They sit in a restaurant talking about the future. As they have a hundred times before, and as they will a hundred time more. But this time is different. This time it feels real.
And it feels faker than ever before. They have each chosen their paths and that is their life. The dad and his two daughters talk about their brother. His son.
And the boy is now a man, working full time for a real company with real stakes and employees who call these careers, and go to work considering their real ambitions and hopes.
And this is his life. This job and the nine to five life that goes with it. And he seems happy.
And the eldest daughter is almost done her masters. She’s been published and the dad is proud. She lives alone and she cooks real meals, not just toast or cereal or frozen pizza.
She chats with the waitress easily, and asks her dad the right questions. A peer and a child all in one. And she talks of her future and it’s certain and uncertain all at once.
And she’s probably excited or nervous or scared but it’s subdued. None of the intensity of a toddler, and all of the seriousness of an adult. And the future they speak of is real.
Not certain, but it may as well be.
And the son and the daughter will live good lives, with good jobs. And they will be happy more than they are sad. They will be the productive members of society they were raised to be.
They will work, and enjoy at least some of that work, and be proud of more of it. And by any reasonable definition, they will be successful.
And this is the future that they simultaneously have and don’t. It is here and away. And it is good. They are happy with it.
But the youngest daughter sits at that table. And she thinks of five years from now, terrified. And she talks and plans, law school or a masters, but both are wrong. And her degree is wrong.
And it is right at the same time. She is in the future but she is different from the girl who planned it, and she is the same. But either way it’s wrong.
And she is in the past but she is different than the girl she is planning for, and she is the same. But either way it’s wrong. And she dreams of life as an artist, or a writer.
Not as a scientist or lawyer or corporate ladder climber. But she knows what's realistic. So she dreams of the future she’s been told to want.
But it’s unrealistic too, just in a different way. It’s a good life, just not the one that she wants.
She sits beside her sister who is happy, or at least happy enough. And she thinks of her brother who is happy, or at least happy enough. And she glances across at her dad who is happy, or at least happy enough.
And she can see them all in five years. Or ten. Their lives taking predictable turns.
But all the one’s they want to take. The big decisions made, they can go on autopilot. And they all talk with hope but no excitement, about these lives that will be more than enough.
And they will be happy. But she sits there, as they talk about the future, thinking about hers. And it’s too real. But maybe it always will be.