I’m about to graduate college and I’m freaking out. It’s not really the whole cap and gown thing that scares me, but what follows the ceremony. I’ve been creeping ever so lightly, tip­-toeing on the tightrope between childhood and adulthood for the past four years. I am 75% financially independent, which ebbs and flows every passing season. I still call my Dad about the leaky sink in my apartment, have a hard time removing splinters, and pay bills late, which probably will result in a visit to freecreditreport.com and end with emotionally eating a bag of overpriced kettle chips.

Graduation marks the end to a long term relationship with school. There will be no more first days or buying fancy ink pens at the end of August. I can’t pull out the “sorry I have class” card or print for free in the Library. I am having a Quarter Life Crisis and as I look around,everyone else is too. One person’s Quarter Life Crisis looks very different from the next. Here are some hypothetical stories inspired by conversations over blunts on a Tuesday night, in coffee shops, and on the L to school, from twenty-­somethings feeling the burn of the real world.

Eden

I’m in the business of business. I’m in the family business of being in business. My parents met at Penn State, got engaged as seniors, married after graduation, picked up jobs as advisors, had me, had my sister, and lived easy, carefree lives. They were nine to fivers, weekend parents, I like to call them. I would drag myself down the stairs to the kitchen Monday morning to see my mother, clad in a suit, curls piled high in a clip, pouring milk into three bowls of Life.

My dad would crack open Newsweek, being extra careful to not spill milk on his cotton polyester blend. Lara and I would pile into the back of Mom’s Subaru en route to school and wave out the window as my dad drove away to a place I never saw. I never understood what they did, no matter how many times they tried to explain it to me. Their offices were an idea that lived in my head, images full of glass and laminate. What I did know was their jobs took them away from meand they were not firefighters or astronauts or movie stars.

Fast forward to junior year of high school, a cornucopia of pamphlets starts to show up in my mailbox. College was knocking on my door ­shouting­ and scaring the shit out of me. I chose Penn State. It was a safe bet, I could get out of smallish town Vermont and adopt my parent’s vintage collegiate sweatshirts.

Semesters came and went, my gen­eds dwindled, and I found myself perplexed by the idea of picking just one thing for the rest of my life. With the single click of a button in the student portal, I declared a major­ business. My whole identity started to revolve around my decision. What major are you? Why business? Do you like it?

I spent more and more time with other business students because I spent an an ungodly amount of time in Smeal. My classes were hard and I was not the type of person to give up without a fight. I spent weeknights in the library, scrolling through group texts about confusing assignments. Then, ending up at the same bar as those recipients, to let off steam about the week’s previous presentation.

This summer, I secured a coveted internship at a fortune 500 company in New York City. My friends were happy for me, which translated as tremendously jealous, but obligated to smile and take me out for shots of Jose Cuervo. My mom drove up to school the weekend after I forwarded the email that said I got it. She always loved visiting Penn, she called it her real life scrapbook. I imagined her pulling into campus, a human time machine, revisiting her first time. In my mind, significantly younger versions of my Grandparents pulled down University Drive. She told me, she found it funny every college campus had a University Drive and I couldn’t help, but think of her when I passed the street signs.

Mom looked displaced sitting under the dim glow of christmas lights on my tiny twin bed in my dorm room. I pulled my entire closet out and onto the floor. A collage of cardigans, ripped jeans, and skimpy black dresses littered the carpet. It was evident I had nothing age nor setting appropriate for my first day at the office. Mom took me to stores I had always passed in the mall, but couldn’t imagine being old enough to enter. That had changed.

I tried on pastel silk blouses, a tweed blazer, a pencil skirt. I pulled the curtain back, to reveal a full suit. Mom sat on an ottoman, beaming. I spun around, towards the mirror, and I saw her, but not in the reflection behind me. I stared into the mirror, grabbed a handful of curls, and pulled them to the top of my head. I stared into the mirror and saw my mother looking back.

Maxine

It had been four years since another pair of hands had been on me. They had always been his and I could feel the difference, feel it between the folds of my shirt, even with the lights off, drunkenly. The dark felt good. I had been self conscious of my puffy under eyes the entire night at the bar counter, as he and I made small talk.

Kyle called me the night before and just did it, just like that. “You and I both know this isn’t working, it hasn’t been for a while.” It wasn’t a showerhead with low pressure or an iPhone charger losing connectivity, it was our relationship. I always hated when he used the word “work” in regards to us. I never wanted him to feel like he had to punch in and out.

