The Choices We Make

I have an old high school friend. We played softball and volleyball together. I played volleyball to keep in shape for softball season. She played softball to keep in shape for volleyball season. We were in the same classes--AP math, AP English. We went to different colleges, but kept in touch sporadically through the years.

After college, I married my high school sweetheart. Settled down. Bought a house. Started a family. She got a job with the government and has spent the last 10 years traveling the world. A couple of years in New Zealand. Some time in Afghanistan. Panama. China. Touring southeast Asia. Running a marathon on the great wall. Scuba diving in the south Pacific. Getting updates from her is like reading an adventure novel, the kind of story that you read and dream about and wonder if anyone is lucky enough to actually live that life. Only this person is real. An old friend.

TH and I used to travel. Back in the days before sippy cups and lovies. We backpacked across Europe when we were in college. We've toured Ireland. We, too, have walked on the Great Wall. Our list of places we still want to visit is long and all-but forgotten these days, these years. Turkey. Egypt. Petra. Bora Bora. Tibet. New Zealand. We had planned a trip to Peru in 2009, but we figured hiking up a mountain in rural South America was probably not something I should do while pregnant. Seeing the world, seeing different cultures and experiencing other lives speaks to me of part of the essence of existing, getting the most you can out of this short time we have.

I often read her updates with physical pangs of jealousy. I think about what an incredible decade she's had since college. I think about how very different it's been than my own. Reading about her life makes my life seem so . . . banal. Dry. Boring. It makes my life seem empty of the things that give life color--excitement and adventure and exploration and new experiences.

And then I think again.

I've had, since college, 10 years with my high school sweetheart. My best friend. I've known a love that is deep and accepting and lasting, a love I've never had to leave. A love I've never lost. I've bought a house. A place I can settle into, a place that is mine, waiting to embrace me at the end of every long day. I've had a child. How do you even describe that? I've known what it means to feel so overwhelmed with awe and responsibility, to feel my heart explode at chubby little fingers reaching up for me and break at the quietest whimper.

I guess in some people's eyes, my world has narrowed, my life has changed, gotten smaller, so that the most important thing in the world to me now is, literally, child's play, a far cry from seeing the sunrise on the pyramids or riding an elephant through a jungle. And maybe they're right. Maybe TH and I gave up on grand adventures when we chose to embark on the smallest adventure of all.

Every choice in life comes with losses. I chose roots. History. Building a family. She chose wings. Adventure. Building out her own life. My choices came with the loss of her life. But her choices came with the loss of my life, too. She has traveled the world but has never found a lasting love. She has lived in 12 different cities in 10 years but has never built a home. She has an ocean of personal life adventures and experiences, but hasn't given another soul the gift of life, of future adventures.

And in our emails, once or twice a year, I know that she reads my updates with the same longing with which I read hers. That she feels the loss of experiences the same way I do.

Tonight I'll leave work and pick up my daughter from school. I'll check to see how long she slept, how much she ate, how many wet diapers she had, and what new things she explored that day. I'll drive to our house in the 'burbs and throw a frozen meal into a skillet while she destroys and rebuilds our tupperware cabinet. We'll eat dinner. We'll play, pushing my giant red yoga ball around the house or taking indoor wagon rides between the front and back doors. We'll do bath time, where we'll count her octopuses and form her wet hair into a variety of hilarious formations. We'll sing lullabyes and read books together, and after she goes to sleep, I'll clean my kitchen, do laundry, catch up on facebook, pick up the living room, and hopefully catch an hour or so on the couch with my husband, watching our recorded shows and listening to my unborn son's heartbeat on the doppler.

When she leaves work tonight, she'll probably hop in a cab through the heart of a major international city. She'll meet her boyfriend at a bar or restaurant, dining on a fresh, hot, chef-prepared meal with a live band playing a samba beat in the background. They'll go salsa dancing, and then retire, slightly tipsy from the wine, to her apartment on the 40th story of a high rise that overlooks the ocean.

And we'll both think, with longing and satisfaction, about the choices we've made.

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