The Saturday afternoon ferry is mostly empty. There are a few tired families sitting in booths looking out the window, children stretched across their parents' laps. A few older men with long white ponytails sit opposite one another, playing cards on the table between them. They both look like ship captains, one eye on the game, one eye on the water.
As Lisa and I walk through the cabin, I see a young man and his girlfriend in the very last row of seats. She is half reclined, resting her cheek against his chest. He is reading out loud to her, absentmindedly rubbing a section of her hair between his fingers. His own curls fall long across his forehead, she has her eyes wide open, listening. I pull on the hem of Lisa's jacket and make a small motion in their direction.
"If you had told me," I say as she opens the door and we step onto the windy deck, "nine year ago, when I moved out here to Seattle- I was 17, right out of boarding school, so excited and so optimistic - if you had told me that after almost a decade in this state, I still wouldn't have that for myself?" I lean my weight against the railing, feeling the cold metal press into my stomach. "There's no way I would have believed you.
"I would have said- are you kidding me? In this his huge city? In all of the people I'm going to meet in school and through climbing and ultimate and swing dancing and everything I'm planning on doing? You're telling me I won't have someone- in nine year I won't have found anyone- who will read aloud to me on the ferry? That boy with the curls and the carhart vest and a green knit hat who adores me and escapes the city with me each weekend- I haven't found him? You're nuts."
We're looking out at the dark cabins built on the edge of the water, at the end of long wooden docks, small boats bobbing slowly beside them. I wonder about the people who live there. If they have children. If it's their second home or their third home or maybe their only home.
"I would have told you you were totally nuts." I say again.
"What about this-" said Lisa. "What if someone told us when we were kids: listen, you're going to do everything right. You're going to work hard all through school, you're going to make good grades, join all the right groups, play sports, volunteer, debate, model citizens, you'll take the SATs and never get in trouble and be nice to people, and drive carefully and recycle and brush your teeth. And then you'll get into college, a good college, and you'll study hard and make the dean's list, win awards, work a part time job, and you'll be smart and witty and well read and good. You'll never dream of taking drugs and never break the law and then-"
As she speaks, my heart becomes an angry butterfly.
"And then you'll graduate. And then? The economy will tank. And there will be no money, and very little jobs, and no opportunities. Somebody in some bank made some bad decision that will have halted everything and there will be too many people and there will be nothing waiting for you."
Something about the leaden sky, the mid-May weather feeling like November, is making us think harder than we should.
So I think about it. All the job applications scattered around the city- half of them garbage, things on Craigslist that turn out to be scams- half of them real positions that I am so, so perfectly suited for. I think about the empty inbox and phones not blinking with any messages from employers. I think about the health insurance still out there with no answer, about men who say "I love you, but-"
And this is what I tell Lisa: "If someone had told me that when I was a kid? I would have just asked, 'then what's the point?'"
That's why we are taking this trip together. To figure out, well, what is the point? Not in a bitter way, despite how this may sound. Not in a caustic way or a self pitying way. We have open minds and many questions.
Life has changed a lot from the life we were told we were going to have. When I was younger, how could I have understood the intricate relationship between job markets and house markets and the economy in Iceland and banks and loans? How could I have known how dazzlingly complicated things could be between men and women- even for those with the purest hearts?
When we arrive on Orcas island- a little crescent of land in the San Juan islands- the town is shut tight. We are the only ones walking the quiet streets. The restaurants are closed. Dinner is peanut butter cream Oreos on the cold beach.
And the evening's entertainment is studying driftwood. And walking around.
We both wanted some place to be by ourselves. To sort a few things out. And I think we found it.
What if, when I first landed as a teenager onto the tarmac at SeaTac someone had given me a glimpse of my life as it is now. There will be endless exploration, and adventures of all sorts, over a thousand different landscapes. There will be much freedom and incredible happiness. But those things you thought you'd have by now, the things that you think make you a real person- a career, an income, a house, someone who is crazy about you. You don't have those things yet.
Would I say it was enough? Would I stand up and shoulder my backpack and hail a cab into the city and say- I love you! I love the exploration and the adventures and the wild coasts and mountains and friends and photographs. This is all that I want or need for the next ten years.
Or would I creep backwards towards the airport. I think I need something more, I might have said. I don't think we're heading in similar directions. It's not you- you're amazing- it's me. Would I say: I do love you, but-