You know, until you don’t

Aug 10, 2021 | Lifestyle

By Laryn Hilderbrandt

“Who do you want to be? What do you want to do?”

I remember the clicking and tapping sound throughout the computer lab, the whirr of the monitor and the hushed conversations of the children around me. The smell of Expo markers uncapped, the musty but cleaning agent smell that only schools seemed to have. I was a child, seven or eight. Mrs. Vicki walked around the room, preaching about dreams and goals, peeking her slightly grayed head over small shoulders.

I could taste the rightness of my answer on my tongue. President. That’s what I wanted to be. Maybe a writer on the side, since I had won the Young Author competition in the age group of my county recently with a story about a glittering unicorn that three friends rode through an imaginative reality of concerts and wishes.

Proof of creative genius.

We were putting our dreams on a PowerPoint. Who we wanted to be was displayed on bright, colorful pages, unnecessary curling of the words we chose to adopt; Curlz MT was my personal favorite font. President, I thought again, writer on the side. I cut my eyes to the girl beside me, weighing her answer against mine. She said astronaut. Hah. So silly, like that would happen.

I was seven or eight planning decades ahead like it was cemented into my future with no take backs. The path in front of me was paved in surety.

“Who do you want to be? What do you want to do?”

I remember being in middle school, toward the end of eighth grade. I wanted to be a writer and tell stories. I liked the smoothness of keys under the pads of my fingers, the black letters appearing in a rush of thoughts on a white computer background. I wrote short stories for fun, inspired by the books I disappeared in.

I would ride the school bus in the mornings and afternoons curled in a seat toward the back, knees against the deep, worn, blue leather seat in front of me. My friends and I shared sets of headphones, stretching cords across aisles to have at least one earbud in. Thinking was done to the sound of Top Hits.

I was ready for high school and confident I would flourish. I envisioned a social life that shined gold, the power to walk in a room and feel wanted despite the pressure of eyes. I saw it all clearly and knew it was realistic. The path in front of me was paved in surety.

“Who do you want to be? What do you want to do?”

I remember it as the guiding question of junior year in high school. Every student was asked it in conjunction with piles of college brochures, scholarship applications and ACT scores.

We were expected to exchange tokens of memories from high school so far with the considerations of the future.

Memories like late night trips to haunted spots like the donkey-shaped tree, the crying bridge you shouldn’t stop a car on, or the Virgin Mary shrine in the middle of the woods. Like red solo cups on an unmarked road, a truck’s headlights cutting beams through the darkness. Like stadium lights shining on a football field, the boys I once rode the bus home with playing in navy and white.

I would attend Western Kentucky University, a major of public relations declared before I had my first class.

I had considered my future and was already filing my memories in the back of my mind to hold on to until our 10th high school reunion. I was ready to attend a college an hour and a half away. The path in front of me was paved in surety.

“Who do you want to be? What do you want to do?”

I remember what I use to say to that. It was like ordering food without looking at the menu because you had already seen it so many times.

President. Writer. A public relations major. Someone great.

I want to be a publicist, a content creator, a someone. I want to love, be loved and feel powerful, inspired even, when I walk into a room. I want a seat at the table. I want and expect so much more than ever before. But I’m sure on those answers, confident.

Except that isn’t the question anymore. It’s now: “Have you figured out your plans for after graduation? How will you get there? Are you looking yet? Where will you be?”

My list of Google searches on my computer grows with every day that goes by. The available job listings instill a sense of doubt in the pit of my stomach. The clock ticks quicker, the days disappear and the countdown to graduation continues moving. I finish up an email to an agency inquiring about an internship. A formal rejection email about an internship at a different company dings into my email later. I open my resume to make new edits, trying to position myself better.

I feel like I am standing on a cliff, seeing my dreams on the other side with no bridge in-between. I have time but it’s leaving quick. When people ask about my future, I revert back to answers that come easy; however, the how and where are missing. There’s a bitter humor to it.

The path in front of me was paved in surety.

I don’t know what comes next, don’t know what it looks like, don’t know how I’ll get there.

“We’ll see,” I say noncommittally.

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