Story Shots: Choice


Choosing is never an easy task. For this month’s Story Shots, our short nonfiction series, we asked our writers to think about choice.

Here’s the thing about choices: they’re never easy. If a choice was easy, it wouldn’t really be a choice, would it? Robert Frost plays with the idea of choice in his poem, The Road Not Taken.

Choice isn’t picking the better option, for all options in a choice have equal value to the chooser at the time the decision is being made. Choice is a struggle. Choice is regret. Choice is convincing yourself that you didn’t make a mistake or accepting that you have. Choice is about telling yourself, after you have chosen, that there really wasn’t an option to begin with. Choice is a fork in the road where both roads ahead have equal wear, but as time passes we convince ourselves and others that one road was more unique or special or different than it really was.

Here are the stories our writers told about their choices.

A spectacular demonstration of comedy and codependency:
“Are you sure?” Him.
“Yes.” Me.
“But you hate Taco Del Sol.” Him.
“No, I don’t.” Me.

A close call with war buddies and lovers:
My personal crisis.
His personal crisis.
A breakup.
A reunion.
A lost election.
A death.
A won election.
Two years of long distance.
An experiment.
The same choice every day.

A looming, breathing thing:
Friends, parading through weddings and babies and china cabinets and Easter egg hunts.
Him, brilliant and sweet and coveting the American dream.
Me, happy and alone in my tiny apartment.

– Missy Lacock

Next episode playing in 15 seconds

I should stop. Netflix, you fiend, you temptress. I have three papers due this week. Three!

But I’m a good student. I deserve a break, don’t I? I work and go to school for over nine hours a day. I have graduate applications I work on when I get home. For the month of October, two of my Saturdays were dedicated to graduate testing. The rest of my Saturdays were spent studying, along with my Sundays.

On the other hand, I have to keep working. I can’t let my grades slack or I might not get into a good graduate program. I have to work hard. I don’t have a choice.

Next episode playing in 10 seconds.

I should exit the window. I should turn the auto play next episode option off. I think there’s a way to do that.

Look at those seconds tick away! Seconds I am wasting. I have so little time as it is, how can I watch them tick away? 8. 7. 6.

Next episode playing in 5 seconds.

Well, I mean, I could just start my paper after one more episode. Another 20 minutes can’t hurt, can it? I deserve some time to relax.

After all, I can sleep when I’m dead for right now there’s too much work to do and too much temptation in my Netflix queue.

– Amanda Riggle

When I was eight years old, my father fell in love with a woman named Dorothy and swept himself right on out of my world. He told us to call her Cary—my mother’s name. Dorothy Who Went By Cary had a gap tooth and twin boys who never learned to knock first and hair the color of straw.

When I was ten, my mother’s fiancé burnt the photographs from my parent’s wedding and left in his truck. My mother fished a tape from the bonfire in the backyard, sat it down on the brick next to her as she let the flames lick her skin.

When I was fourteen, I decided I hated him. All the little achievements I’d piled up—honor roll, good grades, articles in the student paper—seemed to stack up to nothing. Dorothy Who Went By Cary had been replaced by women whose names I no longer remember and some who I do, like Norma and Kathy and Rachel. I imagined his funeral, a room full of wives.

When I was fifteen, my father told me “Never go on a date with a guy who takes you to a place with paper napkins.” I remembered Dorothy Who Went By Cary, the little cafe she worked at down by the water. What were their napkins made of?

When I was sixteen, they told me if I didn’t get my grade up in Geometry that I wouldn’t graduate the next year. I didn’t tell my parents. There’d be a phone call. My mother would pull me into her room and I’d say “I know.” But there wasn’t, and she didn’t. At first, I didn’t study because I told myself none of it mattered anyway, but I couldn’t stand the shape of the letter “D.” I slipped the TA piles of homework I never turned in. Pretty soon it was replaced with the straight angles of the letter “A.”

When I was seventeen, I placed a small handful of mushrooms between two slices of bread spread with peanut butter. “Tastes better that way,” Chris told me. I stared at the blinds until the slats began to bend. The leather couch smooth as butter underneath my thighs, but I couldn’t breathe. Everything was slipping, and I had no way to stop it. I ran to the bathroom down the hall, shut the door behind me, and stared into my reflection in the mirror. Leaning closer, I could see my eyes—nothing but a pool of black, all the blue sucked right out of them. “Melanie means dark in Greek,” I had told my cousin the week earlier. “Not like, my skin is dark, but just that I’m dark. Me.” I stuck my teeth out, like a vampire. Melanie the Dark. There was a knock on the door, and when I opened it, Chris stood there holding a glass of milk.

“I think I want to stop,” I said. “I think it’s that simple.” He held the glass out, and I pressed my hand to the cold.

“It’ll help,” he said. “Trust me.”

– Melanie Figueroa

I was walking to nowhere. I could always go home. But I had run away from that place. It was just a house, not a home, anyway. There was no heart there. It was a place of sadness and pain. The streets were scary, but home was worse.

I could see if Megan was home. She’d let me crash on her floor. I didn’t know how believable it was that I was just a friend staying over again. I hadn’t showered in a few days. My blond hair didn’t hide grease so well.

I could find Mark. He said he’d protect me. He said he’d be there for me. He was 17, four years older and wiser than me. He had run away before too. This was his fourth or fifth time. This was only my second. Mark was a good option, but I didn’t know where he was.

I could go back to the little forest at the side of the freeway in Westminster, California. There were runaways and young homeless living in camps hidden in the little 405 onramp freeway forest. I knew one person there. It was getting cold. I needed a place to sleep soon. I had worn my black All Stars and they didn’t keep my feet very warm.

I needed warm. I had learned that my first night sleeping in a park. The morning dew on the grass had frosted over. I was on the grass. I was frosted over. I was so cold. I couldn’t feel my toes until I had wandered into a warm laundromat and watched reruns of Tom and Jerry on Cartoon Network for an hour.

I changed direction. I walked slowly. I was tired. I had had one cheeseburger from McDonalds, the 39 cent variety, two days before. Drinking water was easy to come by, at least. Fountains were everywhere. I needed to find a park bathroom to cleanup in tomorrow. When I was able to cleanup, I generally got a lot of money when I begged. I was blond. I was young. I had rosy cheeks. I looked so innocent. I was so innocent.

“Amanda?” a voice said behind me. It was a cop. I was caught.

– Amanda Riggle

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