It seems obvious that our lives are shaped by the big decisions we make. While choosing a spouse and a career and purchasing a home are all significant time stamps in life, I often think that it is the countless little decisions we make every day that ultimately pave our path. The what-if scenarios can be never-ending when we start to think about the seemingly insignificant choices we have made.
What if I hadn’t been running late and that speeding car hit me instead of that pole?
What if I wake up my sleeping children when I check on them? But what if I don’t check on them and they really need me?
What if I never switched high schools – would I have still met my husband?
What if I didn’t dance at that wedding – could I have prevented my miscarriage just a few days later?
Relentless scenarios that can really get inside your head. After my accident I did a lot of second guessing. I would question whether I made any fateful errors on the day of my injury. What if we never went outside? What if we had waited 10 more minutes? What if the accident was worse? What if it had been nothing more than a close call; a story I would later tell my friends never quite understanding how serious the potential outcome was? What if I died? What-the-hell-if?
The line of questioning is enough to drive you crazy and a large part of my coping has been to accept and understand that there are no guarantees that any one thing would have changed my fate. Or at least I attempt to accept and understand. There is no one who knows where life would have gone had I escaped my spinal cord injury on March 10. Maybe we’d have another baby. Maybe I would have died the next day in a car accident. Maybe everything would be as we would have expected. It’s impossible to know yet I still find myself wondering. And when I come up against strange reminders like I did recently, I can get caught up in the what-if scenarios all over again.
Last week I had finally had enough of looking at the absolutely ridiculous number of e-mails in my inbox. It was like the garden at the back our yard that, when we moved in, was so overgrown it looked like it had been neglected for a decade. So I started to purge. I searched my son’s school to delete all of the notices I had saved and I saw an e mail thread between his teacher and I with a familiar date: March 10, 2016.
I knew my son was home from school that day as our subscription to the virus-of-the-month club had arrived. I assumed the e-mail was just me telling her as such. That is how it started but I went on to say that we would still come to his parent/teacher conference in the afternoon. As I read it I actually think I stopped breathing. Why didn’t we go to the conference?
I expanded the response and it answered my question. The power was out that day and conferences would be postponed until after Spring Break. I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry because I had just been given another what-if scenario to add to my repertoire. What if we had gone to the conference? What if we got a little break from our monotonous day of runny noses, earaches and sore throats? Would we still have felt the need to get some fresh air? Would we have simply made dinner and called it an early bedtime and never have even known the staggering turn our life could have made?
I couldn’t bring myself to delete the e-mail. It almost feels like proof of part of the storyline from that day. It’s as though when I play the day back in my head it’s a check mark for one of the events that lead to the inevitable; like some cruel form of foreshadowing. It seems unbelievable that a few short lines exchanged between myself and my son’s teacher could instigate such strong emotions. A few short lines that, had my accident not happened, would have been deleted without a second thought. But the content of the e-mail changed our entire day and was one of the little moments – little decisions – that lead to a big, life-altering event. After reading it, it feels as attached to me as my wheelchair. It’s a part of the story and I like knowing the whole story.
When memories such as this arise, my anxiety goes through the roof. My husband would tell you that I’m a fairly indecisive person but it has gotten worse since my accident. I’m not indecisive in the I’ll-go-along-with-whatever-you-want sort of way. I’m more indecisive in a very particular way. I fall into the I’ll-say-that-I-don’t-care-but-then-have-very-strong-opinions-on-all-of-your-suggestions category. I’m terrified of making decisions that I could one day place blame on. For instance, I would be concerned that we might get into a car accident on the way to a restaurant that I chose. Anxiety is crippling and since my accident I find myself in a constant mindset of “don’t they know that is really dangerous?”. I spend a lot of time in my life trying to keep a handle on my fears that have only escalated since my injury. My husband and I are working at finding a balance between letting our kids be adventurous while respecting the boundaries I have with danger in this particular phase in my life. It’s a fine line for us.
However, reading that e-mail reminded me that the little tweaks to our day are unavoidable. Life is unavoidable. Maybe we turned left when we should have turned right or changed our plans at the very last minute when a fever swept through the little people in our house. Trying to remember that there are numerous factors into why we end up where we do is an important aspect in helping calm unfounded fears. It would just be nice if the unpredictable was more serendipity and less bad fortune. I imagine we would all get a bit bored if life were completely predictable and I, for one, take solace in the fact that I cannot pinpoint one thing in particular that I could have changed to seal myself a different fate. We never know where one different decision might lead us so there isn’t much point in guessing. I really wish I could stop guessing.