The future is 34 pushpins pressed into a map of the United States.
It’s hiding somewhere beneath the precision with which each was pinpointed. The future is shy and unforgiving and anticipatory and oh so unknowable.
“Probability says California,” Brooke, my roommate, tells me, cupping her forearms around a cluster of pins.
I nod, trying to imagine her in California. Me in New York City. Our other roommate in Washington, D.C.
It’s funny how one home transitions into another like that. Looking back, it’s seamless. But when you’re at the edge of each cliff and you’re ready to jump, it’s like the first time you realize the world is in constant motion. For three years and eight months, it’s pushed to the back of your mind. But then someone pulls out the big G word — graduation — and suddenly it’s everything.
You feel it rising up from the pit of your stomach like a sudden sickness that washes over you, forcing you to stop and sit down. To regain a sense of balance and stability. To find yourself on that map of pushpins.
Where will I be in the future?
“You’ll live on the lake,” I tell her. “I can picture it.”
And I can, now. The forestation rising up on three sides. A vast expanse of cloudy water in front of her. The sounds of her children’s laughter rising up in the background as she stretches out on the shoreline, digging the tips of her toes into the grass and dirt. She stops reading her book to crane her neck, motioning for her daughter to come to her.
“Do you want to go for a swim?” she asks.
The girl, whose hair is as white-blonde as Brooke’s, nods vehemently and starts tugging her t-shirt over her head.
She reaches the edge of the water, lifts up one foot, and frowns.
“What’s wrong?” Brooke asks.
The girl shakes her head and starts back toward the spot on the grass where my roommate’s stretched out.
“It’s too cold,” she says.
Brooke sets her book down. “How do you know?”
She shrugs her shoulders. She doesn’t.
The two of them walk to the edge. Holding hands, they take a deep breath and wade, gently, into the murky water. A fish swims by on one side and the little girl squeals, latching onto Brooke’s leg.
After a few seconds, she releases her grasp. She wades out further and, without warning, dives under the water. When she emerges, she brushes her hair back and giggles.
“Brrr,” she says. “It’s warmer in the water.”
It’s the first moment that will make up a thousand others. The initial shock of icy water filling up her lungs grows into a comfort. It’s warmer in the water. What once was cold and scary and new becomes familiar and true.
Only one of those pushpins will become home for Brooke. Probability says California. But wherever she is, there will no doubt be the lake with the icy water. And try as she might, she won’t be able to emerge without shivering a bit. Because it’s warmer in the water.