When I announced that I had wanted to take a gap year in lieu of college, my parents had agreed to it—but only if I started interning at my dad's bank the fall after my high school graduation. It was October now, and the part-time work was already killing me with boredom.
The man onstage finally wrapped up his speech, and everyone clapped politely. Thank God. People rushed the dessert table, and I was about to get up and grab some cake when my dad stopped me.
"Jack, I want you to meet a few people," he said, waving a couple over. I groaned inwardly. He shot me a warning glance. "This internship isn't about going through the motions. You're supposed to be networking. Some of these people have great connections to the best colleges in the US."
Great. I put on my finest schmoozing smile. It was a good smile.
A tall Asian woman wearing dark red lipstick reached her hand out to me. "Jack! We're so glad you were able to make the event tonight. Shows initiative."
"Thank you, Caroline," I said. Her eyebrows rose with pleasant surprise. I was good at remembering names. "But let's be honest, I'm here for the cake."
She threw her head back and laughed, as did her companion—a burly Indian man in an expensive suit. Nikhil, if I recalled correctly. "Make sure you try the tiramisu," Nikhil said in a polished British accent. "So, how are you enjoying your gap year, Jack? I have fond memories of mine—backpacking through Europe and all that."
I shot my dad a very deliberate look. See? Backpacking! It's a thing!
But I said, "Oh, it's been great. I think there's so much you can learn outside of college, and I have the privilege of doing that." It was a subtle in-real-life subtweet, and I'm sure my dad picked up on it.
Nikhil snapped his fingers then. "Oh! I have a question about cameras, Jack!"
I startled. "You do?"
"Yeah, I've seen you in the office with that fancy camera of yours," he said. "You're a camera guy, right? I need a recommendation for one."
My dad shifted next to me, and tension crept up my back. "Oh, sure. What kind of camera are you looking for?"
Nikhil went on to describe what he wanted, and I tried to maintain a neutral expression. Yes, I knew a thing or two about cameras. I'd been hooked on photography for years, ever since I got my first fancy camera as a Christmas gift from my parents—a Canon Rebel that I took everywhere. As far as my parents were concerned, it was a hobby. They made that very clear when I went digging around into various art programs. They had reacted with extreme skepticism, pushing me toward business and engineering programs instead.
It had been what killed my enthusiasm for college. Why I had asked for the gap year. The idea of studying business or something instead of photography sent me into a literal panic.
The bigger thing I didn't tell my parents was this: I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to college. That college was something that felt far away now. So far away that I didn't know if it would ever be a part of my life. I saw where it got you. In a ballroom eating tiramisu while wearing an overpriced suit.
I glanced at my dad in that overpriced suit. This wasn't the life he wanted, either. My dad had studied creative writing in college. Even got an MFA. But life and circumstances had landed him here.
The conversation veered into financial stuff after I gave Nikhil some camera recommendations, so I made my way over to the dessert table. But everything looked unappetizing. My shirt collar was stifling, the buzz of the ballroom deafening. Existential dread filled me every moment I was here. Feeling time pass, feeling my actual cells grow older. I took a deep breath, my mind already whirring with how I could get out of this. Illness? My dad was a germophobe, so it might work.