I was thinking about someone today.
A girl I knew in high school.
She crossed my mind as I was going to pick up Jani from school.
I don’t know why.
Oh, yes I do. I saw an Asian girl in the parking lot as I was leaving. That’s what it was. I commented to myself on her attractiveness. Which then lead me to the thought that I never dated an Asian girl.
Which lead me to think about one that I could have dated. She sat behind me in psychology class my senior year in high school. She kept forgetting her book which meant she had to scoot up and read over my shoulder. The significance of this didn’t hit me until years later.
When it did, I was twenty-five and married. When it did, my first thought was, “Man, why didn’t I pick up on her signals? I could’ve nailed an Asian chick.”
Piggish of me, I know, but I am including it because she will read this and I want her to know who I am really am.
You know the famous poem by Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken?” Have you ever actually read it? The popular interpretation is that the poem is an ode to non-conformity, to blazing your own trail, because of the final lines “Two roads diverged in the wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Except that doesn’t fit with who Robert Frost was. He was no Walt Whitman. Frost’s family was riddled with mental illness. In 1920, Frost had to commit his younger sister Jeannie to a mental hospital. In 1940, Frost’s second son, Carol, committed suicide (his first son, Eliot, had died of cholera at eight years old). In 1947, he had to commit his second daughter, to a mental hospital. Both Frost himself, his wife, and his mother all suffered from bouts of extreme depression.
Not a happy life. Which makes it hard to buy that “The Road Not Taken” is a celebration.
Years later, in 2009, when I got on Facebook, I found her again, that girl who sat behind me in psychology class. And my suspicions were confirmed. She had indeed liked me. And she still did, even though she too was now married.
She told me some of the details of her life since our roads diverged in June of 1994 when we graduated. I won’t share them here but suffice to say they took me back. Things happened to her that I never would have expected. Not her. Not the sweet girl who sat behind me who wore knitted sweaters over a turtleneck every day (It was Minnesota).
She never said anything to this effect, but I felt that the downward spiral began with our roads diverging.
Every time I think about her now, I worry about her. And so I did when I thought of her today, on the way to get Jani.
And I thought about what might have been.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;”
A few days ago, I woke up when my alarm went off at 7AM. I was sleeping on the couch in Jani’s apartment. I do this now, having learned to sleep with the incessant trickle of the filters in the turtle tanks, to increase my chances of “catching” Jani. If I am sleeping in her bed, having gone to bed at 3am after working on the book, there is too much of a chance she will get up and slip out while I slumber. Out on the couch, she has to go past me.
On this morning, I woke up to find the living room tv off. My first thought was she must still be asleep, which surprised me greatly. Normally I wake up to find her watching television in front of me. I go into her room, expecting her to still be in her bed.
But her bed is empty.
I look to my right. The bathroom light is off.
No answer. No need to panic. She often doesn’t answer me the first time. I think I have to cut through the noise in her head, like diving into the pool that is her psychosis, dulled, but always active.
“Jani?” I call louder. No answer. I run back into the living room, wondering if somehow, in my half-awake state, I missed her. No. I spot the door to the balcony. I open it, calling to her again.
But she is not there.
I go back into her bedroom and pull up the sheets, the covers, the piles of clothes, even though I know she isn’t there.
It is 7AM and Jani is gone.
My only hope is that she went over to Bodhi’s. I call Susan. It rings for a long time, making me fear she and Bodhi are still asleep. If so, then Jani is not there.
Finally, Susan answers the phone.
“Is Jani there?” I blurt
Susan doesn’t answer immediately, like she wants me to swing in the wind on the end of my rope a little longer before cutting me down. I get the sense she is angry with me. Okay, I can understand why. I failed in my guard duty.
“Yes, she’s here,” she finally answers. Her voice is a mix of resignation and disgust.
“I set the alarm!” I protest. “I set it for seven!”
“Did you hit her?”
Am I dreaming? Am I still asleep and this is a nightmare?
“She says you hit her.”
This doesn’t feel like a nightmare. There is something too logical here. People don’t ask me questions in my nightmares.
“When? How? I was asleep!”
“She says she tried to wake you and you hit her. She came over here crying.”
