Saturday, August 27, 2011
Choose your own adventure
When my kids were little they used to read the Chose Your Own Adventure books, also know as Gamebook. After reading a few pages, they'd have to make a choice. The choice involved picking which page to go to next. Once that choice was made, the story was altered. I've often thought life was like that. Every so often you have to chose something. Once you make the choice, it changes your life forever. In life, unlike the book, you can't go back and alter your choice.
I can think of so many pivotal moments of choice, as well as, minor ones. The minor ones sometimes turned out to be pivotal. With all the talk of Brooklyn Norwegians and my childhood, it has made me wonder about a lot of the choices.
This morning my husband and I were talking about why I didn't go with my father to Norway when I was in the 9th grade. I've regretted that decision a million times. It was primarily their decision, I was only 14. However, I did have some say. My mother didn't want to go. My father wouldn't take me without my mother. He went alone. He sailed on the Oslofjord in 1966 for his final voyage home. He spent three months in his homeland. He even got a free set of new dentures while he was there thanks to the Norwegian Health System. He missed my 9th grade graduation. He missed seeing me in my white pique dress my mother had made. It had lace sleeves and a frilly cuff. It was beautiful.
I wonder, had I gone to Norway, what memories would I have of relatives? Would I have learned the language better? Would I be able to go back to Norway and visit those relatives still living? And, they'd remember me.
There were other decisions made about me during that time. Some I perpetuated. I wanted to be called Jo-Jo for a while and seem tough. It was all a farce for attention. Others, in retrospect, are so regrettable and lay at their feet. Oh, I know they did the best they could and I don't blame them. But I do wonder... I wonder a lot.
After 9th grade, we would disperse. Most would go to Fort Hamilton High School, a few of the girls would go to Bay Ridge High School - it was an all girls school at the time - the smart boys got accepted at Boys Tech, the brother school of Bay Ridge. And a very few of us would go toward Park Slope and go to John Jay High School. I wanted so badly to go to Fort Hamilton High School. I missed the district for Fort Hamilton by a block. All my friends were going there. I knew lots of people, even good Christian people, who lied about where they lived so their kids could go to a better school. My cousin lived in the district; it would have been easy. But my parents would not lie. They said no, you got to go to Bay Ridge or John Jay. It didn't fit my tough girl facade to go to all-girl Bay Ridge. I chose John Jay.
There was another option on the table at that time. There was New York Christian Academy (NYCA). Pastor Crandall, always ahead of his time was starting a school. I was called in to have pictures taken for the Norwegian Newspaper the Nordisk Tidende. I would be the poster child for attracting Norwegians to send their kids to NYCA. I was so excited! But, Pastor Crandall made that decision for me. They decided to not have high school the first few years of operation. I tried to get my parents to send me to Hillcrest Academy in Fergus Falls, MN. It was a Lutheran Brethren school. It was well known as the place to send Norwegian kids for boarding school. It was too expensive.
Off to John Jay High School I went. I had one friend, she lived a block from me. I still hope to find her on Facebook one day, her name? Debbie Dennis. We'd meet in front of my house, walk the "long block" to 5th Avenue and ride NY Transit to school. We'd put our dime in the change collector, show our bus pass and jostle past Sunset Park, Green-Wood Cemetery traversing 51 blocks to 2nd street. I remember being groped by some fellow male students on those rides too. We'd walk uphill the two blocks to school. The school was a fortress. Monitors were everywhere. It was dangerous to use the bathrooms. I held it all day. I never once used a toilet in that school. I was too afraid.
So I wonder... would I have stayed in Brooklyn if I had gone to Fort Hamilton? Would I have married a Norwegian, or an Italian? Would I still be living in the NYC area? Would I still shop on 5th Avenue or 86th Street? Would I have moved to Staten Island or New Jersey? I can only guess.
But I didn't. Like a Gamebook choice, it was chosen that I'd go to John Jay. From there, the choice was made to leave Brooklyn. We moved to central Missouri. You can pick up how that story turned out here.
I guess I believe in providence. Perhaps all of that was completely out of my parents hands anyway. It just was. But I do wonder. I sometimes even lament. I would like to see Brooklyn. I fantasize that I'd like to live there too. But the reality is, it's not the same. Even a year after I left, it had changed - and I had changed. Friends once so memorable forgot me. For a while they wondered where I'd gone. Soon a rumor floated that my parents had married me off to an Italian NYC police officer and I lived in Long Island - that one always makes me laugh - NO! I was taken to central Missouri and the first summer there, at 16, I married a country white boy who abused me. Maybe the Italian cop would have better.
Here I am... many, many, many years later. My memories of Brooklyn are revived through conversations and the questions arise as well. There are no do-overs. Sometimes I wish there were.
Do you ever wish there were do-overs?