Now, the moment when we face the fog, real or imagined and expectant, and react with all five senses taut. Keep the curtains drawn until noon, and work hard at nothing else but laying low.
Now, heading to college at eighteen, thinking our fall arrivals on golden campuses will inspire a maturation in ourselves, our taste buds, our study habits and our work ethics. We have an x amount of summer days to pack in as much fun-as-we-defined-it-then before it gets confiscated by real adults who don’t want us having fun, or phones or Facebook during freshman invocation. Hella rough.
Now, college graduates on the green summery eves of working our new jobs, except for those of us who don’t get them until the first frost appears, in October or November or December. We hover and flap over the echoey expanse between undergrad and professional life like cartoon birds. We go almost nowhere and neither do the stacks of empty PBR cans from the shacks of houses we illegally cram ten people into. There will be a better word for this, later. The constant fog at the window; never knowing when we’d passed a mile marker, or if we’d even moved at all.
Now, the jobs finally come. The first few years, we’re working forty hours a week at places that kill us in almost every way but the way we wish they would. We’re burying bills under stacks of magazines, and visiting the dentist for regular cleanings just because it’s free. We spend more money on a candle than we used to make in a week. A few months after writing our notes of resignation, with an ’04 Taurus worth of cash, we face summer in a new city, wide open and oven-like. For weeks, we wake up at 6 AM in damp sheets, panicked, not believing that we have nowhere to be, no assignments to complete or meetings to plan, no one to answer to. We find work, but mostly work at finding other work.
Then, flying back home or to wherever we last considered home to be, we make calls and have drinks with old friends who are or aren’t doing the things they’d said they’d be doing next when we saw them last. We’ve got some money to our names, not much, but enough to buy a round of drinks for these friends. We feel safe next to them and the trees or streets or buildings we know the best. We’re nearly careless and young enough to make bouncers think the IDs we have are fakes.
In the morning, we sit cross-legged on the porch, wearing our bathing suits and watching traffic pass. We switch from coffee to Budweiser tall boys and flash the cars and bikes and planes that fly past us and above us. We have nothing to work on except for our tans, which appear on our halogen-fed skin like a message from the Messiah, and we remember what it was like to see our hands and ankles darken, the tiny hairs on our arms lighten. Not neat, the fraying and crumbling and peeling away. All slough and new growth. But around six o’clock when everyone else leaves work for the day, we go to the places we would have laughed at before. It’s all just how it used to be, but different. The fog is still there, but we love it now. For everything it lets us see and for everything it doesn’t. We wonder if we’d been lying to ourselves this whole time.
We dance outside in rain, start bands, sleep on roofs and wake up to the sun and moon in the very same sky, climb street signs, jump from second-story windows and don’t discover the bruises until the next day. We are always searching for our old or new selves, but then we jump into the lake, naked and flittering with warm whiskey in our blood, and we forget what we look like entirely. It is the easiest thing to float, our dusty skin opening then closing against the water’s pins, spread like branches of black ice. We are mayflies, now, skimming the surface, with a moon and a mountain clear beside us: guardians we thought we didn’t need, but they make it easier to close our eyes next to. We have to get out, eventually. The cold catches up to us.
At brunch, we talk about plans. Let’s do this every three years, we say. We’ll quit our jobs and meet somewhere exotic but not too expensive. We congratulate ourselves and drink Bloody Marys with beer in them because vodka is three dollars more. A decision is made.
Now, nothing surprises us anymore. We go to Iceland, Spain, Colombia, India, and Bali. Giant pieces of aluminum carry us through the sky. Hundreds of other tiny people sit in there with us and wait for the landing, for relief and for the beginning or the end to whatever. We are not any more weightless than them or the thing moving us along.
Now, there’s news of a storm coming. Someone who’s not where we are says they are worried and tells us to put water in all the spare glasses and in the bathtub. Just in case the power goes out. We fill the tub with water and the glasses too. And then we drink cheap wine and eat Oreos until we pass out. In the morning, we empty the glasses and see that everything is the same but a few broken tree branches and a garbage can on its side.
Now, we were right about some things. Being lied to about who and how we would turn out being. But we could take all the things we were promised, all the things we were ashamed to accept at first, or nothing at all. It could all be the same, or sometimes better. Whatever we were under our heads in, fog and ice and grey and black, there at least we could float as close to free as ever. Time wouldn’t drown us. It was ours for as long as we could stand to stay in.