It’s jarring because he was so young and talented and it’s jarring because his death seems senseless. It was a preventable freak accident. And it cut down someone who had so, so much potential and ambition.
So, I find myself once again asking, “Where will we end up?” I thought it a lot this week, being back in my college town and watching one friend enjoy the fruits of his long, hard creative labors. Not everyone who works hard succeeds. Not everyone who has talent is able to funnel it into making a living from their passion. Most of the people I went to school with won’t end up with mobs of fans shouting their names. Most of them have day jobs now — or went home to live with their parents. But any of that could change. There’s no five-year reunion deadline where you have until this specific date to become whatever you will become and after that, you’re finished. Anyone could become anything.
It’s a facet of my anxiety and my morbidity that I’m always thinking about “the end.” In new relationships, I wonder how we’ll eventually break up. With new jobs, I wonder about getting fired. With new apartments, I hardly ever decorate or settle in, worried about the mess of packing up and leaving. I think all the time about the inevitability of my parents’ deaths.
Every time there’s a new accomplishment or development among my friends or people I used to see around campus, I think about how we’re all moving forward, ever closer to our fates or at least to the gossipy discussion by others of where we “ended up.” I’d often play a game with my ex, asking him to speculate on where I’ll be in five years or ten years — on where our friends will be: on television shows, writing for high-profile music magazines, finally completing their PhDs, having their third child.
You can’t predict most of that though. In high school, I would have never thought my then-best friend would be married and living on the Upper West Side by 22. Or that my boyfriend, who I loved, would stop speaking to me and move to Korea. Or that, for a recent example, this one comedy friend’s life would be cut too short.
There are a bunch of us from school who are doing pretty okay right now, and I keep wondering where everything is leading. Especially where I went to college, it seemed like everyone was so motivated and talented. It seemed like anything could happen. Will I one day be watching someone I stumbled drunkenly around campus with graciously accept a Tony Award? Will I be bailing them out of jail?
Friends who never voiced any interest in such things have, since graduation, ended up on missions to South America or in medical school or directing plays. People who were so popular on campus — so driven or visible — never made anything of their talents. People who never seemed big-time suddenly have fancy corporate jobs. My best friends moved to New Orleans, New Mexico, Austin, Washington DC, and Madrid. There’s no trajectory that can be easily followed, easily categorized, easily watched.
Who, that you sat around with smoking weed, watching Conan and eating Oreo cookies, will become successful — super famous even? Who will fade away never to be heard from again? Who will be at your wedding?
And whose funeral will you attend?