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The Road Not Taken

A month ago I was in England.  Most of the time we spent with dear friends — we lived in England for the first ten years of our marriage — and our favorite cousins, but the first day, when we were on our own, still adjusting to British time and British ways, my husband suggested we should take a bus tour of London.

I looked at him as if he were crazy.  A bus tour?  Of London?  Yes, that was what he had in mind.  And because I was in a mellow mood, sitting with him for a proper English breakfast which now along with eggs, bacon, sausages, braised mushrooms, and fried tomatoes apparently features baked beans, I said sure, and so that was what we did.

It was very odd, the bus lumbering up and down familiar streets with me peering out as if I were a tourist.  It was also fun to see what shops were still there and which weren’t, and to discover  new buildings.  There is, for example, a splendid building now across the road from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, an office building for the Members of the House of Commons and (I assume) the House of Lords.  The commentary told us when the architect was given his brief, he was told that the building had to last a minimum of 200 years.  And, of course, its immediate neighbors are, aside from Parliament across the road, Westminster Abbey and a few other institutions of multiple hundred years.

We didn’t actually get to our old neighborhood (we lived in Kew, the village surrounding Kew Gardens), but we came close enough for me to suddenly wonder about all the what-ifs that occasionally occur to me now.  What if?  What if we had not sold our house, but had stayed there instead of coming home (for me — he’s British) to America?  Well, for one thing we’d be richer.  Property prices in London are ridiculous.  We bought our house for 7775 pounds, sold it eight years later for 31,500 pounds, and it now is worth a cool million, judging from the prices of others on the street.  Oh well.  Sigh.

We wouldn’t have our third daughter.  We adopted her from Chile, after we came back to the States.  And was it her adoption that suddenly triggered the end of my long infertility?  Our son was born 13 months after we brought her home.  I wouldn’t have had the comfortable years of living close to my parents, getting to know them with all of us being adults.  I wouldn’t have started to write books.  Before we left England, I was acting as a consultant for the publisher I’d worked for before I had our first daughter.  I commissioned books; I didn’t write them.

Would I have finally developed an English accent?  One of my American friends, who moved there after I did, now sounds like an intimate of the Queen.  Very posh accent indeed.  I didn’t gain an English accent when I was there, and of course now I am irredeemably American, although my vocabulary still changes when I get off the plane at Heathrow Airport.  All the old words — lorries, instead of trucks; snaps instead of photos; cooker instead of stove — slip into my conversation.

Who would I have been if I had stayed?  Not the person I am now — all these years of living here, of seeing the world from the United States, have certainly changed and developed me.  How different would I have been, if all these years had been spent there?

What are the different paths you might have taken?  Do you ever wonder where they might have led you, what different lives you might have had?  Who would you have been?


16 Responses

  1. The decision not to return to Texas after the first school year I worked down there was very difficult for me, especially in a financial sense, but I wanted to be closer to family, preferably in Montana. I’d barely settled into a couple of part time positions in Billings when I got a call from a college classmate inviting me to interview for a position in South Dakota. EASTERN South Dakota. Alone. In a new state. All over again.

    I didn’t want to go, couldn’t afford not to. Ten months later, I met my husband, an Aberdeen native. So yes, I often do wonder what would have happened if I’d stuck it out in Texas.

    And yeah, I had the accent after less than a year. Y’all.

    • Wow. Interesting to speculate on what the other life might have been! Do you still have the accent? I don’t know if I’m tone deaf or what — ten years in England and I was still being asked if I was enjoying my visit there the weekend before I left. Still so obviously American!

  2. I think everyone’s world is filled with should’ve, could’ve would’ve. I know there are decisions I’ve made that I look back now and think – why did I do that? But ultimately it’s those decisions that have made me who I am so I try not to dwell on what if’s.

    Glad you had a nice trip to England and we’re glad to have you back on the blog.

    • Thanks — it’s good to be back!

      Pity we can’t have multiple lifetimes to explore all the options. Or is it? And of course there are those who say we do. If they’re right, I sure hope I don’t wind up being one of those Indians who have no fear of heights and work on skyscrapers in New York. I’d be the first to have my stomach drop out from sheer panic!

  3. Beppie: I think about this all the time. How tenuous some of our major life-changing events are. I always wonder how my life would have differed if my parents had chosen a different house (hence a different high school) when we moved to California my senior year.

