I’ve always known I will graduate and there would be a next chapter. I’ve written about it many times—probably too many times. But it’s also been this distant thought, a known that seemed forever far off. My next step never seemed pressing. While I have juggled many ideas of my future, I haven’t had to choose the next exit to take on the road of life. Sure, I’ve adjusted speeds, made maps, and changed the radio station, but I haven’t had to say my destination. I’ve just said I’m going west and thrown out some cities’ names.
“I’m heading to LA,” I’d say one week, and by the end of the week, I’d be saying, “I’m actually going to Santa Fe.” And on Monday? “I’m going to Anchorage!”
Well, that’s no longer the case. Last week I learned of a deadline. My funding expires in June. I graduate in June. The email didn’t say the latter, but that’s what the former means.
Goodbye, PhD school. Cazey is entering the Real World. In nine months.
And what city am I going to? Honolulu?
Suddenly, my Future is not two TV seasons away. It is six episodes away. And, gosh, episodes are flying by! We already know in three episodes I’ll be on a trip somewhere. And episode eight will definitely be me at a friend’s wedding pondering singlehood for the umpteenth time. GAH, that leaves so little time to reach the penultimate episode where I have decided what’s next and the cameras film me packing up!! How are things happening so fast this season!?
Which brings me to the mid-season breakdown (that happens three-fourths through the episode and parallels another friend’s success in life). No one asks, What’s next? and stares at an abyss without something comparable to a breakdown. Even if that “breakdown” is just me drinking screwdrivers on a Tuesday at District 5 and throwing my hands up. (It also can be characterized as me sitting poolside with pizza ranting about the failed American Dream.)
Also, what’s next is not so nebulous as all that. This is a multiple-choice question, not short answer. And the options are fairly obvious. There’s no E.) None of the above (though Reckless Millennial says there should be).
The problem is (and is it a problem????), options A through C involve me staying in Richmond. For years, I have said I would leave. I have never said where; that has not mattered. But I have told the world, myself, and the stars I would leave. I like Richmond, but I do not love her, and this is not my forever home. Or at least that’s not what I wanted. To stay, in my mind, is to stay forever. And I don’t want that. I have a bit more life in me. I’m being melodramatic (did you need to be told), but the probability of me leaving Richmond is much higher at my graduation next summer versus the probability of me leaving if I take a job for two years.
The film plays like this: He said he would leave. He accepts job in Richmond. He says it will be temporary. He enjoys a fun year of Fan nights and river days. He meets someone. He buys a house. He marries. He’s suddenly 45. A young, ambitious intern brings up their future, and he counsels, “I always thought I’d leave, but now I have a 401(k) and a Near West End home.” Cut to credits.
I’m not melodramatic. I’m realistic. To stay in Richmond is to possibly stay forever.
This is not the worst thing—and I find myself qualifying even that. To say it’s “not the worst” implies it is still on the less desirable side, but that’s not the case. Richmond is a great place. I have actually no reason to leave other than I want to leave. And I can’t even tell you where I want to go. Portland?!
But I’ve lived in Virginia since birth. I have always said I would leave the state. Due to in-state tuition, that has remained a CV objective, not a fulfilled goal.
Graduation is my opportunity to seize that goal. We only have so many moves in life. People don’t up and move to new cities every day. Yes, you can apply for jobs or follow partners, but generally, you follow connections. I have a network here. This is why I have career potential here in fact. I will only continue to grow a network. Leaving will become a more distant possibility.
“Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?” my friend challenged me when I told her my quandary.
I retorted, “Fish grow to the size of their bowl.”
“Fish also swim,” another friend said when I summarized the fish parable. “And you will always be swimming.”
Writing this now, my retort is, “But I’m a bird, not a fish.” But I’m beginning to feel I’m a flightless bird.
All this is to say, What does it mean to stay? I would not be unhappy in Richmond. I have no reason to leave other than the Reckless Millennial says to. But it also begs the larger question, What does it mean to walk away from a dream?
I said I would leave. Existentially, what does it mean if I don’t? Have I failed? Am I a lesser person? Should I stick to my guns?
Compounding this is choice D for the What’s Next? question. Since tenth grade, I’ve wanted to join the Peace Corps. Readers are probably sick of hearing it. I’m sick of writing it. So obviously, it’s a choice. I could go. I want to go. Without writing an essay, I am not sure it is the right choice. But will it ever be the right choice? Should I walk away from something I have wanted for over a decade?
“You won’t make the safe choice,” one of the same friends concluded when I dumped all this on the table (at Sully’s over double rum and Diets for added context).
Probably because there is no safe choice. There are career-savvy choices. There are practical considerations. But there are huger fears. I rethink the film of 45-year-old me living in the Near West with a secure financial future. Does 45-year-old me have to drink perpetual double rum and Diets because he passed up a dream(s)?
This is why you have to stay tuned to this season. Who knows what happens in the penultimate episode? I don’t think the script will be leaking anytime soon.