The black top was as empty as the hope in his eyes.
Two girls played on a tire swing in the distance -- the only remaining evidence from the school day.
"They didn't build it for me," he sighed. "I realized this isn't for me anymore."
His eyes scanned the emerald grass of the baseball field as if searching for his lost childhood.
"It's just hard, you know?" the young man continued. "One day it's all OK and then the next ... it's just over. You have to grow up."
He kicked a rock, sending it scuttling across the lonely pavement. The distant whistle of a soccer referee broke through the silence like so many memories of sun-filled glory days.
"There's all this responsibility. All these expectations. A year ago it was different. I was still a kid," he said. "Now ... now I just don't know."
Last year wasting time came without reproach, he says. Decisions came without last consequences. Freedom came without a price. You could freely choose your course in the name of "finding yourself." People looked at your nomadic lifestyle with envy instead of disdain, shaking their heads, thinking "Oh, to be young" and smiling because of all the potential ahead of you. You could even play video games.
"But you don't even like video games," I remind him.
It doesn't matter, he says. It's the principle of the thing. This birthday is pivotal, he reminds me. It means the final abandonment of childish things and facing a world no longer offering forgiveness based on youth.
Yes, I think. It is hard to turn 24.
The early twenties are over and the mid-twenties loom ahead like the staggering Everest his neighbor has climbed more times than years he has been alive. Because surely, with the addition of one extra candle, comes the expectations to be stable, productive and the absence of all things light, happy and free. There will be no more smiling. No more laughing. No more traveling or exploration or learning. No more swingsets or blacktops or soccer fields. Ever.
Such privileges only belong to those who are 23.
No, my friend. There are only bills and timecards and paychecks. Only mortgages and 401Ks and car repairs to urge you out of bed in the morning. The rat race has begun and you're only one more furry mass in search of the cheese. Recess is over and the eternal final exam has begun.