I knew this guy who was going to be a businessman. He was going to identify a need in the community, raise the capital, invest wisely, open a small, friendly business, and enjoy success.

Ten years later, he owns a couple of fast food restaurants. His employees hate him, his customers shout at him, he has an ulcer from trying to balance the books, and the chain is pressuring him to sell to someone who will make the stores more profitable. He tells me he's living his dream, but the look on his face during the evening rush calls him a liar.

I knew this girl who was going to be an Artist. She always said it with a capital "A"--Artist. She was going to move somewhere with beautiful scenery (Taos, New Mexico, she said, or Alaska or Northern California), live cheap, and paint everything she could.

Ten years later, she is a secretary for an accounting firm. She works 45 hours a week and can type 80 words per minute. She hasn't touched her paintbrushes in six years, and there is no look in the world that is sadder than the one on her face when she sees her boss hang some cheap landscape print up in the front office.

I knew this guy who was going to be a reporter. He was going to fight corruption in high places and tell the important stories that the readers needed to know. He practiced re-writing stories in magazines 'til they were better than the originals.

Ten years later, he bangs out a feature a day on inane subjects that are designed solely to fill space in the newspaper. He knows which deputies are brutal thugs, which judges are screwing their secretaries, which councilmen are skimming taxes, and which teachers are screwing their students, but he can't report on them because he doesn't want to get a reputation as someone who'll turn against a source. He claims not to remember his youthful idealism, and he may be telling the truth, for once.

I knew this girl who was going to be a social worker. She was going to work with the underprivileged, and help them overcome their circumstances to become productive members of society. She was going to work with the abused and injured and hurt, and help them become whole, undamaged people again.

Ten years later, she is a social worker who hates every single one of her clients. She hates them because they are poor or abused or pitiful or helpless, and all they do is whine, and they're all liars and scum, and why can't they do something for themselves for once, dammit. She grumbles to herself that someone oughtta round 'em all up and blow their fucking brains out, dammit. If you remind her of what she was like when she was young, she will favor you with a glare, tell you she doesn't have time for reminiscing, and get back to work.

I knew this guy who was going to be a cop. He wanted to be a cop for all the right reasons--he was going to help people and enforce the law and put bad people in jail and make the world a better place for everyone.

Ten years later, he is in prison. He and his partner beat a kid to death. They thought he was a troublemaker, so they were gonna knock him around a little to teach him a lesson, and he bumped his head on the sidewalk and fractured his skull and died while the cops were still laughing at him and telling him to get up and run on home. This guy I knew now serves as a lieutenant in a prison gang because they'll protect him from all the other inmates who want to shiv him.

I knew this guy who was going to be a preacher. He loved God with all his heart, studied the Bible, wrote his own devotions, spent several years in seminary preparing to serve a church and its congregation with humility and love.

Ten years later, he works in the oilfield. The members of his small-town congregation decided one day that they didn't like his stand on (insert hot-button issue here) and fired him. He had a wife and child to support and couldn't find work with another local church. So he got a 12-hour-a-day job as a pumper in the oilfield and he comes home every night too exhausted to do anything but sit in front of the TV. He doesn't have time to read anymore, especially not a Book he already read twice when he was still in high school, and he sleeps late every weekend and doesn't get up in time to go to church.

I knew this girl who was going to be an actress. She did a killer Ophelia and Rebecca Nurse and Lady Bracknell. She disdained Hollywood and adored Broadway. She made two trips to New York and one to Chicago to see plays and visit with playwrights.

Ten years later, no one knows what happened to her. She moved to New York, rented a small apartment, and her family never heard from her again. She might be a waitress. She might be a junkie. She might be dead. She might still be an actress. We wish we knew for sure.

I knew these two people who were in love. More than likely, you know the routine: talked about each other all the time, worshipped the ground the other walked on, planned a long life revolving around each other, got syrupy and googly around each other and made the rest of us groan. The usual, commonplace miracles of chemistry and attraction and luck...

Ten years later, both of them have been married and divorced twice. They seem to spend most of their time in court or in counseling. They don't talk about each other or about anyone else with any affection. They haven't really loved anyone in years--in fact, they both claim, independently, that they are now too smart to feel that emotion for anyone. They say they don't miss that feeling, but a more bitter pair of cynics you have never met...