Have you seen the 1998 movie Sliding Doors? In the movie, Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s character, Helen, rushes to catch a train in London. It is at that moment that the movie splits in two parallel universes. One story follows Helen’s life as it would be if she reached the train. The other story follows Helen’s life, as it would be if she missed the train. It’s not a bad movie for a Sunday afternoon.
Recently I started thinking of my versions of the sliding doors, or as I would call them, the what ifs? My what ifs are a bit different than the movies. In the movie, Helen’s ability to catch or miss the train was a matter of chance. My what ifs are based on decisions I’ve made and what would my life have been like had I decided differently. Here’s a list of some of my What Ifs:
Immediately after graduating high school, in North Carolina, I met a girl at a party who fascinated me. She was interesting, exciting, and loved to laugh. I was drawn to her and she and I talked into the wee hours of the morning. I learned that she had no steady job. Instead she worked at southern resorts in the winter and northern resorts in the summer. About three in the morning she told me she was leaving later that day to go to Mackinac Island, Michigan to work at the Grand Hotel. She asked me to go with her and assured me a job. I immediately said yes. We agreed to meet at noon that day and I rushed home and started packing until reality hit and I stopped. What about all my obligations? I couldn’t just drop everything and go. I never met her at our rendezvous point and I never saw or heard from her again. What if I had met her as planned?
I’ve always wanted to work on a boat and have no idea why. Maybe it has to do with the Village People’s song, In the Navy. In my early twenties the opportunity came up. My rather large family and I stayed at a beach house in North Carolina. My dad hired a maid for the week and on one of our last days there, she and I were talking. For some reason I mentioned that I’d like to work on a shrimp boat. You see, working on a shrimp boat is exciting (at least in my eyes) and in a good season you can make bank. Coincidentally her husband and sons owned and worked a shrimp boat and she assured me that the job was mine for the asking. She gave me her number which I was to call in a couple of days. I never did. What if I had made that call?
My favorite vacation destination is the tiny island of Ocracoke in North Carolina. The only way to reach it is by ferry and I loved the isolation. While vacationing, one year, I went to a sandwich shop that overlooks the lagoon in the center of the village. Being friendly folks, I struck up a long conversation with the owner of the shop and was told that she and her daughter were moving west and the shop was for sale. I’d never thought about running a sandwich shop, but the thought of running a business in that quaint community was exciting. We went over her books, stayed in touch over the phone and the deal was looking good until the logical part of my brain took over. I asked myself if an isolated island, with a population of less than a thousand people, was an ideal place for a single gay man in his 20’s. I decided not and had to make a dreaded call. What if I had bought that shop?
Hit the Road
Towards the end of my high school years I was planning my life beyond graduation. Most of my thoughts were regarding what college or university I should attend. That was until my dad gave me some advice that most dads would never give. “Why go straight to college?” he asked. “Why don’t you travel around the country and see what’s out there? Maybe you should buy a boat and sail around.” I usually did not appreciate my dad’s unsolicited advice, but this one hit me. “Why not?” I mulled it over and gave it serious thought until I started working a job. I liked the money. I didn’t make much, but I liked it enough to skip the travel idea, and skip school. I wound up working. I never took the fabulous trip, nor did I finish college. What if I took my dad’s advice and hit the road?
What is the common thread for all of these What Ifs? Other than the fact that they all center around water, they all involved risk – taking a chance and walking on the wild side. There’s many more what ifs in my life, and maybe someday I’ll write about them, but these are the four that came to mind because they were early in my adult life. What amazing adventures. How exciting would they have been? But no, I played it safe and I feel I missed out on some wonderful experiences. Granted, some would say that I wouldn’t have met my husband or had my daughter, but how do we know that? Who’s to say that any of those adventures wouldn’t have led me right back where I am today?
How do I view my what ifs? I see them as missed opportunities. Please, understand that I don’t mope around the house whining about how much my life would be better, but I can’t help thinking about them.
I’ll close by offering advice. If you have that opportunity to work that shrimp boat, travel the country, run off with some unknown woman, or live on a tiny island, you should take them. Opportunities like those only come once in a lifetime. Carpe diem, my friends.