Obviously there are loads of people I’m not. For starters, I’m neither Ralph nor Tony. I’m thinking more about people I might have been, people I went to school with, where I don’t quite see how I turned out to be me and not them. I already found that a college friend of mine teaches third grade; Lady Maud told me that my childhood best friend is a teacher in the school one of her kids attended last year. And that a junior-high and high school sort of friend, sort of rival, earned a Ph.D. but never found a job and is now changing careers.
I don’t know why this makes me wonder . . . not exactly about paths not taken, but about luck, I guess, escape by the skin of my teeth. I had one job offer, and I took it. I refused to limit my search geographically. I did something “right.” Who knows what? Lady Maud pointed out that I never wanted to work with children. Yeah, but assorted people in my immediate family were elementary school teachers, and my mother wanted me to stay near her, and teaching school was a very suitable job for a young woman (more suitable than graduate school), and why didn’t I succumb to social and familial expectations?
Maud laughed at me. To other people, I guess I look(ed) like a determined go-getter who was not going to let anyone else’s expectations define me.
I’m glad it looked good. It felt totally terrifying. I went abroad, I went to grad school, because I had to get out of where I was. But I did not act out of a cheerful spirit of adventure. It looked like determination and felt like desperation, and it was surely through some undeserved act of grace that graduate school suited me so well. And my rival-friend had so much more cultural capital than I did, back in high school . . . time has probably erased many of the differences I saw then, but in our teens, they were real. I know what she wrote on, and that she finished (maybe started?) later than I did; I don’t know what her geographical or other constraints may have been. She could have been me. I could have been her. And I wonder what similar ghosts haunt other academics. Do we all carry around the albatrosses of the people we avoided becoming? Maybe some of us wish we’d been them, instead of being where and what we are.