Winter approaches like a hook angling through cloudy water. But the temperature stays just tepid enough that the leaves can keep their grip on the branches, resisting that final, funereal change. They move in the trees like a whirling, upturned skirt of orange, coral, and amber, and I almost believe they’ll outlast the snow. When they finally fall to the ground, they do it in style: A yellow ginkgo leaf pirouetting slowly from the top of a thirty-foot tree. A troop of a hundred leaves rushing through the street, clinging to the bite of the breeze as one plural form. Leaves shimmering like gems, clogging the stream. Leaves cupping flowers, both slowly greying together. It feels not like decay, but like defiance.
Set adrift by the conclusion of my graduate program and the collapse of my vision of the near-future, I feel feral. I wish to grow wings, scales, claws. I fantasize about vanishing. I watch reviews of videogames in which protagonists inhabit the Wyoming woods, the Alaskan tundra, the outermost reaches of deep space, dense, richly rendered billion-pixels worlds. I begin to take Strawberry’s wilder ideas more seriously. He’s the type to dream profoundly, naively, earnestly. Let’s travel the Pacific on a fixer-upper, he says, and I picture myself yelling into a squall, a thick braided rope tied around my waist, hair slicked down by unbroken sheets of rain. Let’s live on a mountaintop, he says, and I picture him carrying a bundle of lumber up a tree-lined incline, the copper in his beard catching the early morning sunlight, pausing to exhale deeply into frigid air. When I shoot these ideas down, which I must do, it’s not without a pang of longing.
What can the future hold? I wish I could know if my life must be lived within a set of possibilities and if so, how much power I hold over the levers. It’s a desire motivated not by a belief in determinism but by pure fear, because I don’t want to hope for more than what I can achieve. I can’t explain why this is. I’m not afraid of hard work, disappointment, or rejection. I’m not afraid of an ordinary life. The cynic in me, who hates heartbreak, reminds me that storms at sea and mountain lodges likely won’t be in the cards. Evading the banality of everyday pain and high-diving into escapism seems laughable, implausible, gauchely Hollywood. But I find myself feeling jealous of Strawberry’s ability to dream with no restraints. I find myself wanting to protect that starry-eyed inclination from the sting of pragmatism. When I look for jobs, it’s always distractedly. I sit at my desk and stare at the wall as though a portal might open there. I’m waiting for a miracle to happen. I’m looking for that sudden, out-of-the-blue change that will set me on a different course.