Woulda Coulda Shoulda

Time is a relative concept. The hours spent at work are triple the length of the hours spent drinking with your buddies, watching a good movie, and having mind-melting sex. Sleep, the activity with the most potential for pleasure and pain, takes place in the blink of an eye.

My brain in its infinite wisdom forces me to move “forward” in time every day. Every time I drive to work, work, drive home, cook dinner, and go to bed, my brain buds out in new dendtritic tendrils, forming new memories, maintaining its repetitive pathways. That’s how time moves, that’s why time moves. Because we remember. The past is nothing but old neural pathways, shooting off electrons in the old familiar ways.

I wonder, sometimes, if we – “we”, meaning humanity in general – will ever figure out how to move ourselves through the sucking, slurping quicksand of time. It’s all out there already, so the theory goes. Why can’t we just move around in it, jump to a certain place and time, like diving into a swimming pool? I wonder if, given the cosmic opportunity, I would revisit the ups and downs that constitute the varying hours of my life. Mostly, I wonder how I would change all the events that sent me splatting face-first into the mud.

I could go back to when I was in college, dating that really sweet guy, and I was still young and naïve enough to think that the words “I love you” would be welcomed by any man. In fact, I believe I would go back to every relationship I’ve ever been in, and run my own little tragic experiment on what happens if you never, ever, ever say those fateful words. It would probably change my life so drastically that I would now be married with three kids to a multi-millionaire who supports my coke habit and pressures his publisher friends to buy every piece of prose I crap out on my $10,000 laptop.

I would have gotten out of my first relationship fairly quickly – he popped out the L-word in order to have sex, and I relented and sent it sailing back to him because it felt weird not to. After a while, I convinced myself I loved him, paying no heed to the fact that he was on the lower end of the evolutionary scale, he believed in the clitoris like he believed in the tooth fairy, and his given name was “Boots.” Did I seriously think that I could go around the rest of my life introducing people to my husband, Boots?

After that lovely affair, I realized what trouble I could get into being in love. I didn’t learn anything, of course. I moved on to A, whose only expression of love was to give up snorting coke while I was around, and to make sure that his friends blew their cigarette smoke in the opposite direction. He did nothing to stem the flow of dudes that populated his mom’s living room (did I say his mom? Oh, yes, at 28, he still lived with mama) every morning starting at ten, waiting for A to rouse himself and get the daily toke lighted. After which it was breakfast at a greasy spoon and a round of disc golf to work it all off. At least I never fooled myself that I loved him. Who can love a guy whose favorite song is one he made up about givin’ me some Dutch Oven lovin’?

I grew out of the losers and abusers, I’m happy to say. And luckily for me, I was bright enough to understand the purpose of a condom. A condom, birth control pill, spermicide, and occasionally a morning after pill, just to be safe. They have been my good friends these past years. The only time I ever pay for my past transgressions is when my buddies, they who love me so dearly, remind me that I dated a guy named Boots. Oh, and that I dated a guy who repeatedly nailed himself in the foot on his construction jobs. And that one guy who got arrested on my birthday.

I need new friends.

I do know that I have truly been in love. Once. I knew as soon as the man kissed me that he’d give me the worst broken heart I’d ever suffered. He wasn’t a pothead, he didn’t pick fights, and the whole world loved him. He wasn’t mechanically inclined in the least, but damn was he good with his hands. His jokes were funny, he read some pretty decent books, he played better soccer than I did. After two months I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. After two years, he was still on the fence about how he felt about me, and I figured there were greener pastures elsewhere. The man couldn’t commit to a cheeseburger (and how can you not commit to a cheeseburger? They’re yummy and sexy and oh-so-good in bed). I loved him, loved him, loved him, but I know better than to let another man bleed me dry. I don’t want to be one of those bitter husks you see waitressing in sports lounges at the airport, spewing acidity at the world because of something silly like a man. I’d rather be one of those fruity old bats living in a shack near Alamagordo, NM with 123 cats and my imaginary friend Rose.

So, given my lackluster and frankly pathetic history with men, would I go back and change any of it? Would I stay the hell away from Boots, that stud? No, because if I had, I would have never dated his best friend, with whom I had many good times. Would I be more careful to not lock my keys in my car, as I did on the day that I met A, so that our paths never cross? Nope, no way. Somebody trained that boy up good, because he enlightened me as to the reason the rest of the world is so enamored with sex. Outside the bedroom, eh. But in that corner bedroom across the house from his mom and only a sheet for a wall away from his sister, that man was a hero. And though my most recent relationship is barely cold in its grave, I wouldn’t deprive myself a moment of it. I’m a different sort of girl from who I was two years ago. Then, all I wanted to do was have fun, have sex, get ripped, get rich. I was up and down, all over the place, not knowing if there would be hard ground underneath my feet the next step I took. Being with P, or rather, dragging him along into a grown-up relationship, molded me into a more stable individual. His instability and his inability to be a functioning human being made me go totally opposite. I am no longer native. I have been civilized.

So no love life repairs. What about those four lovely years I spent staring at the wrong end of a bovine? Ah, you think I’m still talking about men. Not quite. I’m talking about college, the first time around. I am the proud owner of a degree in Animal Science. Doesn’t sound so bad – most folks ask me if I wanted to be a veterinarian (absolutely not – that’s what my parents are, and no one wants to be like their parents). I was too embarrassed to inform them that future veterinarians have to major in Biomedical Science just like future doctors. Animal Science majors, on the other hand, are mostly farmers who met the top ten percent admissions requirement because there were only ten people in their school altogether, and the other nine were their younger siblings and/or children. And horse-crazy girls like me.

