Let’s Play Time Capsule

Katie Crouch is a New York Times best-selling novelist and the author of five books, including Girls in Trucks and Abroad.

It was 5:46 p.m. on Dec. 17, 1999, and I was in love. I was in the passenger seat of my friend John’s Tacoma. He was driving toward the Golden Gate Bridge, it was 58 degrees, and the sun was plummeting into the Bay. I was 26 and it felt like a lot of things were happening to me.

John and I worked together at a little startup in Sausalito. The company sold “e-learning.” I wrote articles like How to Paint a Ceiling and How to Get Blood Out of Your Pants. John coded. My How-To’s took about 30 minutes to write, so I spent most of my day emailing my boyfriend. John read the online newspaper from his hometown of Buffalo. He had a rearview mirror on his monitor, so when anyone came by, he could flip back to his coding screen. At five, we’d drift out to John’s truck and take the long way home along the water. I paid the tolls. This is what we were doing on Dec. 17, according to my journal, in which I also detailed our conversation.

“God, isn’t this beautiful?” I’d said to John. “I’ll never take this for granted.” Also, we talked about our New Year’s plans. And then John said, “Hey, New Year’s. Let’s play Time Capsule.”

“What’s that?” I said.

“It’s this game. We tell each other what we think we’ll be doing in 10 years. And then we check in with each other and see how we made out.”

“That’s a long game,” I said. I wasn’t sure I’d know John in 10 years. Also, I didn’t need a time capsule. I’d be married to my boyfriend. Of course.

“Yeah, but it’s a good payoff,” John said.

“OK,” I said. I thought a moment. “You’ll be the head of a computer company.”

“Sure,” he said, smiling. He liked that.

“And you’ll live in Marin.”

“That’s good.”

“And you’ll be … ” I was supposed to say married, but for some reason I couldn’t see it. He’d been dumped by some girl named Brownie (that’s probably not quite right) and was a bachelor ever since. But it seemed impolite not to have hope. “You’ll be married.”

“To who?”

“I don’t know. You’ll ski a lot. Then you’ll have kids.”

“How many?”

“Six.” We were on the bridge now. The sun was doing that thing where it hovers, an ice cube on top of a drink. “Now me.”

John thought for a few seconds. “You’ll own a store.”

“A store?”

“You won’t have kids. You’ll live in Boston. And you’ll end up with an outgoing sort of guy. A tire salesman.”

“That’s ridiculous. I’m marrying my boyfriend. Also, a store?”

“A wine store.”

I considered that. “Fine. Except that I want to be a writer. I am going to be a famous writer.”

“You can be a writer with a wine store,” John concluded and turned on NPR. We drove on.

“Roofing?” I always say when we call each other. “Never saw that one coming.”

It is now, of course, January 2015, just after New Year’s. Fifteen years, it’s been. The Future Has Arrived and I have the answers to the time capsule game — and none of them are what we thought they would be.

I am not married to that boyfriend. Don’t even know where he is. I thought life would form a straight line to him, but instead it dipped and danced around like a drunk teenage girl. After we parted, I fell for lots of other people, including John. (I didn’t end up with John, though that would have been a perfect ending to our game.)

I am living in sin with a man named Peter. I don’t have a store. I do have a daughter. I am a writer, but I am not famous. I’m the one who ended up living in Marin, where I no longer seem to notice the sunset. John is in Buffalo. He did get married, to a whip-smart pretty woman named Pegi. I mean, he really scored. They have two kids. He gave up coding and runs a roofing company. He loves it.

“Roofing?” I always say when we call each other. “Never saw that one coming.”

We talk once a year for about an hour. Out of everyone I knew when I was 26, John is one of the few who have stayed in the mix. Yesterday I called him and asked if he remembered the time capsule. Of course, he said.

“Should we do another time capsule right now?” I asked.

“I don’t think middle-aged people do time capsules,” John said. That’s one reason I like John. He’s pragmatic.

“How about a one-year capsule?”

“All right,” John said. “In one year, you still won’t be married.”

“You’ll live in Buffalo,” I said. “You’ll be just fine.”

“You too, but you’ll still have problems.”

“Yeah, well, you’ll get frostbite on your nose.”

“Well. You’ll get a bad dose of Botox.”

We chatted about our holidays and our kids. When we hung up I wished, momentarily, that we could have a backwards time capsule, so that we could have no adult problems and drive along the Bay again.

But then, going backwards would mean not doing all of those things we’ve done, like the time we got drunk and kissed in a bar, or the time he fell in love with that girl in Buffalo named Pegi, or the time I met a guy named Peter at an Obama fundraiser and later birthed that spectacular baby, or all of those other silly and amazing things that have happened to us since 1999.

And anyway, if there’s any lesson netted out of all of these new years, it’s that things don’t always turn out like you think they will. Also, old friends don’t need time capsules. We just call each other on the phone and say hi.