The Day the Lightbulb Went On
I still remember the exact moment it happened – not the precise date and time, but where I was and how it felt. Like that proverbial lightbulb going on – I had the realization that my life was up to me. On my way home from work, I was walking from the bus stop to my house in Jersey City. It was dusky, early fall, and the weather was crisp but not uncomfortable. I dragged my finger along a chain-link fence as I meandered. I had a cat at the time, but she could take me or leave me, so there was no one waiting for me, no reason to hurry.
It was on that walk that it dawned on me that all of the results I’d achieved, the situation in which I found myself, were mine and my doing alone. I was 27 and pregnant. Unmarried, and unlikely to marry the birthfather. And while it would have been quite easy to blame him and get angry with him for not stepping up, (a) that wasn’t going to solve anything and (b) it wouldn’t absolve me from my role in the pregnancy. I realized in that moment that I couldn’t blame anyone else for my lot in life: I couldn’t blame my parents, my son’s father, my siblings, my schooling, my church. There was no one else to point the finger at. Sure, all of those people and organizations had influenced me – but the choices I made were mine.
No one forced me to choose my high school or my college or to date Tony or to move to New York or to take a job at Lehman Brothers or to have unprotected sex or to carry the baby. Good and bad, my choices had been up to me – and at that moment, I took ownership for them.
It’s amazingly freeing to take responsibility for your own decisions, to realize that what you’ve done, accomplished, achieved – or not done, not accomplished, or not achieved – is really up to you.
I didn’t get married until I was 43 – remember how until the early 20th century, a woman still unmarried past 21 was a spinster, likely to remain single forever? Even as recently as 2015, the average age of first marriage for women in the U.S. was 27.1, and for men it was and 29.3.* So both John and I skewed the average quite a bit. Could I have gotten married sooner? Probably – if I’d ever agreed to a second date with any of the guys I met on Craigslist before meeting John. But why should I have? I didn’t like any of them enough for a second date, let alone to marry them. Yet I think many people fear being alone more than they fear marrying the wrong person. I owned my choice to be single for years longer than average – and have been so vastly rewarded in meeting and marrying the right guy. The choice to wait proved immeasurably worthwhile.
One of my birthmother friends was a Peace Corps volunteer. And when I was dating before meeting my husband, I met a writer/photographer for whom Phoenix was a pitstop as he traveled the world. Then I had a roommate briefly who literally backpacked across Eastern Europe. I used to envy these friends and others who traveled. Until I realized that envy wasn’t going to get me anywhere. They traveled because they prioritized traveling. All of my excuses – particularly the “not enough money” excuse – were really just bullshit, because if I’d really wanted to be a world traveler, I would have been. I liked the idea of world travel – but I wasn’t exactly prepared to get a passport, pack my backpack, leave my pets behind, take a sabbatical from my job, and just go.
Perhaps that’s why my first novel (forthcoming this year) is about a guy who travels around the world with his dog. I’m living vicariously through my fictional character, Stan. So far, my world travel has been fairly limited. My goals are shifting, though, as I see more trips on my horizon in a way I hadn’t until relatively recently. I’ve been a little worried about marketing a book about world travel when my own travel has been so limited. Hmmm… What were the choices that led to this place? The choice not to travel, coupled with the choice to write about a guy who does travel. I wonder who got me into this situation? Oh, wait – I did!
Everything that has happened in my life has led me to this point, today, writing this blog and preparing to (finally) launch my novel. I’d be a different person if I’d chosen to parent Eric. My life would likely have had radically different outcomes if I’d stayed in New York/New Jersey instead of moving back to Arizona. I sometimes wish we had the opportunity to take both roads so we could know which outcome we really preferred. Those who study quantum physics might tell you that there are parallel universes, where we could (or do) simultaneously make different choices. That’s heady stuff, though. In practicality, I live in this world. And so I can only make one choice at a time and experience one outcome, as a result.
The best thing I ever did – and I think I have Eric to thank for it – was realizing that every choice is mine. No blame, no finger-pointing, no excuses. My choices led me to today – and what a remarkable day it is.