I wanted to work with horses until I got this degree and discovered that horses are much better as friends than as work colleagues. Unfortunately, I did not discover this in time to avoid the some of the more unsavory required classes. Meats. Sound tasty? Sure, until you’ve had the requisite slaughter labs and meat packing tutorials, and spent three hours a week inside a classroom that literally doubles as a meat locker. I had the curiously monikered BBQ class, which was just a ruse to get all of us manure-lathered farmers into one room so we could learn some manners. For the final we had to wear professional clothes and eat without embarrassing ourselves at the fanciest restaurant in town while discussing our grammar-perfect resumes and practicing our effortless responses to job interview questions.

I might even rethink my electives. Artificial insemination – and yes, it was a hands-in, er hands-on, class. Horse reproduction, which had me sleeping in the barn every night for two weeks waiting for a mare to foal. The catch is that seasoned mares can hold onto those babies until right after you put them back out to pasture and head to your classes for the day. The even bigger catch was that two days later I pulled a foal out of a mare at the barn where I was galloping racehorses – saving both their lives, ahem – and it still didn’t count toward my class credit. Apparently, I had to witness a certain mare give birth, relinquishing the two precious hours of sleep a night I was getting in those helter skelter days.

After achieving this dubious degree, I then compounded my error by enrolling in a PhD program at Penn State to study Evolutionary Genetics. At least when I told people what I was studying, they were impressed instead of replying, “Oh? I didn’t know they offered full four-year degrees in that.” But this wound up to be a gigantic mistake as well. I was in the middle of Pennsylvania, for goodness sake. Not close enough to Philly or Pittsburgh to make use of those metropolitan areas, State College was this hole in the Earth where white people went to be boring. The most diversity these people experienced was going to the grocery store, and if they felt like slumming it they might actually deign to speak to the churlish black woman manning the cash register. Riding the bus was a time trip itself, back to the days before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. You didn’t talk to “those people,” and they didn’t talk to you.

Furthermore, spending every day in a lab, sequencing DNA from extinct frogs while a pale skinny lab rat tried to wheedle his way into my affections – because his sister-in-law told him if he pestered me enough, I’d eventually give in and fall madly in love with him – made for a very tedious, lonely existence. So I proceeded to involve myself in the soap opera that is grad school society. He loves her, but she has a boyfriend back in Cali. I loved him, but he was only playing me to make her jealous. Girlfriend over here is trying to get with everybody, and the one guy I slept with refused to speak to me ever again, despite the fact that we had endless classes together and hung out with the same people. No, I wasn’t that bad in bed. Anyway, if you’re confused after reading that, think of how I felt after a year of it. I resorted to buying ferrets who bit the crap out of anyone who visited, and watching Singin’ in the Rain on a continuous loop inside my one-room apartment. State College was not my bag, baby.

Without it, though, and without the previous four years as a liberal black fly in the bowl of College Republican white rice, I wouldn’t have finally decided on becoming what I always was in the first place. I wouldn’t be writing. I’ve written stories since I was four years old. I spent so much of my childhood with a book in front of my face that my name changed according to what I was reading: “Hey, David Copperfield, put that down and come to dinner.” “How’s the last little Mohican today?” “Cheer up, Pollyanna, and don’t forget to feed the horses.” I spent the first half of my collegiate life studying the sciences because of the prevailing adjective used to describe writers: starving. I bought into the statistics, the negativity, the can’t-make-it-as-an-artist crap, and thought I should have a decent leg to stand on. Work during the day, write at night. Oh, if only it worked that way. The depression and stress and anxiety that I gathered up during the day just made me want to crawl into a hole and weep when I went home at night. That’s not conducive to writing for me, as it turns out.

I had to learn that lesson, as I do every lesson, it seems, the hard way. I don’t regret it. Now I know for sure, absolutely positively without a doubt and minus any electrons, that all I want to do is write. I also know I don’t want to date a man who is named after an article of clothing, whose goal in life is to have a job where he can get high, or who believes firmly that he will die by the time he is thirty, so let’s just have fun and not think about tomorrow.

Would I go back to change the events of my life? No. Not even to visit. I’m sitting on top of all the little building blocks of my life, and I rather like how it’s turning out. I wouldn’t want to destabilize the structure and wind up as a pile of rubble, a sad sack of woulda-coulda-shoulda. I’ve still got a little garbage can full of woulda-coulda-shoulda, but it’s a small enough pile that I have no problem sweeping it under the carpet.

2 thoughts on “Woulda Coulda Shoulda

  1. Thanks. I think we’ve all had adventures that shape us, even though many don’t realize it. They always tell you to “write what you know”, and I always think “Jeez, nothing’s ever happened to me. How boring would that be!” Turns out we’re all interesting in one way or the other.

    I’m glad you liked the piece!

  2. Wow… Amazing adventure your life has been. Well to be honest it is crazy and hectic but also not. I mean you did a lot but it was spread out. Now all I think I have to say is that I love the way it was written. I read every line even though it was well beyond my normal reading attention span. So congrats and I hope to find more here in the future that will encourage me to expand my reading horizons. Also I think you have a point. Even bad relationships teach us important lessons about ourselves….

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