I put the phone down. Our entire story played out like a sick movie reel. It wasn’t always this way. Four years ago, he ​was chasing me:​chasing me through the mall, to Niagara on Spring Break, through fields, through lakes, across the city, up the stairs to our first place. We proved a lot of people wrong; our friends, our families. We were young, best friends in love, doing very adult things, working long hours, paying bills, and going to school. Maybe we we’re so caught up in proving them wrong, we didn’t realize we weren’t right for each other in the first place.

I started crying, but I didn’t feel sad. I was crying because I knew he was right, this was the end. We never thought to check for an expiration date. After the shine wore off, we didn’t mind the dull. We became accustomed to living in comfortability and fighting became our new spark, moving in where romance had once lived. Being with Kyle was like coming home from a long day of work, finally taking off your bra and putting an oversized t-­shirt on.

The first thing I wanted after we broke up, was him. My friends decided it was a good idea to go out, I guess we had graduated from cartons of ice cream somewhere between high school and now. They tried to relate, but Sylvie and Cam we’re just doing their due diligence in a shitty pub with cheap tequila. Sylvie was practically married. She had been dating Shep since freshman year and there was buzz about an engagement ring.

Cam had the scent of new love swarming around her, at all times, like a herd of faithful bees. She was dating the bartender at Firehouse, a smoldering grad student with an attitude, but soft spot for things with the letter C; Cleo, Cate, Claire….Cam….She once said to me “I don’t mind it, I would be more concerned if he wasn’t that experienced.” Experienced was a generous word. I thought he was a man-whore and he was still on Tinder. I swiped left, hard.

The girls were really trying, pulling me onto the makeshift dance floor, saying things like “Fuck Kyle, who needs him?” and “I never liked him anyways!” Trying, maybe too hard and that’s what ultimately sent me into the arms of the replacement. He was average at best, a solid 6.75 all around. He had bad shoes, but soft features and superb barside banter. After a politically charged, half-­joking discussion over Jager bombs, things had started to blur. I couldn’t stop comparing him to Kyle, searching for similarities.

Decision­-making remained intact, but all day I had been doing the splits on two tectonic plates of emotion: bitter hate and uncontrollable sadness. We left shortlyafter. I needed to put something in between the memories of Kyle and I; I needed to stop the plates from colliding, and I fell onto him.

Seb

Seb / Chicago Food Photographer / iPhone Only/I am instafamous.

I have 60,000 followers. I’m not sure what to do with this accolade, but I can dig it. I started from the bottom now I’m here, yes I quote Drake frequently. I work at an upscale restaurant downtown, called La Fin. I do a little bit of everything: bartending, food­running, valet.

It’s easy and fancy staff meals replace groceries. I like to leave my mind free for my writing. I went to art school as an English/Art History double major. When I got out, La Fin was just to pay rent, but I’ve been here for nine months now. I don’t hate it, but it’s certainly not what I want to do the rest of my life. A lady with ridiculous jewelry complaining her salmon is five degrees too cool or the subtle, condescending pat on the back saying “you wish you were me” as a guy hands you the keys to his BMW, can make one go mad.

Multiply that by forty hours a week for nine months. I’m already mad.

I still write, on the weekends. It’s mostly for myself, but sometimes I’ll feel really good about a story and send it to some publication. I’ve had a few pieces published, but all that comes with that is a brief burst of praise and triple digit Facebook likes. I’ve realized there’s hundreds, thousands of writers doing the same thing as I am and there’s too much talent to be spread equally. That’s why I like being a little bit famous somewhere. (Hey I didn’t ask for it! I’m not even famous for something I do or love, but I get some sick perks.)

I started posting cool plating done by the chefs at La Fin when my GM wasn’t looking. Fancy food with geometric sauce stripes or intricate garnishes filled my feed. I knew nothing about food, besides the art of eating it. Soon I had a couple thousand foodie followers, some were even food critics. I decided after gaining 2,000 followers, I had to start branching out to photographing dishes at different restaurants.

When I ordered, I would ask the server to bring me the most intricate plated meal. A lot of times they thought I was a food critic myself. I played the part and wondered if the restaurants searched frantically for my non-­existent reviews. I remember one time a restaurant owner DM’d me and ask to collaborate on a blog for a new concept restaurant. He wanted me to photograph his place’s dishes. He didn’t mean with my iPhone 6. I had climbed to 30,000 followers and to them I appeared to be a very seasoned food photographer.

I didn’t have a real camera or training or a resume or business cards. I borrowed my friend’s, she taught me the basics on the weekend after a lunch rush shift. As I walked, ready to meet this guy who was probably expecting a man with more aging and less tattoos, I felt like an actor; Seb, playing the part of food photographer. I buttoned the last button at the tip top of my nicest shirt and walked in.