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This Is How It Ends

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A fork in the road: a metaphor, based on a literal expression, for a deciding moment in life or history when a major choice of options is required. Compare and see also, “Crossing the Rubicon”

***

“Reader beware, you choose the scare.”

How it ends is entirely up to you.

You are here, and herein lies three possible endings; because all stories have a beginning and an end.

It is not known what happens beyond what is given, but only left to your imagination.

One thing is certain: there is no undoing a path that has been took.

***

An Origin Story: A Fork in the Road

You are a traveler, wandering inside the forest now, overgrown and unpredictable. You chose to leave home five days ago with nothing but a worn-out travel duffel bag with you, just big enough to contain your most precious material possessions (and I emphasize this because if you are the kind of person who values family above all else, you would never have left home in the first place). A husband (probably a woodcutter, or a highly successful advertising executive, either way a great provider), and a beautiful little girl of about eight years old, waves goodbye upon the sun’s first light. There are no goodbye kisses, because you’re the kind of person who knows not how to express sadness through such joyful gestures. You turn around and start walking, trying to hold back tears.

You said you’d be back, but now you’re not so sure.

You’re not the type of person to travel in fast cars, or miss out on feeling the ground underneath you via aircraft. Your fear of drowning and the carnivores of the sea impedes you from cruising, so you choose to wander the best way you know how: lace up your hiking shoes, and walk until your legs give way.

Along the way, you meet interesting folk who are most likely as lost as you are. There’s comfort and joy in being surrounded by people who are similarly just passing through. Now that’s one thing you’ve learned to accept, that we are all transitory, like satellites hovering in suspension. And though we follow constant paths, we pass through each other in brief, fleeting moments lest we collide and look like supernovas, which are, however bright and beautiful, oh baby, how they burn.

As dusk settles in and rain pours down, you are stuck with three choices. Which do you choose?

Stopover A

You check in at an old, run-down inn in the leftmost path. It is a nameless shelter, run by an aging man and his teenage daughter. As soon as he serves you a bowl of oatmeal and a shot of vodka (which is an honestly odd combination to fight off a cold, rainy night), you knew you were in love. You are ensnared by his strange tenderness and fragility that your heart leapt out of your chest and engulfed his existence. You, taking this all in as you down your vodka while watching him from the bar, wiping dust off glasses and talking to the lone customer by the bar, wishing you could stay.

You never thought an immediate kind of love would happen to you, and for an old soul like him. Is it the urgency of knowing not how long he might have? Is is the alcohol getting to your head? Is it this cold, rainy night? Is it a familial projection of how you imagine your family to be, ten, twenty years from now — a reflection of what you left behind?

Oops, you’re out of vodka shots. Make your choice now.

If you choose to stay:

“Still, I could feel this thing between us, not just lust but a kind of immediate love, the sort that, like instant oatmeal, can be realized in a matter of minutes and is just as notorious as the real thing.” (David Sedaris)

You confess your love for the landlord, and you live together happily and peacefully with his daughter. Two years later, the daughter marries and moves into the city. You and the landlord are left to tend to the inn. Two possibilities: a) he dies of natural causes ten years later, and you are left alone, but extremely satisfied at the decision you made; b) some robbers stop over at the inn, and once you refuse to give them what they want, they plant a bullet in you and the landlord’s head. The family you left behind never knew.

The end.

If you choose to go:

You go back to your family, and all is well. You are stronger now, but you don’t know if you are happier. You spend the rest of your life thinking about the landlord.

The end.

If you’re not sure:

Go back to The Origin Story, and try something else.

***

Stopover B:

You choose the center path and camp out with a group of travelers headed to the sea. No one really knows, but gossip around the villages say that there’s a trail that goes out to the sea, the most beautiful around these parts. You’re shivering from the cold, and unfortunately, neglected to bring a tent. A woman offers to share her tent with you. You think she’s breathtaking, so strong despite the cold, able to tolerate harsh conditions and better at aspects where you fail. She takes your hands and rubs them close with hers. She looks at you like she’s in love, and you’re not sure. As the warmth sets in, you know where your feelings lie, and you’d be lying if you said you didn’t want to kiss her.

She tells you she’s never been to the sea, and you are likewise. You tell her of your fears of carnivores and fear of cruise ships, and she thinks it’s adorable. She said she’d fly you above the sea if she had wings, so you never had to fear any of those.

Your heart skips a beat. You’d be lying if you said you didn’t want to kiss her.

But did she want to kiss you back?

Decide.

