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The road not taken

/ 04:01 AM November 16, 2021

William Boyd’s “The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth” includes a short story about a college couple, Meredith and Max, who have been together for years. But then they decided to separate. The start of the story already establishes that their paths are now crossing again years after they had ended their relationship. Both are now strangers to each other. The story is called “The Road Not Taken.”

It has been four months since I, too, have traveled the road not taken. I spent a handful of years building something I never thought would end. But I still feel lucky enough to have the choice of rebuilding myself and walking away from home.

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Some years ago, I promised to pursue a career in media after college. I always pictured myself as an individualist in the loud, glamorous, and busy corporate world. I wanted so bad to be part of something big, so I made a point of working on it and making it a reality. When graduation day came, I couldn’t be more proud; the succeeding days felt I was shooting off like a rocket. After a month of deep thought, I took a leap of faith. With both hands holding on to my bags, I set off for Metro Manila and left behind the provincial life.

It was the first of my many attempts to leave home. While I stayed in a different city alone during my undergraduate years, I had never been this far. To say it was difficult was an understatement. Every day was a battle. I spent roughly two years job-hopping, spiraling my way through ventures previously unknown to me, only to be met many times with a dead end.

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But I didn’t see this — as a hindrance. I always reminded myself that, as the saying goes, only those who risk going too far can possibly know how far they can go. So I kept going, clutching on to a secret yearning.

The latter part of those years has been a topsy-turvy ride set in motion by the completely unanticipated pandemic. I was quite lost. I had to think fast about where to go next while carefully crossing out the option to go home. During these times, I have witnessed people close to me let out a defeated sigh as an acceptance of their retrenchment from work. Eventually, I had to quit my day job, too, and was exposed to the reality that what I was planning to pursue might not be at the end of this road.

Unwillingly, I went back home to the province — back to square one.

But it was with ease and warmth that I was once again welcomed by familiar faces. The storms in me eventually calmed down and I felt secure to be home. I would be lying, though, if I said this was it for me.

Three months after leaving Metro Manila, I decided to pack my bags again, which had been left untouched since I arrived home. I was once again thrilled to strike out on my own, headed to the nearest city.

In less than two hours, I was greeted by the bracingly cold Baguio breeze—a burning sensation that skimmed through my lungs when I tried to breathe. I stopped for a moment to appreciate the view, to let the moment sink in: I was back in the city that was once my home during my college years.

While tucked in my small, cold apartment, I couldn’t help but wallow in thought. What am I trying to achieve? What am I trying to chase by straying away from home? Has the pandemic forced me to take a road far from my life’s map? Where could I be in the coming months ahead? In fact, where could I possibly be if the pandemic did not happen? Would I still be sitting in front of my crappy computer, fighting my way out of deadlines in my day job? Do I still have the same dreams and aspirations?

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Looking back, I can see that the time and distance I’ve covered have been offset by the things I have not been able to carry out. I have been keeping myself at a distance for far too long, uprooting myself from the people and places I once called home. Yet, for all that wandering, it feels like I haven’t accomplished a single thing I had planned. I am far away from home, and so are my dreams for myself.

Though Meredith and Max built a connection through years of genuine love and affection, they ended up on different paths. I can’t help but feel the same way for myself. Not because of a failed relationship, but because of ambitions and hopes that did not materialize — the long roads I’ve traversed in search of greater things, and also, perhaps more consequentially, the roads I have not taken.

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Jill Jarata, 23, is a graduate of communication arts from Saint Louis University. She lives in Baguio City.

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TAGS: career goals, Jill Jarata, road not taken, Young Blood
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