What if I hadn't done that?
It occurs to me from time to time that I have no idea what Iím doing. I have a pretty good life, for the most part, but I donít know where itís going. I still donít know what I want to do when I grow up. I do have a good job, and I work for a solid company that actually likes me, but Iím not sure I actually like the work. Motivation is a fleeting specter that is only infrequently captured on the film of my workday, and it usually shows up at an impending deadline. I do work well under pressure, you see.
Oddly enough, it was really only a chance meeting with an old high school buddy, Matt, that even got me into this industry. We hooked up at a bar in Newbury Park, CA, my old home town. It was my friend Matt H, whom I had been very close to for a time in high school until an ex-girlfriend of mine, Heidi B, had hooked up with him. Tangent.
Do you ever ďwhat ifĒ yourself when you look back on your life? Iím sure you do, but for me I can think of at least 6 or 7 decisions that I made which totally changed the course of my life. I may have mentioned this one before, but if I did then youíre just going to have to deal with it because Iím piloting this anecdotal craft now and youíre flowing down the river of my life for a time.
The first major event that I can think of was a potential career choice. My father was a career firefighter and worked for the Ventura County Fire Department in Southern California. Growing up in a fire station and being tremendously proud of my father always had me considering (in my teens) what to do with my life. The fire service seemed like a good choice for me, to sort of follow in my fatherís footsteps, yes, but also because I found (what I knew about) it to be interesting.
The VCFD had a cadet program, sort of like an internship, where they would accept X number of Ďcadetsí who would basically hang out and do odd jobs at the fire station, make sure the truck compartments were organized as they should be, learn about being a fire fighter, etc. It was for all intents and purposes aÖgrooming for an ultimate job in the Department. I had a chance to join the cadet program, and was a shoe-in since I was bright, interested, and was the son of a very well-respected Engineer in the Department.
I had an interview set up, which was the process, and everything looked like it was on track. The problem was that I didnít have Outlook or any other appointment calendar and the interview was too far in the future for my 17-year old, goldfish-like brain to remember. You can guess what happened, Iím sure. I was hanging out with my stepbrother, Carl, not even doing anything. Just fucking around, you know? Iíd like to say that there was something tugging at me, something that I thought I should be doing. Maybe there was, but it wasnít powerful enough to rub two brain cells together and complete that particular synapse.
A few hours later I showed up at home to purplish-black storm clouds and lightning flashing around my dad. He asked me simply, through half-gritted teeth where I had been. It was at this point that I pretty much shat myself from my heart falling into my stomach. I had missed the interview. They had called him, of course, wondering where I was, and since these were the days before cell phones, he had no way to get in touch with me.
I pretty much freaked out at my own irresponsibility, but what hurt me the most was that I had so completely disappointed my father. He was mad, certainly, since he had vouched for me and my flaking on the interview made him look sort of bad to his peers. He never told me if he caught any shit from the other firemen, which is probably for the best. Yes, I was a typical teen for the most part, but my fatherís opinion still did matter to me. I was disgusted with myself for letting him down so completely. Iím not sure how long it took my dad to forgive me for that, or even if he ever did, but ultimately it never really came between us. To him it was a golden opportunity that I fucked away and a discredit to his reputation but for me it was much larger.
Coming back to the point now, what if I had gone to that interview? I know that I would have gotten in to the cadet program. Seriously, there is no doubt in my mind. There probably wasnít any doubt in Dadís mind either. Going into the cadets would have precluded me from taking other jobs, would have changed who I met and hung out with, would have changed my schooling, etc., Ė which is a whole Ďnother series of events. -It would surely have prevented me from going into the Navy, and not pursuing that path would have prevented my 19-year old daughter from ever existing. Itís possible that I never would have left my home town, and itís also possible that I could be 20 years dead now, since the fire service is a very risky career.
10 years later I did join a fire department in Colorado and was an official Reserve firefighter for 3 years. I could have pursued a career in the fire service at this point too, but at that point in my life I was living too large and couldnít stomach what would have been a 30% pay cut. I know that my father was proud of me for being a fireman even for a little while, and I sent him my old uniform and badge, which he still has. I love you, Dad.
Itís funny how this single moment of teenage absent-mindedness and irresponsibility COMPLETELY redirected my life, as though Iíd either lost a limb or grown a new one. I can only speculate on where I would be now. Thatís a "what if", now isnít it? Do you have any?