If you choose to stay with her:

“They like you back. Very much, to the point that they listen and remember the things you tell then. Especially the part where you said that you don’t want to be in a relationship if it wouldn’t last. So they kept their feelings to themselves even if they’ve fallen hard already because they know that sooner or later they might hurt you, intentionally or not. And besides, they’re not even sure either how long your potential-but-probably-not-going-to-happen relationship will last. Don’t get me wrong, they’re willing to take the risk, they’re just scared of hurting you, because despite your tough shell, you’re just as fragile and vulnerable as everyone else. And that’s what makes you even more beautiful, they think. The only thing for them to do to keep you in their life is to be your friend and just stay. Keep them, and don’t let them go. Because they are the kind of people you need to have with you. Don’t be sorry you never had to have labels and be contented with the fact that they chose a real long-lasting relationship over what could be a fickle and fleeting one. The love they give you then is true.” (Fatima Tarun)

You’ve completely forgotten who said what, or which one — it may have been the cold, or possibly the warmth. But you decide not to kiss her. And as much you love her, there is a sea of both certainty and uncertainty that you would rather not cross, lest carnivores kill you as you venture out there.

You decide not to kiss her, but you stay with her forever. Three days later, you find the sea with the whole group, and everyone is happy. Two possibilities: a) The two of you become the greatest explorers the world has ever known, discovering new lands of wonder. You grow old together, and think: God, I still want to kiss her.; or b) In one of your flying expeditions across the ocean, a storm hits. You must have unknowingly flown atop the Bermuda Triangle because the two of you never believed in maps. You disappear. The family never knew.

The end.

If you choose to go:

After the storm subsides and at the first light, you turn around and go back to your family, and all is well. You are stronger now, but you don’t know if you are happier. You spend occasional nights thinking of whether she made it to the sea, and what it would’ve looked like had she flown you on top of it.

The end.

If you’re not sure:

Go back to The Origin Story, and try something else.

***

Stopover C:

The rightmost path leads you to a quaint house in the middle of the woods. It’s a well-tended property despite being soaked in the rain, you muse to yourself. You wipe your head and walk towards the door, hoping someone would be kind enough to let you in for the night. After a knock or two, a man opens and gladly welcomes you inside. You let him know you just need a place to stay the night and he accommodates. He assures you he’s not a psychopath, but only a writer. “I think it’s one and the same,” you quip, and observe that he laughs quietly, if that is even possible.

You take in his collection of books, and find out that none of them are his. “I’m still trying”, he says, and you say “we’re all just trying”, adding that he probably needs a muse. He smiles. He hands you a cup of coffee, and the two of you stay up all night talking about God, music, past lives, and the afterlife. You didn’t realize that you never got to sleep and that the rain has subsided, and that it was time to go. Before you leave, he lets you borrow a book from his collection, hoping you might like it. “Don’t worry, I’ll pass by again on my way back and return this to you.”

“I’ll be looking forward to it.”

If you return the book and decide to stay:

Koi no Yokan (Japanese): The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love. This is different than “love at first sight”, since it implies that you might have a sense of imminent love, somewhere down the road, without yet feeling it.

Fifteen days after you find what you’re looking for (and after finishing the book), you turn around and head back home. You pass by the writer’s house, and he has changed. You observe that he has more vigor and color, and he has seen the same with you. He offers you a cup of coffee, and you both share adventures — he of a story halfway done, and you of all the beauty of the world. Talking to him, you feel like you’ve been living parallel lives all this time, and think of whether you’ve fallen in love with him. He smiles.

You stay with him for the rest of your days. Again, two possibilities: a) You write together about the beauty of the world, get published, and you go on more expeditions because you want to just put everything into words. Both of you live wildly passionate, fulfilling lives, and realize that this was probably love from the first meeting; or b) After becoming wildly popular, your husband finds out and divorces you. You never see your daughter again, but you write her letters every single day and she still thinks you’re brilliant.

The end.

If you never return the book and head straight home:

Halfway along your journey and after finishing the book, it dawns on you that you love the writer. Love is a feeling that scares you, for all its impermanence, its strength, its ability to render your powerless despite all the strength you’ve mustered over the years. The feeling is now, and you don’t know what to do with it. At the end of your journey, you turn back and head home.

You go back to your family, and all is well. You are stronger now, but you don’t know if you are happier. On some nights, you read your daughter the book that the writer gave you, and again and again, realize you love him.

The end.

If you’re not sure:

Go back to The Origin Story, and try something else.

But you’re out of options.

Choose wisely.

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