Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Decisions, Revisited


I haven't written much, if anything, about my experiences on and after September 11, 2001 since, well, September 2001. I feel like it has become so commercialized and politicized that I don't want to be part of that sometimes cheap conversation — even though people covered in ash were still running at full speed right past me to get away from the towers, and I had dust from the rubble blowing in through my fourth-floor windows for weeks after the attack. I think I'm so reluctant because to me, "Nine Eleven" isn't a thing, it's a date — a date on which something terrible happened. And "September Eleventh" shouldn't be used to sell tacky tchotchkes or make people who don't look like me feel like they have to wave American flags everywhere they go for fear of being shot.

I have, however, written somewhat extensively about my bad decisions. But not all of my decisions are bad, they're usually just… spontaneous. It's not like I don't put any thought into them, I just don't spend a lot of time thinking about the pros and cons when 9.9 times out of 10, I'll end up at the same conclusion, anyway.

No, I probably should not have accepted the first offer on car financing and driven off the lot with a Nissan Versa and an 11.5% interest rate, but I was able to get where I needed to go the day after my other vehicle had been totaled. And I'm not sure that with my credit I could have gotten a better rate, anyway. I know it was not the wisest move to tell my boss I was unhappy and wanted to leave my job before we had closed on a house, but I knew I wanted to leave, and it was better for everyone for me to get out sooner than later.

Sure, there are certainly a few small things I regret — anything I've ever purchased at Forever 21, every pair of heels I've bought, a few unused gym memberships, and that $28 canister of raw protein that gave my smoothies the consistency of something that had gone through the garbage disposal — but I'd rather regret doing something than not doing it.

I can't imagine any worse way to live my life than being afraid to do the big things because I might regret them.

Even if I fly by the seat of my pants, am in a ton of debt, and continue to live paycheck to paycheck, the decisions I've made are mine, and they've managed to get me where I am today. And today I am happy, healthy, grateful, in love, and excited for the future. I'm also way behind in work, but that's life (or at least my life, and a result of other decisions I've made).

I have a really hard time believing in fate — the idea that there's someone in the sky dictating what will happen with my life (if he or she is there, doesn't s/he have better things to do?). I don't even believe it was fate that brought Kyle and me together. I believe we met because we both made a series of decisions that led us to the same place at the same time. We got married because we happen to agree on the decisions we want to make together in the future (though I still haven't convinced him we need to install a claw-foot tub when we redo the main-floor bathroom), and we are willing to work through the not-so-fun stuff to get there.

I don't judge anyone who believes differently, but I wholeheartedly believe that where we end up in life is the result of the decisions that we make every day. Of course, I'm not a total asshole or idiot; I know that there are other factors way beyond our control — the tragic events of September 11, for example, the tornadoes in Joplin ten years later, Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, as well as other peoples' bad decisions, including texting while driving, deciding to fly a plane into a tower, etc. Still, it's decisions that led people to New York City, Joplin, New Orleans, and that lead them onto the road every day. I'm not putting any weight or value on these decisions, or saying they're good or bad (these things could happen anywhere) I'm just saying we make them. We have to. Life is a series of decisions, and each one is based on decisions we've made before and the ones we want to make in the future.

I can't believe that the 2,977 people who died that day were "fated" to die, that their loved ones were "fated" to suffer, or that we were "fated" to get into a really long, really expensive war in the Middle East. The people who died in the World Trade Center attack were just at the wrong place at the wrong time — a result of a series, maybe even a lifetime, of decisions. Yes, even — or especially — if those decisions were made out of necessity, or for purely altruistic reasons.

The decision that kept me from being in the wrong place at the wrong time on the morning of September 11, 2001 wasn't necessary or altruistic. In fact, it was selfish, and spontaneous, and probably would be considered "bad" by many people.

The evening before, I was in Astoria, Queens, visiting with my cousin and his girlfriend. I had been working as a stockbroker's assistant on Rector street, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center, and I was complaining about something or other (probably the $300 a week I was making). It was supposed to just be a summer thing, but somehow I had been convinced that I should train to be a stockbroker so I could go on the news and become a financial reporter [insert hysterical, knowing laughter here]. Mostly, I was pushing paper — my least favorite thing in the world to do, especially if there are numbers on said paper. I hadn't really admitted it to myself that I hated the job, but after a few gin and tonics, I admitted it to my cousin and his girlfriend.

"Why don't you just quit?" they asked me. And I thought about it: Why don't I just quit? So, I made the decision, and then further decided I needed to do it right that minute. I had never quit a job without giving at least two weeks' notice, and I'd been working since I was 14, so this wasn't my first time leaving a job. But once I admitted it to myself, I knew I could not handle another two weeks, or even two days in that office.

So, I probably put back a few more gin and tonics for liquid courage, and got on the train toward lower Manhattan. Since I had keys, I figured the easiest thing for me to do would be to clear out in the middle of the night and leave a note (very much like Berger's Post-It in "Sex and the City"). And that's exactly what I did, though I don't think I used a Post-It. I took the shitty jacket I'd bought at Filene's Basement and was keeping in the office in case we had an important client pop in. In return, I left my keys and a note that said something along the lines of, "I'm so sorry. I can't do this job anymore. I don't want to be a stockbroker. I hope you don't hate me." (See? I told you it was a lot like Berger's Post-It.)

I don't remember what happened the rest of the night. I probably sent my cousin and his girlfriend (now my dear friend) an email telling them how much my heart was pounding from the rush of what felt like something much more scandalous than just a really immature way to quit a job. I must have, because the next morning, I was still logged into AOL, which turned out to be a really good thing since no one in New York could call in or out on their cell phones that day.

Sometimes bad decisions lead us to the best places. Who knows what would have happened had I not listened to my gut, and instead had tried to do the responsible, respectable thing? If I had, I probably would have gotten off at the World Trade Center subway stop instead of my regular station, just to catch some extra outside time. It was a gorgeous day.

I made a bad decision. Other people made good decisions. I was lucky. They weren't.

Maybe you believe that it was fate that I had drinks with my cousin and his girlfriend that night. Maybe I'm all wrong and it was. But I'm no more special than the nearly 3,000 people who decided to go to work that day. I just made a bad, spontaneous decision, and, as it turns out, I'm lucky that I'm still here to tell the story. (By the way, just to show how ingrained this idea of "fate" is in our brains, I had to stop myself from using the transition "as fate would have it" right there.)

I'm not even sure what, if any, point I'm trying to make here. Only that I made a decision that most days, most people would have been considered bad. And that maybe we shouldn't be so afraid of making bad decisions every now and then, because we never know where they might lead us, or even better, what we might learn.

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P.S. I asked my sister to read this before I posted it in case I sound like I'm on drugs or something, and in her response was this (which I think so much more articulately sums up what I'm trying to say):

"I don't think things happen for a reason, but rather when we appreciate the present it forces us to be grateful for everything that happened in the past. Just like this, you are grateful that you make rash decisions. In this way, I can believe that everything works (and will in the future) the way it should, without believing that it is pre-determined."

Smart girl.

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