Despite my grandmother’s confusion, the direct route I traveled from high school to college was the last time I lived life according to plan, if there is such a thing. After just one year of normal university life — independence, close-knit new friendships in even closer dormitory quarters, giddy sleep deprivation and an entirely new dimension of socializing — God put the brakes on.
As a teenager, my spine had started taking twists and turns and the curves were now too sharp to deny. I would need corrective surgery, and fast. My scoliosis was so severe, in fact, that without the surgery (called “elective” by the insurance company) I would likely become twisted into a wheelchair-bound pretzel within 10 years and, shortly after that, my lungs would twist all the air away. The pre-surgery odds would make any professional sports better cringe: one-third of a chance of quadriplegia, one-third of a chance of dying on the operating table and one-third of a chance of being “OK.” During the course of that 15-hour day, an endless era of absolute torture for my family (my mom described the feeling as “being in a cage”), I experienced all three — clinical death, temporary paralysis and, finally, OK.
When you’ve already died and come back to life by the age of 20, whatever preexisting itinerary that might have been in place is instantly shredded. Several months later I finally shed my plastic turtle shell brace and learned to stand again. At three inches taller and on life number two, my view of the world was dramatically different. Even as I dutifully finished the bachelor of science degree in nursing that I’d started “B.S.” (before surgery), it felt like I was traveling on autopilot. It took me until my second year as a registered nurse before I finally realized the path I was on might have been right for the old Christine, but the new one was screaming for a detour.
So, while many other women in their 20s were looking for love, marriage, babies and the house with the white picket fence, I went from the East Coast in a white nursing dress to the West Coast in pink hair, tapping into my creative soul as a writer, actor, director and producer so deeply that at some points it almost destroyed me. I’m sure that on some level my adventures in Los Angeles briefly put a few of my other lives on life support. But I survived and the adventures continued.
By the age of 30, well into my “old maid” years by my grandmother’s standards, I had finally found myself and my career passion in the process. Six years after that, I found a soul mate to share those life passions with. His life has also taken several detours and twisted paths. If it hadn’t, we might never have found each other.
So, like my spine, my life path so far has been a winding one, with just as many sharp curves. What life path hasn’t? That’s why I can’t help but smile when young people, usually in college somewhere between point A and B on their own preplanned itinerary, ask how on earth I got from there to here and how they can embark on such a wild ride. The best advice I can give them is this: When opportunity knocks, don’t check your itinerary first – just open the door.
Yes, grandma, I’m a late bloomer. I was an old maid for a while and now, in my late 30s, I’m experiencing some of the same adventures that many women experience a decade earlier. I think that would make her very happy, just like any other proud grandma. Every day is a new adventure and I’m thankful for the second chance to grow old enough to enjoy it.
Christine Whitmarsh is the owner of local writing firm Christine, Ink. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.