Have you ever wondered who you’d be if at some point you’d taken a different fork in the road? Pursued a different career. Married a different person. Chosen not to pet that baby alligator.
My first big fork came in Fifth Grade. Mr. Taketa was a politely obsessive Japanese-born teacher who wasn’t much taller than we were. He kept a clerk’s bell on his desk and made us memorize a series of Pavlovian dings: One bell = nap time, two bells = announcements (accompaniment by Mr. T’s strident, “’tension, please, ‘tension!”), three bells = Math, etc.
But four bells meant Art, and this was when Mr. Taketa’s clerkish demeanor wilted and his passion bloomed. Art had clearly been his fork in the road, the path he regretted not having taken. Perhaps he wasn’t talented enough. Or perhaps his parents had insisted he pursue something sensible, like teaching rude American fifth graders how to respond to bells. At any rate, that spring Mr. Taketa announced that he and his wife were returning to Japan.
And they wanted to take me with them.
The Taketas were childless. But more than that, after raving about my doodles, landscapes, and dinosaur-festooned notebook covers all year (I had a permanent place on the Art Wall), Mr. T had concluded that I was an artistic genius. So he visited my parents, introducing my mom to origami (a craft she avidly practiced for years thereafter), and asked their permission to alter my life forever.
He would enroll me in a special art prep school in Tokyo, he explained, paying all costs while I lived with his family (they were apparently quite wealthy). And then, after I’d completed an exclusive graduate level education, they would finance my career as an artist.
My parents were stunned. Apart from several demanding cats, I was their only child. And yet, if this was what I was born to do… I did draw incessantly, but then I also read and told stories incessantly. And yet… They finally decided to let me choose.
“If you want to go,” they tearfully announced, “we’ll love you from afar and visit you whenever we can.”
I fantasized about my new life for a week. I’d eat tempura shrimp and have a girlfriend named Fujiko with eggshell skin and legs as long as scrolls. But wait–I’d have to learn Japanese, right? Hmm. And did they serve tempura hamburgers? And what about curvy, bronze-skinned blondes? (I’m from Southern California.)
So I said no.
Who would I be today if I’d said yes? Is there an alternate universe where I did? If so, I’d like to meet that version of me. But then I’m a writer, so maybe I’ll just imagine him. And perhaps even now alternate-me Mich Timori is drawing pictures of the life he’d have if he hadn’t moved to Japan when he faced his fork (chopsticks?) in the road.
What was your first big fork in the road?