La Flâneuse, Life Lessons

Sliding Doors

This is the true story of how I decided where to go to college.

Spring, 1989. Senior year. Final period theater class. My friend, Sarah, approached me in the theater lobby:

“Where are you going to school next year?” she said.

“I dunno,” I said. “I guess I’ll just stay in Albuquerque and go to UNM.”

“No! You should come down to State and be my roommate.”

“Um, okay.”

And that was it. I went home that afternoon and asked my mom for a check so that I could apply to State. (I don’t remember this last part, but my mom assures me it’s true.)

I’ve never had a life plan. I’ve never been particularly driven. I was smart and did what I needed to do, but there’s rarely been a specific goal I’ve been aiming for. I trust my instincts and have managed to avoid major disasters, and I tend to not be someone who regrets any of her choices. For the most part I live in the moment.

College at NMSU was fulfilling, and it led me to graduate school in central Texas which led me to the Bay Area (without a job or even the prospect of a job, but moving to one of the most expensive places in the world without a job felt pretty normal to me) which, in the end, led me to this minuscule apartment in Paris. It’s all worked out just fine. But I sometimes think back to that moment in the theater lobby and wonder what my life would look like were I remotely driven. I think about these things especially when I’m in places like Paris, London, or New York City.

You see, while I’m not a planner, I’ve always been a dreamer. I dreamed about being an exchange student in France. I dreamed about living abroad. I dreamed about life as la flâneuse (though I didn’t even know the word back then). I dreamed about going far.

When I was 16, I sent for applications to schools across the country. I would imagine what it would be like to be a student on the California coast, in Boston, or, most important, in New York Ciry. To clarify: I sent for these applications. I did not fill them out. Why not? I had great grades and great test scores. My financially-responsible and financially-able parents had carefully saved money so that my brother and I could pretty-much go to the college of our choice. I was one of the lucky ones. But while I could flip through the glossy pages of the NYU brochure, the thought of actually sitting down and filling out the application was beyond overwhelming. So while I wouldn’t change my life, I do wonder who I would be had I been less afraid to take a chance on myself. Who would I have been had that conversation with Sarah back in 1989 not taken place? Had I been absent that day or running five minutes late?

Is that me in Brooklyn, arguing with the parking enforcement officer?

Is that me, reading quietly on the tube?

Is that me, in the linen sheath and red Chuck Taylors, pushing a baby stroller over the Seine?

Is that me, with silver-streaked hair, stashing a crumpled pack of Camels in my mailbox?

Is that me, speaking fluent French, drinking du vin blanc and flirting with the sexy Scottish stranger? 

Is that me, performing in Hello, Dolly!?

I’m here now, of course, traveling for the next year, living a damn good life. And I do realize that could be me, lying in a gutter, with a needle sticking out of my arm; the thing about sliding doors is that the better path, the more glamorous path, is impossible to predict. And I know my alternate self, the one arguing with the parking enforcement officer/reading on the tube/pushing the baby stroller/stashing away my Camels/flirting with the sexy Scottish stranger/performing in Hello, Dolly! probably sometimes dreams of me.

(Okay, that last one might not be true.)

I ♥ Bette Midler!
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12 thoughts on “Sliding Doors

  1. As I remember it you actually asked for a check to reserve your dorm room with Sarah, where upon I replied, “You haven’t even applied yet; how do you know you’ll get in?” You responded with a sigh in hand-on-hip stance, “M-o-o-m, “I’ll get in!!!” . . . at least that’s my recollection today.

  2. I sometimes think of the roads untraveled. I want(ed) to go to Georgetown, major in languages, go to law school, and then join the Foreign Service (go to exotic places and do interesting work), but my parents (my dad was a career AF officer) did NOT have the money for that. I wanted to be a chef, a poet-singer-songwriter (alas and alack for all the hours in smoky coffee houses), and for awhile a computer geek. People broke up with me, and I broke up with people, and I think about where those relationships might have taken me had they lasted. I think about the choices my spouse and I have made, to move to Washington then California. I think about the “rough patches” in that 40-year relationship, and what might have happened if he or I hadn’t been deeply committed to the relationship for the long-haul rather than just walking out.

    1. I think one of the things that I realize is that neither choice is right or wrong; each simply leads us to a different place. And the things that seem most painful or insignificant in the moment are simply stopping points on our way to somewhere else. Like even before this conversation with me & Sarah in high school I had tried out for the drill team. I was devastated when I didn’t make it; I wanted it so badly. But if I had made it, I wouldn’t have even been in the theater in the first place (drill team practiced during 7th period theater). Who knows where I would have ended up, but I like unraveling the stepping stones of my life.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. Your Hello Dolly self is absolutely thinking of you and her Scottish stranger flirt. Long live this version of our beautiful, TJ.

  4. Finally backed up to read this post, and I love it. I also wonder about the lives I have not lived, and lately I’ve been thinking about them more and more. Interesting, isn’t it, that — even though every experience in every moment could be the difference between this life and that one — there are certain moments we remember as the turning points?

    1. That’s exactly it. And I suppose if we unravel our lives, every moment is a turning point because every moment has infinite (microscopic) possibilities and infinite outcomes. Of course, I think most people’s impulse is to defend THIS life (i.e. if that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have my kid, partner, puppy, friends) but my point is that you’d be in that OTHER life. Then again, if you’re a believer in fate (I’m not, obviously) you’d conclude that these alternate paths would eventually lead you to this kids, partner, puppy, friends, but even then I’d argue that it’d be a different life because you wouldn’t have those microscopic experiences along the way (that we most often don’t even notice). I didn’t sleep well last night; I just couldn’t shut off my brain (too much reading and writing does that). And even though I woke up at the same time I normally do, I’m still not the same person as if I had sleep and today’s day, even if I do basically the same things I planned on doing, won’t be the same day.

  5. I’ve always thought of you as driven. But then, that’s compared to me, who is one paycheck away from homeless…I guess if you were here, and we were talking about it, it would sound a lot like that conversation we had in our twenties, when you tried to convince me you were shy. Wouldn’t life be interesting if we randomly became other people (switched bodies every so often), so that our choices really didn’t have permanent consequences?

    1. If anything, I’ve been very lucky — been in the right place at the right time — and able to trust my gut instinct. But there’s never been any sort of plan or long-term goal in mind.

      Oh, that is an excellent premise for a story! It’d be interesting to see how our internal selves (which, presumably, we’d bring with us) would interplay with the external lives of others (presumably strangers). What would have more influence on the present?

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