One Day Changed Everything

Pinpoint a moment in your past where you had to make a big decision. Write about that other alternate life that could have unfolded.

I still remember the day I left.

It was 2002, early January. Friday afternoon. The dorm was as quiet as it ever got on a Friday, and I was alone, for once; it should have been perfect. Quiet and solitude were rare, and I craved both. Fiercely. Yet here I was alone in a quiet room and I couldn’t just relax and enjoy it. A year ago, I might have been able to. Six months ago. But not now. Now, the term had just started. Class had been in session for only a few days. And I was already wondering how on earth I’d make it through the next week—let alone an entire semester. And then another semester. And then two more years.

Get out of here! said a voice in my mind. Get out of this GET OUT NOW WHILE THERE’S STILL TIME…

That thought had crossed my mind a few times before. But lately it had taken on a new level of urgency. As usual, I took a deep breath and tried to ignore it. I sat down at my desk and started reviewing a list of assignments for the term. In my depression-addled state of mind, it looked simply overwhelming. And the thought came to me that all of it was just never going to end… the lectures; the papers; the exams (and thousands in financial aid riding on every single f*cking assignment); the hallway politics; the constant bickering with the girls in the next room; the endless pretending that everything was fine when really, some days it was all I could do just to get out of bed. …It was just not going to stop. Not ever.

I stared at that calendar of assignments with rising panic. And the thought persisted. Get out! Now! GET OUT GET OUT NOW—I couldn’t stop thinking it.

And then, a new thought hit me: If you go RIGHT NOW, RIGHT THIS MINUTE, you’d probably get home before rush-hour traffic gets too bad.

So I did. I left a note for my roommate saying I’d gone home and I’d see her on Sunday night, loaded a pile of laundry and CDs and schoolwork into my car, and drove off. I kept saying to myself I was just leaving for the weekend. But I knew in my heart that wasn’t true. I couldn’t stay there; and I couldn’t pretend otherwise any longer.

It started to sink in on the highway. OMG, I’m really doing this. I’m really leaving. I can’t believe I’m really doing this! What would my roommate think of my just up and taking off like that? What would the rest of my friends think? What would my parents think? What would I DO if I dropped out of college? What would I do instead? Where would I go? What the fuck am I doing right now?!

Those questions were terrifying. My entire future had changed in one afternoon. But I also felt like a huge weight had been lifted. The idea of not having to deal with school anymore—it felt wonderful.

That’s when I knew I couldn’t go back.

Now, ten-plus years on (really??!!), I do wonder what might have been if I’d stayed. I’d have my BS degree. I might have a job I actually like, instead of this one. I might have gotten my MLS. But, on the other hand… I’d never have taken my full-time library job if I’d stayed at school. So I might not have discovered how much I enjoyed library work. And I definitely would never have taken the accounting job I have now—which means that I never would have met my husband. (We met at this company.) I wouldn’t have my marriage or my house or the life I’ve built. The alternate life that could have unfolded? I wonder about it. But I’m glad for the life I have.

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When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up? What are you now? Are the two connected?

Oh, what a loaded question this is right now.

I honestly don’t remember what I wanted to be when I was ten. I do remember that I spent a lot of time reading anything I could get my hands on. And writing stories—although mostly in my head. I very rarely, back then, sat down and laid a story down on the page. My playtime, though, always involved making up a story of some kind, if only to myself. I also read a lot—anything I could get my hands on. (I still do that. I can’t imagine NOT reading for even a day.)

When I got a bit older—middle school—I started actually writing some of my stories down. I also joined the school orchestra, playing viola. Through middle and high school I imagined becoming a professional musician and/or an author. I entered college as a music major. That lasted only one semester. Music school was a nightmare for me. (But that’s for another post.) I still love music. But I don’t have thoughts of auditioning for the New York Philharmonic anymore. I sing in my church’s choir, and I also picked up the guitar somewhere along the way. And that’s enough.

When I first left college, I took a job at the public library. I loved that job. I still miss that job, even now. I quickly realized that I wanted to work in the library forever. I left my job at the circulation desk after only a couple of years, planning to finish my BA, then take a master’s degree and become a librarian. But you know the saying, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” As of yet, I still don’t have my BA, much less an MLS degree. So what AM I doing now? Accounting. Which is about as far removed from what I’m passionate about as anything can be. I love stories, and music, and creativity—not numbers. Not balance sheets and P&L statements and tax filings and processing the payroll. And that’s a constant source of frustration right now. I’ve been at my accounting job for almost eight years and I am SO OVER IT. I may not remember exactly what I dreamed of doing at ten years old—but I know it wasn’t this.

I’m making plans right now to do something about that. I AM going to finish my degree(s), damn it. And finally find work I love. But that’s awhile off. In the meantime, there’s only this office, and another stack of invoices to write.

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