My First Big Fork in the Road


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 imagehe 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.

thL2615HL5My 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.

Mark-Zhao-Yu-Ting-08Who 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?

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir, Mitchellaneous, Story Power and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to My First Big Fork in the Road

  1. den169 says:

    Very enjoyable. Your wit shines.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Wow, that was a huge fork in your road! You’re right, imagining your alternate life makes for a great story.
    I mostly wonder about the times I chose a path that didn’t work out, especially when it led me into unsafe territory. On the one hand, I would have been spared great pain, on the other hand, those struggles make up a huge part of who I am.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. richp45198 says:

    If I touch on regret, I fall back on Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” and also the great Zen Master Yogi Berra: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it!’ Many forks in many roads along the way — dropping out of basketball, joining the Army, not going to seminary, etc. Thankfully, few regrets! Many “what if” wonderings though.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. As Quantum Mechanics theorizes… anything (that’s scientifically possible) goes… and all possible choices we make DO play out in an infinite number of dimensions. As you speculated, Mitch, there could be that other dimension where you did go to Japan… and… later on… married another woman (perhaps an oriental?). As for the other countless flipsides to this “coin”, there are also the dimensions where bad things happen… e.g. the Japan bound jet, which the alternate you flew on could’ve crashed OR where the alternate you arrived at the moment a magnitude 10 earthquake struck. And if we carry that to further extremes… maybe there’s even a dimension where Cloudzilla came to life, leveled Japan and went on to conquer our entire world? Of course… I’ve let my imagination run wild… again… and… QM IS only a theory.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Clare Wright says:

    I was offered a job as a sports psychologist (back in the day before sports psychology had really taken off) to work with my local county cricket club. I turned it down because I was 7 months pregnant with my third child and was about to move away to a completely different part of the country. But ooh the hours I could have spent listening to leather on willow instead of crying and nose blowing (I have stuck with working with people with mental health problems). Alas …

    Liked by 2 people

  6. To paraphrase Star Trek’s Starship Captain Janeway… It’s best not to think too much about this… it’ll give you a headache.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Wow. What a decision to make–and you were just a kid! Can’t say I ever faced such a huge fork in the road. I agree with CommonSenseTom above: the choice to live in Japan may have led to misery not bliss. No way to know, so “It’s best not to think too much about this!”

    Liked by 2 people

  8. thia licona says:

    WOW! Me too? Not just one fork. Many forks. Many cross roads. Now? Only one sure path in the Presence of our Father/Creator. So glad for your visit. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. dawnlizjones says:

    I’ve thought about this with my nursing career. It’s actually been painful, but God has used it to show me some very important things about myself…and His grace.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. toutparmoi says:

    Wow, that was a huge fork! A friend of mine once remarked that the choice we made at the time was the right choice for the person we were at the time. The person who looks back and says “I could have…” is in a different place.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Like the poem “The Road Not Taken” 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Lucie says:

    Hm….what an emotional position for you AND your parents. How I admire them for how they handled it…..don’t know if I could have “let go” my only child that easily….takes a tremendous love to do that and let YOU make the decision….Are your parents still alive, Mitch????

    Liked by 1 person

  13. DN says:

    I was offered a chance to go to Africa in the 90’s to study art history. Despite all the people telling me NOOOOOO… I went. Best thing I ever did. Influenced my love of African art, and my choice of completing my Illustration degree. I’m at another fork right now. Biggest one of my life perhaps. And it was predicted by an Indian guy at my office that reads palms in a very traditional Indian manner. He said (last October) “soon you will be starting over”. And boy was he right! Anyway, oversharing at this late hour, but enjoyed the post. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Roos Ruse says:

    Obviously, your art followed you, Mitch. My fork was in my 2nd year of law school – while my four boys were in Jr. High and High school. Guess which fork I took 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Now that’s a fork in the road if I ever saw one! Wow! This story really touched me. That teacher must have had such incredible faith in your talent…and your parents were so unselfish to offer you the opportunity. I feel like you could write a book about an experience like this! I’m sure you won’t be forgotten by Mr. T any time soon…and vice versa!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. smzang says:

    It seems you were chosen for many blessings (and many scars) from the very beginning.
    I’m guessing you are doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, and doing
    it very well, I might add.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. mitchteemley says:

    Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:

    Who would I be today if I’d said “yes”?


  18. stolzyblog says:

    That’s a pretty powerful request of your parents — to cart you off to Japan for a year. Surprised they considered it. The Fujiko part sounds like fun… you were precocious! I don’t think girlfriends came to my radar till I was 16 or so, and even then it was a pretty theoretical concept. 🙂 One time, near the end of 1st grade, the school proposed to my parents that I skip 2nd grade and go directly into 3rd. They thought I’d be too bored and could easily handle it. But my parent decided no, thinking I was already young for my class, and it would create a socially awkward scenario for me for years to come. I never even knew of this until several years later when my mother casually mentioned it. So, not really my decision. Another time, 19, I was heading north in Germany towards Norway, as a hitchhiker, using the youth hostel system to travel. Alone. And a wonderful bus was parked at a truck stop filled with youths my age, getting ready to depart. A sign in the front said ‘Greece Here We Come’. People took one look at me and were leaning out the windows pleading with me to join them — come on, it will be a blast. Including one particularly fetching brunette, hair blowing in multiple directions. Hard not to say yes and change directions. I honestly do not even know why… maybe the pull of solitude. I always found that more interesting things happened to me when solo than in a group of any size during that trip. But — wonder what would’ve transpired enroute to (or in) Greece? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Wow, very interesting! I have a ‘real-life’ friend who is also a new blogger. He’s decorated half our house with origami animals, boxes, earrings, etc… until our cat gets them, at least.

    My first big fork came with I was 3, though I had little choice. I was taken out of the nursery of my mom’s church by a couple who had been visiting for a few weeks. They used my name and my mom’s and had me in the parking lot when someone who knew my mom saw them and asked where they were going with me. Fortunately – or more likely, Providentially – they let go of me and ran…

    That is my not-so-good “what if?” I have too many others to mention…

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I have come upon many forks in my road. Unfortunately, I often took the wrong “tine”. (snigger). My three biggest ‘wrong tines’ were marrying the wrong person, marrying when I was too young, and giving up my career dreams to allow him to focus on his.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. We all eventually get to where we are meant to be. The question is which road we take to get there. Japan would have been exciting, but the question I have for you is are you happy with the you that you have become? I don’t know you well but I think you are an amazing writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. enitsirk24 says:

    I have a place setting for eight. Eight forks in my road of life. I sure wish I hadn’t met my first husband and met myself first.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. nancyehead says:

    Some forks are chosen for us. Getting divorced wasn’t my choice but it sure did work out for me. What some mean (or can’t even bother to conjure intentions about) for evil, God means for good.
    Have you ever gotten to visit Japan?

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Paula says:

    Mitch, you ARE an artist.
    (But I get your point)

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Jennie says:

    Certainly a major fork in the road, Mitch. Did you keep in touch with him! Maybe try to find him on FB? Wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Thank you, Jennie. No, unfortunately, I haven’t talked to Mr. Taketa since I was in elementary school.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jennie says:

        I have tried to find a few treasured teachers from my past without success. I’ve made sure that the two who made a difference in my children’s education got a long handwritten letter (typed would never do), with copies sent to the principal. One of the best act of goodness I have done. Apologies for rambling. I dearly loved your story.

        Liked by 1 person

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