Suddenly, I get one of the worst feelings I have ever had in my life, the feeling where I wonder if I what I remember is really true. I begin to wonder if there are gaps in my memory, things I did that I don’t remember. It occurs to me that this must be what it feels like to be psychotic.
Did I do it? I don’t remember it. Could I have lashed out unconsciously when she was trying to wake me?
But that doesn’t sound like me. I don’t move like that.
“She says you spanked her.” Susan continues. “I asked ‘over the clothes or under the clothes.’ She said over.’”
Reality begins to arrange itself. I am sure I didn’t do that. I would remember that.
“I just woke up,” I tell Susan.
But reality is arranging itself into something that is no better.
“Well, when I opened the door, the first thing she said was, ‘I need my meds.’” Susan is reading my mind.
Jani has almost made it six months out of the hospital.
But it is getting harder. We are running faster on the treadmill. I took this morning “off” and Susan reported back that Jani was talking a lot about “Eighty” and her jumping off buildings.
So I went back out into the world with Jani. When I am out with Jani, it is exhausting, not only because she never stops and can never stay in one place for very long. It is because to keep her with me I have to talk to her about her “imaginary friends.” I continually have to talk to her about people and numbers and animals, trying to reconcile their actions with our reality. I have to remember who they are, when their birthdays are, what they are doing, who their siblings are, what problems they have. I have to recall an entire world that doesn’t fucking exist except inside her head.
Here in California, it is illegal to use a hand-held cell phone while driving. But what I do is far more distracting to me. Try having to navigate traffic while talking to someone about people and things that don’t exist and having to act like they do.
It is so hard to remember. Sometimes I want to scream at her “They aren’t real!” But I can’t do that. Because they are real to her. She is so earnest. In the end I am her last link to our world. I won’t break it.
“Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,”
So I suppose, as I was driving to pick Jani up, in those few moments I have to myself, I was thinking about what might have been. What if I had turned around to that girl behind me? What if I had asked her out? What if today I was married to her and not Susan?
What if I had taken the other road?
“And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”
You only come to the fork in the road once and you can only take one path.
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:”
Why? Because he chose the wrong path?
So what if? What if I had turned around back in psychology class at Hopkins High School in the winter of ‘93/’94?
Well, first of all, I was eighteen. I didn’t know who I wanted as a person. You only learn that later by trial by fire. You burn, and you find out if you can burn together.
So at eighteen all I knew is I wanted to get laid. So I probably would have talked her into bed, eventually dumped her, and left a scar like the ones she already has.
That is why I included the earlier “piggish” statement. I want her to know that the only thing she missed out on with me was more pain. I would have been like every other guy.
But let’s say I didn’t. Let’s say I asked her out, we dated, and I fulfilled her fantasy. We got married and had kids.
No matter what road I chose, I still carry the same DNA in my sperm. I produced a child with schizophrenia and another that likely is autistic.
If I had children with another woman, am I to suppose that magically those sequences in my DNA would not have been passed on to those children?
Jani and Bodhi would look different. They would probably have different names. But they would still be Jani and Bodhi. They would still be my children.
And that girl who sat behind me, who is now a woman, suffers from depression as well, just like Susan.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Do you get it now? The key is “And that has made all the difference.”
But the narrator never explains what the difference was.
Because there was no difference.
It doesn’t matter what road he chose. He would still end up in the same place.
I love Susan. I love her more now than I did when we were married. We have burned together. And we will burn together forever, united in the fire that is Jani and Bodhi.
But even if I had taken the other road, even if I had turned around in psychology class, I will still be here today.
“The Road Not Taken” is meant to be ironic because in the end, it doesn’t matter what road you choose. The only “difference” between the road you are on now and the one you didn’t choose is you didn’t choose the other road. The roads are the same. Frost even describes them as being largely the same.
There is no difference.
It doesn’t matter what road you choose.
You will end up in the same place.
And that has made all the difference.
Note: So rent is coming due again and I don’t have it. The electric bill hasn’t been paid in months. Neither has the gas bills. Neither has the car registration. But you know all of that already. If you can help, thank you. If you can’t, thank you as well. Hopefully my next blog won’t be about getting another eviction notice. But if that happens, it happens. Because I guess then it is meant to happen.