It’s always interesting to look back at life choices and decisions, both big and small, that map out the course of your life. I’m going to be 43 years old this year and sometimes I wonder how I’m where I am, how I made it this long in life, and how after everything I’m happier now than I ever was before.
A lot of times my mind reverts back to how life would be if I hadn’t been raised in an ultra strict “religion”. In school, I wasn’t supposed to hang out with the other kids because they weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses like me. I still did find a few friends, thankfully my parents looked the other way on that one as long as I was behaving. The friends I found were more of the computer geek persuasion, they were non threatening and I think that’s all my sheltered brain could handle. Don’t get me wrong, most of them were really good people and I enjoyed their company. But I wonder who I would have hung out with had I been a little more free thinking. I always felt drawn to the mysterious, weird, artsy, musical, alternative, different, or some amalgam of all of that.
I grew up in Waltham, MA and went to high school in Newton, MA. Newton North definitely had a few alternative type kids (whatever the hell that means), and I wonder how my life would have turned out if I had befriended them instead. Some cooler music and some more interesting fun would have been in store, I suppose. Who knows.
I heard The Dresden Dolls in the 2000’s while I was still in the religion. For some reason I keep coming back to them when I remember the mental gymnastics I was going through at the time in order to avoid sinking into crippling depression instead of the general unhappiness and uneasiness I enjoyed. Dresden Dolls’ music was fascinating to me, I really felt drawn to it yet I was very scared of it.
I’m not sure where I heard this, or got the idea in my head, but I thought the band had some sort of occult ties and was part of that growing list of music I couldn’t listen to as a good little religious boy. I feel like someone said something to me about them in a negative light, but I can’t remember for sure. Maybe it was the phrase “dark cabaret”, because we all know dark = Satan, right? Anyway, I didn’t listen to them and in fact told myself and others I didn’t like the band. “Something about them doesn’t sit right”, and all that.
Something about them, though. Something about them really drew me in, as did Amanda Palmer (one half of the duo along with Brian Viglione). Once I left the religion, I didn’t go crazy with drugs and orgies and all that other fun stuff some people do. But I did start doing other things I used to have restrictions on. I started examining those things I used to think were bad, and figure out if I really didn’t like it or if I had conditioned myself to avoid these things because of the religion. I started reading books I’d avoided, watching movies I wouldn’t have seen before, and listening to bands I had previously condemned. Like The Dresden Dolls.
I realized that Amanda Palmer had grown up a few miles away from me and was just a year younger than me. How insane, I thought. I started imagining a life where I met her while I was in high school. I’d still be awkward and nerdy, but in this alternate reality I would be open about the things I was drawn to. I would be friends with the art & drama & musical kids, and go hang out with amazingly weird and interesting people, walk around Harvard Square and enjoy the strange. I would meet Amanda and we would be great friends, we would talk about life and love and sadness and music. I would be a more confident person, have more self respect, have friends that didn’t decide to never speak to me again because I chose to leave my parent’s religion. I would have gone to college (because in my real life you’re a bad person if you want to get secondary education) and have a degree but at the very least had that life experience. Eventually, I’d even get to hang out with Neil Gaiman – another person I avoided in my original reality because he wrote about gods and demons and fantastic things that would probably have turned me to the dark side. I would have started writing as a young man, I would have…I would have…I would have…
It can be a fun activity to think of your alternate realities, but it can also sink you into an endless loop of looking back at the past and feeling sorry for yourself instead of living life now.
If I had lived that alternate reality, I would probably be a very different person. I am sure I wouldn’t have met my amazing wife. My wife inspires and encourages me to take everything I went through, all the good and bad and shameful and wonderful things, and use them to make my dreams come true. I want to use all the happiness and pain and be creative, to leave something in the world that says I made some sort of contribution and made someone happy.
My past is my past, and I can’t change it. I can use it, though. And I can make sure my next 40-something years builds and improves upon my last 40-something. I’m sure we would have been great friends, Amanda…but I’ll stick with the life I have.