    Or what if I hadn’t switched universities and moved to AZ? A temp job I had while waiting to earn residency led to a chance conversation with a former Navy Seabee. After learning I regretted not joining ROTC as a freshman, he convinced me to try again (just before starting my junior year at the new school). I did, and that’s where I met my husband.

    It’s mind boggling to think how seemingly small decisions can have such a huge impact on our lives. Great topic!

    • Sorry to be so late on the replies — I was taken to East Lansing (about an hour away) for a sumptuous lunch and a show — Jersey Boys — and got back late.

      But thanks for the compliment. It is fascinating to consider all the different directions that were out there at one time or another. I guess I’m fortunate in being pretty happy where I am, so thinking about it is an interesting mental exercise, not a painful regret!

  4. Hi Beppie,

    I think it’s fun to think about the what ifs sometimes. It’s kinda hard not to when you’re a writer and asking what if is second nature. Your experience in England sounds awesome. But yup, I was a teen mom, and a single mom for most of my life, so sometimes I do wonder what would have happened. But I have my passel of kids, who I love with everything that’s in me, so really, I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, not much anyway. ; )

    • What a lovely conclusion to come to! And in fact I don’t spend much time regretting the roads not taken when I look around at my family and my husband. Wouldn’t trade them in for any of the what-ifs!

  5. I know looking back on my life that there were definite “forks in the road.” Take the left or the right and my life would be totally different. If I hadn’t married and divorced my first husband, I wouldn’t have met my current (and last!) husband. I wouldn’t have the education I have. I wouldn’t be living exactly where I want. I wouldn’t be writing.

    It’s always interesting to think about the “what ifs” but I’m at the age in my life where I realize that I like where I am and who I am.

    • That’s what makes thinking back interesting instead of wrenching, Cyndi!

      I’m glad I’m who I am — but England still has a tug when I think about where I am.

  6. Awesome topic, Beppie. You make me want to go back to England and see where I lived, though I won’t remember it. 🙂

    It’s odd, but I can’t say I made any actual decisions that got me here. Alternate paths abound, but the path I’m on was inevitable.

    Some of the big ones:

    When my mom remarried and my stepfather got a job out of state right before my senior year. I’m still a total introvert, but without moving to a smaller school where no one knew me to be a shy, brainy loser, I never would have been anything else.

    I was raised by a single mom who was part of a family of very strong women. So I’m a fairly rabid feminist (equality, that is, not supremacy 🙂 ), and I marvel at how I nonetheless have managed to never live on my own. But there was never a question of whether or not I’d follow my fiance and marry him as soon as I graduated from college. It just was.

    The one other one isn’t really a path. It’s more of an “I wish.” I wish I’d somehow been able to enter a career in filmmaking. Not in the creative arena, but maybe like a payroll clerk. Someone way behind the scenes, just to be part of moviemaking magic. 🙂 It just wasn’t something on my radar until well after I’d married and had kids.

    • Oh, Natalie, you and my youngest daughter! She is also interested in being “part of moviemaking magic,” and in fact she spent a spell out in LA taking classes on film making and being an extra from time to time. Then she had a couple of rough experiences and came back to Michigan. (Where, by the way, there’s a lot of moviemaking going on at present — tax incentives by the state govt. since Michigan needs jobs from wherever!)

      She hasn’t followed it up. Wonder if she will!

  7. Very interesting to see your old world through your new eyes.

    I suppose the major decision we made that might have changed who I am was for my husband to separate from the Navy. We decided that we’d like to raise our children in one area to give them roots, stability and access to family. If we’d have chosen to stay in the service, our lives would be totally different, and I doubt I’d be writing.

    But then again, maybe I would.

    I’m pretty happy where I am now though. I feel incredibly blessed.

    • That’s when the looking back is simply interesting and not challenging! Having read what you’ve written, though — at least part of it — I can’t think you wouldn’t have turned into a writer wherever you settled.

  8. welcome back Beppie!

    hmm…for me it would be “what if my husband had gone to college?” we met when I was 17, he graduated the year before. while in high school he was getting looked at by ‘Ol Miss, but passed on college. that college is a loooooong way away from my high school. We met in the fall, at the height of football season….

    He was bff’s with my cousins, so I like to think we would have always met. but still our lives would be different . his college experence would have made him a difference person…one who would have lived a dream of playing college ball, having the chance to move on to pro. he got me instead. I think he ended up with a better deal. *g*

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