This is my entry for Week Seventeen of The Real LJ Idol competition, where the topic is an open topic, meaning we can write anything we like. I'll post an update about voting later in the week. If you haven't already, you may want to join therealljidol, since some voting will be restricted to community members. Again, I really appreciate all the support so far!
Me from different times in my life
Many of my friends are far smarter than I, and our conversations revolve as often around weighty theories as they do around pop culture. Thanks to them, I'm familiar with the Many Worlds Theory, which hypothesizes that every time you make a decision, the universe branches off, with one universe resulting from one decision and another resulting from the second. What's more, scientists believe they have proved this to be possible.
Somewhere in the multiverse, then, in this branching tree of parallel universes, lives the Alyce who married her high-school sweetheart, The Drum Major, stayed in rural Central Pennsylvania and birthed two or three children, all with receding chins (if you looked at us both sideways, you'd see this would be inevitable).
Likewise, in another universe lives the Alyce who never made a commitment, back in 2000, to get healthier, and by now might have gained another 50-80 pounds, complaining about the ridiculous tyranny of dress sizes ("I think they're making clothes smaller than they did eight years ago!")
In a more positive alternate reality lives the Alyce who pursued broadcasting right after receiving her bachelor's degree from Penn State. She works for a large public radio station. (That Alyce wouldn't have attended grad school and, therefore, would not have improved her poetry-writing skills.)
Of course, if we believe these alternate Alyces exist, we must also accept the possibility of the Alyce who chose an egg-white omelet instead of pancakes last Saturday, the Alyce who watched True Beauty last night instead of CSI Miami, and the Alyce who wore a rose-colored sweater today instead of a Navy blue hoody. All weighty decisions with dire consequences, I'm sure.
Faced with such a stupefying array of possible lives, how can I make a decision again? Knowing that every choice I make, good or bad, major or minor (for example, just now, to pick up my mewing, needy cat or to shoo him away) sparks a fractal series of alternate realities, how can I ever act?
But somehow, I don't think it's quite that simple.
For years, I've wondered how my life might have changed if I hadn't attended that Amnesty International meeting in the fall of 1988. The meeting itself mattered little. But because I sat in that classroom at that date (and because, I suppose, the person who ran the meeting was mind-numbingly boring), I happened to glance at a bulletin board and see a flyer for the Penn State Monty Python Society. Because of that flyer, I attended my first MPS meeting, where I met my good friend The White Rabbit and, eventually, most of my best college buddies. Without those friends, I would never have moved to Philadelphia, and would never have met my husband, The Gryphon. In fact prepare to get a shiver up your spine I would never have written this very entry, because they are the friends mentioned in the first paragraph.
(Boy, this cat's getting heavy. In a parallel universe exists an Alyce who is currently capable of typing freely, because she doesn't have a feline mama's boy draped over her left arm.)
If I had never attended that Amnesty International meeting, the entire trajectory of my life might have been different. My undergraduate days might have been filled with earnest activism, instead of buoyant nonsense. I might have never known the people who made me laugh, helped me feel accepted, taught me to see my inner beauty.
Perhaps. Or maybe I would have met them later. After all, I had already met my future College Roommate at the first meeting of the Writing Club. No doubt, she would have told me about MPS, sooner or later. True, if I hadn't attended the first meeting of the semester, I wouldn't have offered to co-found the club newsletter. I might have never become the club president, might not have helped lead my comrades in a campaign of silly happenings, such as protesting a campus building site (We complained the university was keeping a hole in captivity). Still, at some point, further down the path, I believe I would have met these people anyway. I have trouble contemplating any universe where I didn't know them. That Alyce would be a different Alyce, indeed.
Sometimes, choices lead to clearer outcomes. For example, my choice to struggle to place snow booties on Una's delicate feet before this morning's walk probably led to me finding a $10 bill. If not for the booties, we might have reached the AME Church steps too early. Certainly, if I had skipped the walk altogether, I never would have found that money.
Ridiculous as the Many Worlds Theory seems, I can't stop imagining the "what ifs." Somewhere lives an Alyce who never stopped playing the guitar. She serenades friends at parties, starts song circles around campfires. Another Alyce pursued her dream of auditioning for the improv troupe Second City, and later, launched a career in comedy.
Somewhere lives an Alyce who kept her cat, Squeaky, inside on that fateful night. Instead of collecting her broken body from the street, she nurtured her through a long, happy life.
In one universe lives the Alyce who practiced her district band audition piece in high school, who earned a place in the district festival, even made it to state band. Similarly, exists an Alyce who lost her virginity at 16 to the fellow clarinetist who kept singing in her ear between songs, "I want your sex."
Somewhere lives the Alyce who traveled to France with her high-school French class.
And somewhere, the Alyce who kissed that guy who resembled a blonde John Lennon, back in college (He invited me to listen to his original music in his room, staring at me intensely the whole time; I just thought maybe my hair looked funny).
In another universe exists the Alyce who followed up on the opportunity to interview Douglas Adams before he died (one of my most persistent regrets).
In yet another universe lives the Alyce who learned to figure skate; in another, the Alyce who stuck with martial arts and earned a black belt. Another Alyce stayed in academia, teaching Introduction to Poetry classes and working her way towards tenure.
But again, if those Alyces exist, these do as well: the Alyce who never left her emotionally-controlling boyfriend from college, Leechboy. She lives a stunted life at his mercy, cut off from friends and family, funding his many moneymaking schemes. And also, the Alyce who didn't hit the brakes in time, struck the deer, totaled her car and lost her life.
In some universes, while avoiding bad outcomes, I would also have missed good ones. For example, the Alyce who, in her late 20's, broke up with her louse of a boyfriend, The Luser, when he first cheated on her. But therefore, he never urged her to adopt that wonderful doggie, Una.
Or how about the Alyce of several years later, who never got serious about that emotionally-remote long-distance boyfriend, The Invisible Man. But therefore, he never urged her to go and she never went to the counseling that would have helped her become a stronger person.
Somewhere, in parallel universes far different from this one or perhaps much the same these Alyces live, unaware of the presence of me, the one true Alyce. Since there's no way to speak to them, my only choice is to make peace with the decisions I have made. (But in a parallel universe lives an Alyce who believes in regretting all her decisions and gripes about them endlessly.)
To be sure, some of my decisions have not been well thought-out; some were hastily made, even foolish. But they formed the fabric of this universe in which I the only Alyce who matters exist. I would not undo any of those decisions; they made me who I am. I choose to learn from them.
Whatever other eventualities might spring from my decisions, this is the only universe I know about. I better make the best of it.
The question "what if" is not as constructive as "what now?"