I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if I’d made all the right decisions in life, but all I can’t quite picture it.

I used to be a regular at this diner back home. The kitchen staff knew me by name, and the head cook still says hi when I go in. The waiters knew my order, and the waitresses pretended to believe me when I told them I was 21 but “couldn’t find” my ID. My friends and I would meet at the diner, drink a pot of coffee, walk to the book store to loiter, and maybe wind up at a punk show if anyone knew where one was. Sometimes we would play music down by the water — Danny would play guitar while Gary and I improvised lyircs. Gary sang in his lovely tenor “Why, why, why, would you do this to me?”  and I jumped in with, “You do it to yourself,” because I was unwilling to take part in a love song about victimhood. In the summer, there was a fountain in the park that ran till 10 p.m., so we would go play in it, always forgetting that we would then have to spend the rest of our night in wet clothes. Life was pretty amazing for a couple years there, but I wonder what would’ve happened if I stayed.

Everyone in my family went to LSU but me. My entire life, it was assumed I would go to LSU, but certain ones of my classmates who were preppier than me but by my calculations not smarter had plans to attend ivy league schools and launch brilliant careers. This would not do. I applied to two colleges, was accepted to both and offered a scholarship to one. I accepted it and got as far as freshman orientation before realizing I didn’t want to go there. For reasons that aren’t relevant to this story, I chose to attend UT-Arlington — a little-known little sister of UT Austin. I felt very certain when I made that decision that I was doing the “wrong” thing but for some reason felt compelled to do it.

I often look at that moment in my life as the turning point for the person I have become. I cannot imagine the person I would be if I had gone to that private school, lived in those dorms, studied with those professors, and partied with those private school kids. Truth was, I’d already spent the past 4 years partying with private school kids, and it wasn’t that fun anymore. I never really fit in. I wasn’t very studious, either. I wasn’t used to trying so when things got to be a little work, I pretended not to care about them. I had my handful of friends in whom I found safety, but I wasn’t growing in my hometown anymore. I needed to move on, even if it was in a direction that looked sketchy at best.

Looking sidelong into this alternate dimension, I see a version of me who is exactly like the girl I was back home, just older. She has read some books and written some things. She has had some interesting lovers but no one she ever respected very much. Except maybe some professor — an affair whose eventual demise would provide her the realization that adults actually don’t know shit. Alternate dimension me looks a lot less happy than I am right now, even though she did everything right. I think she’s still waiting for someone to tell her she’s good enough.

Meanwhile, in this dimension, I’ve been through some shit. I’ve got injuries. I know a couple things about being hurt and hurting others, but I’ve also learned a lot about kindness, and I think that came from making my mistakes.

why I always bow to the student
A Different Gratitude

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