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!”), three bells = Math, etc.

But four bells meant Art, and this was when Mr. Taketa’s clerkish demeanor disintegrated 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 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 would soon return 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, 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 a fine artist.thL2615HL5

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 leave it up to me.

“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?

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 someday. But then I’m a writer, so maybe I’ll just imagine him. And perhaps even now alternate me Michi Timori is drawing pictures of the life if 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.

26 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 2 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

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