She has no patience for rose-colored glasses and even less for melancholy.
“I’m not being cute,” I promise her, “and I’m definitely not being whimsical.”
The arch of her eyebrow deepens. “Are you sure? Because you’re prone to both, babe.”
I roll my eyes. “You just mean I’m short and wear bright colors.”
“No, you’re tiny,” she corrects me, “and wear loud patterns. Your style is, like, 1960s Parisian bread maker’s daughter bicycling through her village at dawn, shouting Bonjour, le monde whilst doling out baguettes.”
“Anyway,” I say, pulling us back on track, “what I mean is, what’s the point of taking this ridiculously expensive vacation, then writing all about it for the forty-two people in the world who can afford the time and money to re-create it?”
Her brows settle into a flat line as she thinks. “Well, first of all, I don’t assume most people use R+R articles as an itinerary, Pop. You give them a hundred places to check out, and they choose three. And secondly, people want to see idyllic vacations in vacation magazines. They buy them to daydream, not to plan.” Even as she’s being Pragmatic Rachel, cynical Art School Rachel is creeping in, giving her words an edge. Art School Rachel is something of an old man screaming at the sky, a stepdad at the dinner table, saying, “Why don’t you unplug for a while, kids?” while holding out a bowl to collect everyone’s phones.
I love Art School Rachel and her Principles, but I’m also unnerved by their sudden appearance on this sidewalk patio. Because right now words are bubbling up that I haven’t said aloud yet. Sensitive, secret thoughts that never fully exposed themselves to me in the many hours I’ve spent lying on the still-like-new sofa of my uncozy, unlived-in apartment during the downtime between trips.
“What’s the point?” I say again, frustrated. “I mean, don’t you ever feel like that? Like, I worked so hard, did every single thing right—”
“Well, not everything,” she says. “You did drop out of college, babe.”
“—so I could get my dream job. And I actually got it. I work at one of the top travel magazines! I have a nice apartment! And I can take cabs without worrying too much about what that money should go to, and despite all of that”—I take a shaky breath, unsure of the words I’m about to force out even as the full weight of them hits me like a sandbag—“I’m not happy.”
Rachel’s face softens. She sets her hand on mine but stays silent, holding space for me to go on. It takes me a while to make myself. I feel like such an ungrateful jerk for even having these thoughts, let alone admitting them aloud.
“It’s all pretty much how I pictured it,” I finally say. “The parties, the layovers in international airports, the cocktails on the jet, and the beaches and the boats and the vineyards. And it all looks how it should, but it feels different than I imagined it. Honestly, I think it feels different than it used to. I used to bounce off the walls for weeks before a trip, you know? And when I got to the airport, I’d feel like—like my blood was humming. Like the air was just vibrating with possibility around me. I don’t know. I’m not sure what’s changed. Maybe I have.”
She brushes a dark curl behind her ear and shrugs. “You wanted it, Poppy. You didn’t have it, and you wanted it. You were hungry.”
Instantly, I know she’s right. She’s seen right through the word vomit to the center of things. “Isn’t that ridiculous?” I groan-laugh. “My life turned out how I hoped it would, and now I just miss wanting something.”
Shaking with the weight of it. Humming with the potential. Staring at the ceiling of my crappy, pre-R+R fifth-floor walk-up, after a double shift serving drinks at the Garden, and daydreaming about the future. The places I’d go, the people I’d meet—who I’d become. What is there left to want when you’ve got your dream apartment, your dream boss, and your dream job (which negates any anxiety over your dream apartment’s obscenely high rent, because you spend most of your time eating at Michelin-starred restaurants on the company’s dime anyway)?
Rachel drains her glass and globs some Brie onto a cracker, nodding knowingly. “Millennial ennui.”
“Is that a thing?” I ask.
“Not yet, but if you repeat it three times, there’ll be a Slate think piece on it by tonight.”
I throw a handful of salt over my shoulder as if to ward off such evil, and Rachel snorts as she pours us each a fresh glass.
“I thought the whole thing about millennials was that we don’t get what we want. The houses, the jobs, the financial freedom. We just go to school forever, then bartend ’til we die.”
“Yeah,” she says, “but you dropped out of college and went after what you want. So here we are.”
“I don’t want to have millennial ennui,” I say. “It makes me feel like an asshole to not just be content with my amazing life.”
Rachel snorts again. “Contentment is a lie invented by capitalism,” Art School Rachel says, but maybe she has a point. Usually, she does. “Think about it. All those pictures I post? They’re selling something. A lifestyle. People look at those pictures and think, ‘If only I had those Sonia Rykiel heels, that gorgeous apartment with the French oak herringbone floors, then I’d be happy. I’d swan about, watering my houseplants and lighting my endless supply of Jo Malone candles, and I’d feel my life in perfect harmony. I’d finally love my home. I’d relish my days on this planet.’”
“You sell it well, Rach,” I say. “You seem pretty happy.”
“Damn right I am,” she says. “But I’m not content, and you know why?” She plucks her phone off the table, flips to a specific picture she has in mind, and holds it up. A shot of her reclined on her velvet sofa, laden in bulldogs with matching scars from their matching lifesaving snout surgeries. She’s dressed in SpongeBob SquarePants pajamas and isn’t wearing a lick of makeup.