Caroline Bringenberg and her boyfriend Sean met as students at Occidental College. They are in what Caroline calls, ‘the sophomore year of life’, two years removed from undergraduate life. The couple shares a one-bedroom apartment in a small complex of bland stucco buildings a few miles from Oxy’s idyllic campus. Any grass or shrubs has been paved to accommodate the maximum number of cars; the pool was drained long ago. But there’s a friendly banter of Spanish and English among the dozen or so residents, most of whom have brown skin and calloused hands. Although everyone in this community of proximity has about the same income, Caroline and Sean’s youth, education, and life prospects are different from their neighbors. They may live here for several years, probably not for life.
Sean works as a wholesale insurance broker. Caroline is the administrative assistant at The Unusual Suspects, a non-profit theater group that works with incarcerated youth. They adopted a pug from the pound. Sean plays keyboard in two bands. They started a book group and enjoy game nights with college friends. The couple lives modestly. They’re paying back their student loans ahead of schedule. Life is good.
“If we got married it would be social suicide. We’re already the only couple we know who are dating. I’m amused when Caroline says she’s ‘dating’ Sean, a more casual term than the reality of their situation. Couples who are dating don’t live together without an escape pad to which at least one can retreat. They don’t own a dog together. The don’t hang pears images on their walls. They don’t keep a quarter jar for the laundry.
If you press Caroline, she’ll admit that Sean is the real deal; that they’re together for the long haul; that they might even get married some day. But in a society where marriage is on the decline and preserving options it more important than staking commitments, that’s not something a hip Occidental grad in the sophomore year of life can declare up front and out loud.
How will we live tomorrow?
“I hope we redesign our cities so they are less focused on cars and more focused on people.
“I hope we end mass incarceration and rehabilitate people rather than put people in cages.
“I hope women will be paid the same as men.
“I hope we stop destroying the earth.
“What I think will happen is we will keep doing what we’re doing until something catastrophic happens. Donald Trump gets elected. California falls into the ocean. The East Coast floods.”