In the winter I start to get sick. It gets worse. The campus doctor increases my medications, but the stress of grad studies has caused a flare-up of my colitis, and I continue to worsen. I am wracked by abdominal cramps, depleted by exhaustion, vomiting, feverish, and spending hours in the washroom, day and night. The doctor wants me to go home and see my gastroenterologist.
"I can't," I tell him. I am now 2 & 1/2 months short of completing my courses. In those days, courses were year-long, not one semester. If I leave now, I'll lose my whole year. Not going to happen. Somehow I make it through to the end of classes, and earn an A- average.
Back home I rest, and improve a little. I take a summer grad course at U. of Toronto for my final credit, and work on my thesis. The date to defend my thesis is set for early September.
By the end of August, I am beyond sick, but still refusing to quit. Ian finally makes an appointment with my gastroenterologist and half-carries me to it. After a short examination, he orders me straight into hospital; I'm not even allowed to go home for my toothbrush. I'm in hospital 6 weeks; that's where I spend my 25th birthday.
My summer course grade comes back: A-. My thesis adviser writes to tell me I have missed my defense and that's it. No appeal; I'm out. All along I have been a number for him - one of the 50% who don't complete - and now he has proof. He doesn't say this, but it's there, between the lines. I appeal to the Chair of English Grad studies. My gastro gets his receptionist to write a letter informing of my condition. I never see this letter, but this is one formidable lady, believe me. I'm relieved but not surprised when the Chair writes back assuring me I can defend my thesis when I get well.
And so, just before Christmas, I go to Ottawa to defend my thesis. My adviser gives me a pep talk just before it begins: "They're going to give arguments against your thesis," he tells me, "But don't agree just to be nice. You have to argue back." I'm 5'2, eyes of blue, and I'm sure I still look thin and wan and weak. He expects me to get slaughtered. And I'm sure his only concern is that it will reflect unfavorably on him.
I manage to keep a straight face as I assure him I will. I come from a family of debaters; I argue in my sleep. And so I walk in and it begins. What a blast! I love debating English, I'm quick on my feet, and this is my thesis, I know it inside out. I'm genuinely sorry when it comes to an end, and wish I could think of a way to keep it going. Outside the room, my adviser looks at me speechless for a moment, then tells me I did very well.
And so I have my M.A. But it has taken it's toll. I know I can't get my PhD. I will never be a university prof. This is the road not taken.
We can spend our life in regret over the road not taken, or we can focus on the road we did take. Two years later, I have the first of my three daughters: an all-consuming love. And many years after that, I am a college prof, instead of a University Prof. I don't teach 18th C poetry or even Can Lit - I teach business writing and Ethics, drawing on my undergrad minor in philosophy. But I enjoy the teaching. And in between, I have done a multitude of interesting things.
The road not taken is not always a tragedy. Often, it is just the road not taken.
What is the road you didn't take? Do you regret it? Did you find another road?