There’s a moment right before you wake up — a moment before you remember anything from day’s prior. It’s a moment of absolute nothingness – completely white and opaque. It lasts for a fraction of a second but you sometimes wish you could live in that second forever. It’s an instant devoid of feeling, the only occasion when you can actually stop time in its tracks. It’s a button that triggers the most perfect of freeze frames, and it’s over before you realize it was there at all.
There are some mornings that blow in with a gust of choices. This is one of those mornings, you realize.
You expect that every tiny gesture will carry the weight of a thousand steps, and the simplest of movements will change the course of history. You blink back crunchy mascara and your gaze finds the colorless sky outside the small window above you.
In your head, you had painted a picture of your summer down to the last detail. It was supposed to be brimming with glitter, red velvet, midwestern breezes, and it would taste like lemon and mint. You gave away all of your expectations, and now they light the grass outside like fireflies.
You became too comfortable before you even arrived.
You wrestle with the choices that have been laid out in front of you. Your options have been explained to you, and despite the soft southern voice they came from, you see no way of winning.
You drink coffee and it’s the worst you’ve ever tasted. You hope it helps you wake up; you hope it helps you choose.
Eventually, you select the lesser of two evils, although you suspect the difference between their sorrow will be marginal. You mouth the word goodbye, trying it out on your lips. You find it hard to pronounce, but even in a whisper, it feels like a sigh of relief.
There will be things you cannot erase from your memory. White knuckles that grip the car window, tears that you have inflicted. Six state signs, two dozen fast food restaurants, endless tolls to pay out of pocket. As afternoon stretches into evening, blurring into grey asphalt, you will sing along with the radio in efforts to distract yourself. You try to start the process of forgetting.
But your memory will forever be bound to these images – flickering visions of choices you cannot undo. You weren’t supposed to be the haunted one in this equation. You aren’t sure how to manage the heaviness, so you struggle to ignore it. Until you can’t.
You’ll attempt to write letters, but you’ll find that the phrase “I’m sorry” doesn’t necessarily count for anything if you can’t find a hook strong enough to hold its weight. Your trash can will pile up with crumpled balls of paper that remain smeared with meaningless ink.
There are some decisions you get to apologize for, you realize, and there are some that you don’t.
And so you push forward, because what else can you do. You march onward, the way you drove all night that summer. You fill your world with the neon glow of the city; you replace midwestern sunsets with northeastern skylines. You fall in love; you change your life.
You beg yourself to forget, and for the most part, you are successful. The part of your brain that holds space for hypotheticals grows less demanding.
Nevertheless, you will forever be reminded of that summer day, no matter how hard to you try to wipe your memory clean. It will be something small, like the smell of a hamburger on the grill, or the sound of a paddleboat in a lake. It will be the tiniest breeze singing to your senses that will make you ask: What if?
It will be these moments that force you to wonder if you chose correctly. You find a sense of calm in realizing that you will never know the answer to that question, that there actually is no way to know. You eventually realize that not all choices are right or wrong, instead; they are chapters of time, like state signs or mile markers. Your choices are first sentences, or the beginning of an epilogue.
Ultimately, sometimes you have to burn the bridge in order to know what comes next.