I’ve been using the term Sophie’s choice a lot lately – mainly when my friends complain about having to choose from two equally incredible options. I have never actually seen or read Sophie’s Choice, but I know the plot, and I am not claiming that my daily choices can be even remotely compared to Sophie’s.
But the paradox of choice, the burden of it, lays with both of us. Right now it feels like the greatest burden imaginable, having to choose one path, all the while knowing about the other one, the road not taken, which will always be creeping in my mind and nagging me about the possibilities it could have brought. See, I made a choice there. I included “road not taken.” Just a couple of hours ago (isn’t life strange) I discovered that Robert Frost actually intended to make fun of us “choicers,” to show us how ridiculous our struggle is. And yet I used his poem to express the exact opposite of what he was saying. And as I write this essay all the way to the end, there will be an annoying little thought creeping in my head, suggesting what could have happened if I chose otherwise.
My choice began sooner than I could even realistically consider the possibilities. Sometime last March, I found out that my dad and I would be moving across the globe from Slovakia to New Jersey. As an overly eager and ambitious student, I somehow counted on studying abroad at some point. However, this felt too soon. I wasn’t ready. And yet I made the choice (though it was almost impossible to choose otherwise, it was a choice) to go. When I look back at choice No. 1, I see it as possibly the best decision of my life. And though I have already closed the options on choice No. 2, somehow, it just won’t go away.
To enlighten you a bit on how my year abroad went, let’s break it into parts, as a story:
In the exposition, I – feeling like a deer in headlights, – was dropped by the polite plane crew of Austrian Airlines into a completely different world. My attutide toward this new situation fluctuated like a teenager’s mood (possibly also because I was at the time, and still am, a teenager). Happy then scared, amazed then lonely, excited then dissapointed. And then in reverse. Despite this, my attitude was overall quite positive. It was a fresh start, a new era, an exciting opportunity. All those clichés everyone told me before I left. But, as the story goes on, we move toward the rising action. That is when I actually got to my new school, sobered up from the initial excitement and assumption that everyone will like me as much as I liked them, and was hit by the hard reality of crying in the bathroom during my free period and spending days locked up in my room wondering, How come it’s so hard to make friends? Of course, there were better days, but overall, it was definitely not my American dream.
And so here comes the climax – “the turning point that changes the protagonist’s fate.” I flew home for Christmas. And was shocked by how insincere it felt to reply to the excited, “So how’s America?” with an unsure “Good.” To understand this mindset, those of you who grew up in America should know that lots of people see your country as a paradise of dreams come true. Especially young people. They’d kill for an opportunity like mine. And that’s why it was hard, because I so clearly remembered being them and dreaming of a better life abroad. And it was so hard to be confronted with that dream after five months in the reality. At that time, another choice appeared, let’s call it, for the sake of order, choice No. 1.5. It was really nice to be home. It was warm and comfy and safe. I really considered staying, and not going back to America.
But the ambitious me, recognizing an opportunity that could still be seized, and the proud me, hating to admit I did not make it, combined forces. So I did come back. Ready to fight. The falling aciton ensues. I stopped trying to chase after people who clearly didn’t care for me, and I befriended those who did. I forbid myself from chickening out of any scary situation and tried everything I set my eyes on. I seized the moment as I never have before. In the end, the hard work paid off. I found the most amazing friends, started doing well in school, and grew in ways I hadn’t imagined. I was literally beaming nearly every day of the last month, and I still classify this time of my life as “the longest and most intense period of pure joy in the history of ever.”
And then I left.
The resolution is behind the corner, hand in hand with choice No. 2. If I had stayed in Princeton, chances are that period of joy would have continued. I would have lived in a town I adore, surrounded by people for whom I feel unconditional love, doing stuff that makes me proud of who I am. Kinda perfect.
Why didn’t I?
The practical reasons include: having to find a host family since my dad was moving back to Slovakia, explaining my decision to mom and my friends, and having to work really hard over the summer, since the standards of the American school are insanely high. The last one scares me the most, the possibility that it had a lot of weight. If it did, then I am really disappointed in myself. I don’t think it did, though – only my subconscience can tell.
Maybe I wasn’t ready to live on my own, in another country. Maybe I would have kept wondering what it could be like if I returned home. I don’t know what to say now. There are too many thoughts running through my head. Some, that keep popping up are:
I should have stayed in New Jersey.
But it’s not so bad in Slovakia.
Not so bad is not as good as kinda perfect.
Now I’m thinking of the time I played catch with my crush one evening and how, if I stayed, we could do that more often.
Crush should not be a factor that influencest this decision.
I can’t form a coherent thought right now.
I just wish I could blend those two lives together.
Moving to a new place is like having to build a house with no blueprint. Moving back is like taking your newly built, slightly crooked but really beautiful house, and putting it on the top of my big old home. I keep pushing, but they don’t fit into each other. How nice it would be to just meld them into a comfy apartment building. To be able to hop there and back, see my family and my Princeton friends, go to both schools, have both worlds. But those two houses were built on very different ground.
The road not taken will be haunting me, whether I choose to stay or go. But there is the possibilty of a climax after a resolution. At least in my story. The only way I can think to make the choice right, is to take whatever road you please and plant a few flowers along the way. I made a choice to build the life I want.
I left that life behind in June. The only way any of this has meaning is to make the decision to build the life I want here. The possibilty of a road not taken will never, ever completely go away. But the more flowers I build, the better I will feel about the road I did take.
It’s been seven months since I made this resolution. I now see going to Princeton as the best decision I have ever made. It made me into a completely different person, a person which I adore, love and am proud of. The decision I made in this essay, however was the most important one I ever made. Because, inspired by all the love and goodness I had in Princeton, I’ve planted more flowers in my new life here. My road is now blooming, just like the trees around me this time of the year. I remember, how last year, seeing all those cherry and magnolia blossoms felt like a reward for making it through and becoming stronger. Now, the saffron flowers and apple trees are a celebration of my ability to make any life I choose more spectacular than the one I left behind.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.