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. He kept a bell on his desk and made us memorize a series of Pavlovian dings: One bell = nap time, two bells = announcements, three bells = Math.
But four bells meant Art, and this was when Mr. Taketa’s dweebish demeanor wilted and his passion bloomed. Art had clearly been his fork in the road, the path he regretted not having taken. 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 and dinosaur-festooned notebook covers, Mr. T had concluded that I was a burgeoning artistic genius. So he asked my parents for permission to alter my life forever.
He would enroll me in art school in Tokyo, he said, paying all costs while I lived with his well-to-do family. And then, after I’d completed my graduate art degree, they would finance my brilliant career!
My parents were stunned. Apart from several demanding cats, I was their only child. “And yet, if this is what you were born to do, honey…” I did draw incessantly, but then I also read and told stories incessantly. They agonized over it, and then tearfully told me, “If this is what you want to do, we’ll love you from afar and visit you whenever we can.”
I fantasized about my new life: I’d eat tempura shrimp and have a beautiful Japanese girlfriend with perfect eggshell skin. But wait—I’d have to learn Japanese, right? Hmmm. And did they serve tempura hamburgers there? And what about those bronze-skinned California girls…?
I finally said no.
Who would I be today if I’d said yes? Is there an alternate universe where I did? Perhaps even now alternate-reality-me Mich Timori is imagining the life he’d have if he hadn’t moved to Japan when he faced…
His big fork (chopsticks?) in the road.