Well, the future thus far has been disappointing. When I was nine, I announced my intentions to publish my first novel at thirteen, the age of “teenager-hood”—essentially adulthood to my third-grade mind.
I have not even finished a novel draft to-date. If I had stuck to my plan, I would have surely been famous by now. The future is anticlimactic. And not just because of the lack of flying cars, cancer cures, floating cities, and economical intergalactic travel.
Thirteen came and went without a novel. And I think twenty-one will be equally anticlimactic.
In four days, I will legally purchase my first alcoholic drink in the United States. And it will be completely insignificant.
Like most young adults, I’ve already had my first alcoholic experience. It was room-temperature red wine in a classy restaurant in Florence, Italy when I was nineteen. I’d had three flights in the previous twenty-four hours and had slept very little in the previous forty-eight, due to electrifying excitement for my first overseas trip and the claustrophobic introvert’s-hell that is the middle seat of the middle row in the economy section of an air bus. I remember next to nothing about that night except that the wine burned on the way down and I barely drank half the glass over a two-hour period, but still experienced a warm, cottony slowness in my brain. Not withstanding, I do not think the wine can be blamed for my attempt to fake “coolness,” intelligence, and worldly experience by engaging my equally jet-legged companions in theological argument.
That story says a few significant things about me as a person. It is, at least, a part of a more influential period of my life than anything I’ll do in four days.
A lot of the significant moments and elements of my life are slightly displaced. It’s as if the decal overlay on my life marking the turning points and rites of passage was stuck on slightly off-center. Unpredictable and seemingly inconsequential things have shaped my life. It makes me think about Star Trek 2009, a decent movie, but also a wildly convenient one—everyone’s lives just sort of intersect.
There are things that should have changed my life, and then there are things that actually did.
I should have been part of the 9/11 generation. There seems to be an expectation that our view of the world should be forged by that. And for many kids my age, that day represents an awakening to the reality of tragedy and death. But I wasn’t quite four when the Twin Towers fell, was shepherded away from news screens. I remember adults’ reactions, adults’ prayers, and that the dad of my neighbor two doors down served several tours in Iraq. But mostly, 9/11 was as distant for me as Pearl Harbor.
What did change me, and awakened me to tragedy and death, was the morning my parents sat down across from me in our living room and explained that Jessica* in my ballet class had passed away suddenly from something wrong with her stomach. Jessica and I were not close friends. I don’t think I ever talked to her. I remember her. I remember writing out and and illustrating a hand-stapled book of all the verses I knew about heaven for her mom. I remember making an art diorama of heaven based on Revelation several years later that featured Jessica alongside my deceased grandparents. I remember having a nightmare about floating out of my body and watching my family without being able to talk to them, a sinister twist on how death had been explained to me. I remember being irrationally terrified of stomach aches.
I should have been part of the Harry Potter generation. As an imaginative child who developed literary tastes, an obsession with all things British, and a conviction that I was special at an early age, I was an ideal candidate to be told I was a wizard. But on my way to Hogwarts, my mother and I were snared in the debate over magical books for Christian children, and my experience with the wizarding world has been late and partial.
But in those elementary years when I should have been reading Harry Potter, I was writing and directing plays in the basement of my best friend, Grace, and all but worshiping the ground she walked on. Grace was a year older, had more scientific aptitude, and knew everything important to know about “cool” and the world in general. Grace loved Star Trek, particularly Mr. Spock. And, wanting to find a place in this world my friend loved but too independent to admit to tagging along, I both teased her relentlessly for her crush on an ancient science fiction show and thoroughly researched the Enterprise and its crew. And I was fascinated, not by psychedelic costumes and hyperbolic acting, but by the brightly optimistic future and the portrayal of the power of a balanced and balancing friendship, the binding strength of complimentary opposites that I have observed giving endurance to my own closest friendships. On the advice of adults in primary-colored felt, I boldly sought friends who were drastically different from me and let them influence and challenge me.
My life is full of things that should have happened. I should have dated in college. I should have gotten a driver’s license at sixteen as opposed to nineteen. I should have gotten my wisdom teeth out last summer. My twenty-first birthday should matter. But it probably won’t.
I intend for my ninetieth birthday to be significant, though. A dear friend and I plan to take a civilian cruise to the moon. Surely technology will have advanced sufficiently. We even have an event on our Google Calendars because the bizarre version of the future which has come to pass allows for nonsense like setting an alert that will likely outlast the technology it is set on. My friend recently suggested moving our journey forward to our sixtieth birthdays in case one of use gets Alzheimer’s or some other disease before we reach ninety. I told her not to worry, someone will have cured that stuff by then. But even that evidences that the bounds of our belief, even our ridiculous ones, are defined by hosts of significant and insignificant histories. For me, it’s Star Trek, among other things.
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.