Two years ago my mom died just before the 40th anniversary of the death of one of my past loves. I grieve him every year. The loss of my mom, who was so supportive during the time of his illness and death, brought to the front many griefs about what might have been. That is part of what we grieve: the possibilities and opportunities missed by major transitions such as death. All those alternative time lines that could have happened. It’s not just science fiction, it’s possibility and the loss of those imagined futures.
Would I have been a different person had this young man lived and we had gone on to marry? He had many more problems than I knew about, as we were just starting our adventures in knowing each other. I know him more now than then. I know his drug use was a symptom of vastly larger challenges he was dealing with, some physical deformities he was born with and subsequent abuse by family. We’d talked about him getting clean, and having children together, but it’s never that easy. Might we have grown old together?
And if we’d never met? What if I’d married my high school sweetheart? Barriers there included different nationalities, different religions, and different social classes, which in the 70s were still hard to overcome. What if he hadn’t let the more affluent popular girls talk him out of dating me? Might we have married? Had children together? Might we still be married, grandparents now?
Saddened by the loss of the high school sweetheart what if I had not joined in the drinking parties so prevalent then? Not imbibed when the maniac girl passed around a hepatitis virus filled bottle of wine? Might I have avoided being exposed to and contracting hepatitis and have better health today?
What if I’d chosen to find a way to go to college? If I’d had the family’s support to do so? In those days, women were still not encouraged to higher education, still expected to marry and produce families. My high school counselor recommended college even though I was a mere C student. What did she see in me my family did not? Might I have met a different kind of man, one whose wit matched mine, or had a wider exposure to different lifestyles? If I’d chosen college right out of high school instead of choosing beauty school, would I have avoided the life long illness I endure?
I might have married the one young man who gave me a diamond ring, the one who came after my high school sweetheart. His mother hated me, claiming I had seduced her precious son. If there was any seduction going on it was going both ways. I was so flattered by the ring and the offer of marriage I accepted. Then I freaked out because he chose the ring himself without one word to me (the modern way) or my father (the old fashioned way) and the ring began to carry the weight of an uncertain mind. The little I knew of him led to 7 days of crying imagining a life of drudgery, diapers, serial unemployment, an angry mother-in-law, and never enough and I gave the diamond back. I hurt him to his core but at least I gave him my honest self and eliminated the possibilities before they were too much for me to bear. Would we have been well together? Would his mother have gotten over it? Might he have been a success after all because I was there for him?
What if I’d skipped the hubster? If I’d have a magic mirror to see his debilitating illness and inability to support me or his family? If I’d never said yes when he asked me to move in? We have 40 years of history together now, might I have created that with a different man?
What if I had chosen not do engage in sex at the young age I did? Might I have remained single, never satisfied with the man in front of me, always smarter than the men I met? Could I have become a single mom, hungry for the intimacy of sex, searching for the right partner, but not trusting to share the raising of my child, constantly battling for child support from a man I want little to do with? Might I have experienced different physical challenges, different loses, different griefs?
Some of those time lines feel really scary to me, but until you are faced with them, how does one know? After all, I have survived crazy things and come out not much worse for the wear, maybe not stronger or better, but at least with more knowledge. When I experienced my first (and only) pregnancy at the age of 38, the clinic I used counseled me to abort as the probability of a handicapped child was so much higher at my advanced age. I knew I was privileged with a biological miracle and was not about to deny myself that experience, even if I couldn’t afford a child. Centuries of women have had children with no guarantee of a village or financial assistance and the culture of the world has not failed yet. I had the wherewithal to tell the clinic I didn’t care if I had an elephant. I didn’t, of course, have an elephant. I gained not only a child but a wealth of knowledge about having and raising a child and how to do it with very little money. I may not have done it well, but it was done nonetheless.
These musings sound like they are about choice, but are they really? How much is my choice and how much outside my control? Did I choose for my high school sweetheart to stop calling me? Did I reject college (there’s always a way) when I was young? Did I choose my diamond ring? Did I choose for my young man to die when he was 24? Did I choose to keep my child? Did I choose other trials and tribulations in my life? Choice is not always within our control, though it may be if you have the money to support it.
I am content with my little life. We cannot see the future. The past cannot be changed but regret for the past is a poor use of time. The loss of those possible futures leave one’s mind wondering. I’m really good at wondering; it’s a nifty imagination thing. We can wonder, but we shall never know because que sera, sera.