When I was a little girl, I read a lot of books. A lot. All kinds of books. Fiction, encyclopedia’s (open to random page and devour whatever topic I found), classic fairy tales (oh the Twelve Dancing Princesses and how that made me wish more than anything that I could dance off into another world every night), pretty much anything that I could get my hands on. They were my escape. I reveled in the rabbit holes and dimensions that I could travel into. I consumed the characters and the surroundings. My imagination carried me away into worlds that I had never dreamed were possible. I fell in love with words and what even one could evoke. Especially when just a single word could do that.
I was smitten.
I didn’t discriminate, I still don’t. I fell in love with amazingly well-known authors and obscure, unknown ones. I read books that were classics with legacies that announced that I absolutely MUST read them (and love them); spoiler alert – not all those classic, must read novels are a great read and it’s okay to say that you actually didn’t love every Jane Austen, Hemingway, Poe, Kerouac, Shakespeare (insert well-known author name here) piece of writing.
For years, I hid the fact that Stephen King novels were my go-to for great reading (still are, though now I have no shame admitting that now). I even had a phase in my teens where I must have read everything that Danielle Steel wrote. That is one phase that was short-lived and has never returned. Romance, not my thing. I shamefully hid away for two years the underground lesbian erotica that I had discovered when I was 15. It took me until I was in my late twenties to openly admit that I was gay and start writing my own.
But back to when I was little…apologies for the little rabbit hole you all went down with me there….
One day when I was around 10 years old, I discovered the newly popular “choose your own ending” books that had been tossed onto the market. It opened a whole new concept for me.
The ability to reach an ending and say “nope, that’s not how I wanted that to turn out” and to go back and make a different choice; to finish your story with a different ending.
I genuinely believed that this was possible – in some manner. I wasn’t stupid; even at that age, I knew that you couldn’t have a do-over once all was written. But I did believe that when I grew up and could make my own decisions about my life, that nothing could stop me from having the ending(s) that I wanted. I believed that if I chose my path, I would end up where I wanted to be. Needless to say, I was not only smitten, I was duped.
When my son was around 19, he asked me what I would have done if I hadn’t gotten married and started a family when I was 18. Not really an odd question from him as he’s pretty introspective and him and I have a history of having some obscure, out of the blue, conversations. I weighed out my answer in my head before I started. I was very conscious that I didn’t want to give him the impression that I regretted my choices to settle down young and not pursue the other dreams I had way back then; because the truth was, and is, I don’t regret it.
So I dove into telling him about how, when I was 16 or 17 years old, my girlfriend and I would sit on the floor with a huge old hard backed atlas open between us and we would trace out where we were going to go after we graduated high school. I told him about how we highlighted the course we would take through France and then Spain and maybe even over to Greece. I told him how it was not only a dream, but a solid plan. I told him how I knew – 100% KNEW – that I would do that.
I told him how I hadn’t done any of that and wasn’t sure I ever would – but that I still wanted to.
I told him how, when I was 14 years old, all I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a teacher. How I had all my courses for high school lined up to that end and even had decided on which university I was going to go to. I told him how I had it all planned to perfection. A solid path to the ending I wanted for my career goals. I told him how my Dad passed away suddenly that year and my direction was changed forever because of it. A move to a new city ensued and a cascade of choices, some by me, some made for me, led me in an opposite direction from where I thought I was going to be going.
Then I told him about life, and how it changes. About how you have no control over most of those changes and the direction you are tossed into. I also told him that there are still so many times that you CAN choose – regardless of what life throws at you. A road may be blocked but it’s up to you to find a detour sometimes if you really want to get to where you want to be.
I told him that sometimes, even if you find a different route, a new obstacle will force you to alter course again. I told him that sometimes, you will discover that where you were heading simply no longer exists. And that sometimes the only choice you have is to accept that and find a new destination.
Some are yours, I told him, but a lot of them won’t be. Life isn’t a choose your own ending book, after all. Truth is though, that I like a surprise, so I’m sticking around to find out how it ends.