“Either North or South, East or West”

May 4, 2008
By Christine Stoddard, Arlington, VA

I stand at a railroad junction, barefoot. The rusty steel tracks thrust against my soles. If I had brought my cardigan, instead of forgetting it, I would not feel so cold. My shoulders are naked. My feet are naked. My body and mind are both naked. In fact, my entire being exudes nakedness. I stand alone at a crossroads.

I have to make one of those decisions that you, I, or anyone could easily end up regretting. The question of yes or no confounds me. Hours, days, weeks, and months after the question first materialized, I still stagger. My mother influenced me one way but then my father pulled me in the other. Teachers gave conflicted opinions and the divide between strangers’ responses further overwhelmed me. No friend, no foe can help me now.

Sighing would be too trite of a reaction. I need a real answer---something definitive, something tangible. I could always pray but I doubt that God would reply now. If He saw how desperate I was when the problem first arose, it would have been most merciful for Him to act then. He’s obviously more concerned with someone or something else more interesting. Now, killing myself would be too severe, especially since I know that a solution to this conundrum exists somewhere. So what am I to do when sighing, praying, and suicide are all useless?

Tired of standing, I sit down. I’m too young to feel exhausted but this situation has drained me. Nobody ever told me I’d experience such strife at my age. I always reserved the concept of crisis for the future, for when I’m old. Not now.

“I should be happy,” I whisper to the railroad tracks, “I shouldn’t have to make a choice.”

But the railroad tracks ignore me. They stubbornly extend in opposite directions, either North or South, East or West, infinitely. I have no sense of direction at this point. Life sucked me up from my place on earth and then spat me out at a crossroads, like an unwanted watermelon seed.

And I need to tell myself where to go.

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