The Road(s) Not Taken

I think most of us know the theory of multiple worlds; an infinity of choices with an infinity of worlds available to accommodate each of those choices. We’ve all been there more than once, that crossroads where we decide to move in one direction or the other, stay on the side of God or sell our soul to the Devil to play guitar better than anyone, as blues man Robert Johnson was believed to have done. And sooner or later, after each choice, we entertain the notion of “What If….?” speculating how things “would” have gone “better” had we taken the other road when, in truth, we can never know for certain. 

I have a friend who through high school dated this guy she was absolutely in love with. He adored her, too, and they dreamed of marrying. But her mother forbade the union based solely on the fact that the man wasn’t Italian, and my friend was forced to terminate the relationship. Eventually, she married a fellow college classmate and raised a family. Despite some tempestuous ups and downs and more than a little regret on both their parts, they made the marriage work.

Years later, my friend’s old boyfriend found her on Facebook and they arranged a visit at her home. She was a bit twitterpated in expectation; would the old fire between them still exist? Might she (even briefly) consider a fling or run off with him entirely? 

Neither, as it turned out. What she learned was that for years he’d been an active alcoholic, making life hell for himself, his spouse, and their family. He was recovering now, but her sense of relief at having dodged that particular bullet was palpable when next we spoke. “Just think!” she said. “That could have been me having to deal with all that!” At a stroke, not everything in the life she’d chosen seemed as bad.

Truth is, the grass always looks greener on the other side of that fence, though we’ve no assurance it isn’t actually AstroTurf, plastic Easter grass, or spray paint.

What would I change in the roads I chose?

I’d have had mentors, adults who cared about who I would become and capable of providing me with the tools I’d need to traverse life. I’d have traveled right out of high school, deferring college a year or two. I might have preferred a trade school to “regular” college. (There’s a good chance I’d have made better money.) I’d have grown some confidence and the spine to stand up to certain individuals. I’d never have tolerated the abuser I was with for four years. I’d never have married my first husband. (Not the same person.) I’d have worked harder and longer at my writing and begun submitting work much earlier rather than hold back out of fear. I’d have jettisoned fear from my life entirely, much as that’s possible. In addition to writing, I’d have pursued a career in biology or zoology or paleontology or forensics something else in the sciences rather than buy into the hype that because my math was weak, I was “stupid” (yes, an exact quote) and ill-qualified for those fields.

Then again, the paths I’ve chosen have not come without gifts. I’ve lived places I might never have gone, met people I might never have met. I may never have connected with Roger and written about his elephants. If I’d never moved to Connecticut, lived in that particular area of the state, enrolled in massage school and published a book of short fiction, I’d have missed out on my friends Mo and Ryan, Drey and Scott, Lorain and Bob, Liam and Wanda, Stacey, John and Chelsey and Chris, and Glenn at the Book Barn. (Heck, I’d have missed the Book Barn entirely, and what a loss that would be!) 

Believing things would be different “If only….” is a fallacy better left beside your life’s road. Therein lies defeat and madness. So, you’ve made mistakes? Join the queue. You have regrets? Each of us carries a list as ponderous as the chains that bind Jacob Marley. No life is perfect, no life exists without toil and strain balanced on occasion with bright instances that shine stark against the dark, push it back, and illuminate the road ahead.

photo by Einar Storsul

2 Comments on “The Road(s) Not Taken

  1. Another great post, Melissa! You’re on a roll! Here, you touched on something I have thought about quite a lot, and I’ve come to the same conclusion as you.


    • I think many of us reach that conclusion….or try to rather than drive ourselves nuts. (As for being on a roll, well, I figure if I’m paying for this website, I ought to use it. It’s up to readers to decide if I have anything worthwhile to say.)


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