An Outline of My Parallel Universes

1. My mother and father, both born in the Philippines, move to the United States and meet one another, or

2. My mother (or father) moves to the United States, but my father (or mother) does not, or

3. Both my mother and father don’t leave the Philippines, but still meet each other, or

4. My mother and father never meet one another.

* * *

1. My mother and father have a son, born in 1971, and later give birth to me, in 1979, or

2. My mother and father have a son, born in 1971, and decide not to have any more children, or

3. My mother and father have a son, born in 1971, and later give birth to another son, in 1979.

* * *

1. At 14, after a bit of kicking and screaming, I attend the Catholic, all-girls Notre Dame High School, and am later inspired to pursue writing, thanks to my freshman and sophomore English teachers, AP US history teacher, and AP art history instructor. I focus on writing, film, and art history, or

2. At 14, I win my adolescent battle against my parents and attend the public high school down the street and am influenced by a different path: math, or science, or sports, or

3. At 14, I go to a small school in the Philippines and learn English, my second language.

* * *

1. In August 1997, I move to Los Angeles to attend Loyola Marymount University, enroll as a screenwriting major, and meet friends named Bing, Leah, Lisa, Brian, Kevin, Aki, and others in a coed dorm, McKay Hall, on campus. We drink a lot, bond quickly, and experience an eventful first year of college together, or

2. In August 1997, I move to New York City, overjoyed to be accepted into the dramatic writing program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. I live in the Village, and never meet people named Bing, Leah, Lisa, Brian, Kevin, Aki, and others, or

3. In August 1997, I decide to stay on the San Francisco Peninsula and attend nearby Santa Clara University. I continue to hang out with various high school cliques, as well as coworkers from my jobs.

* * *

1. From 1997 to 2001, I have  enlightening, entertaining, and inspiring experiences with friends in Los Angeles. I settle into a young yet serious relationship with my first boyfriend, study abroad in Cannes, graduate from LMU’s School of Film and Television, and develop a passion for traveling the world, or

2. From 1997 to 2001, I live in New York City and become a cynical city girl, dating writers and artists and settling in Brooklyn, or

3. From 1997 to 2001, I live comfortably with my parents on the Peninsula, work a few jobs and grow my savings account, and don’t experience the wanderlust itch.

* * *

1. In 2000, I live at a college across the street from the Mediterranean on the French Riviera, study French in the morning, eat cheese on the beach in the afternoon, and sip wine through the night with friends Robin, Elise, and Maggie, or

2. In 2000, I study abroad in Florence instead of Southern France, study sculptures at the Duomo, and never meet Robin, Elise, and Maggie, or

3. In 2000, I don’t study abroad because I’m too afraid to part from my boyfriend, or

4. In 2000, I win a screenwriting scholarship and spend my junior year in New York polishing a feature-length script, snagging an agent, and pitching to producers, or

5. In 2000, I enter a nursing program in the Philippines, inspired by what my mother had done when she was younger.

* * *

1. In 2002, I return to Montreal for a summer, brush up on my French, and enroll in an intensive public relations certificate program, or

2. In 2002, I meet a guy in San Francisco, decide not to quit my job at the local bookstore to move to Montreal, and get serious with him, or

3. In 2002, I continue to live in New York City, while my family wonders if I’ll ever return to the West Coast, or

4. In 2002, my 22-year-old self, living in Manila, wonders what it’d be like to finally visit the United States.

* * *

1. When I’m 24, I move to Thailand to teach English and explore Southeast Asia solo, or

2. When I’m 24, I move to Costa Rica (my second choice for teaching abroad), and love Central America so much that I decide to linger for a few years, or

3. When I’m 24, after working full-time for several years, I use the money I’ve saved up to buy a condo in the Bay Area.

* * *

1. In 2005, while working at Job #1 (a reading clinic in Palo Alto), I am offered an editorial internship at the George Lucas Educational Foundation, its office located two hours away from Job #1. While the pay is shitty (about $5 an hour), it’s an opportunity to work at Skywalker Ranch. I accept the offer, or

2. In 2005, I choose not to take the internship at Skywalker Ranch and seek more hours (and better pay) at the reading clinic instead, or

3. In 2005, I apply to and am accepted into the intensive journalism program at Northwestern, quit the reading clinic job, and move to Chicago.

* * *

1. At 25, I apply to numerous graduate programs in writing, at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, and Goucher College. Rejected from Columbia and accepted to the other two, I enroll in Goucher’s MFA program in creative nonfiction and spend two years drafting a manuscript on raves, techno, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Thailand, and subculture, or

2. At 25, I apply to numerous graduate programs in writing and decide to enroll in Sarah Lawrence’s MFA program. I move into an apartment with my ex-college roommates from Loyola Marymount, Lara and Irene, who already live in Brooklyn, or

3. At 25, I still live in Thailand—as I had agreed to stay another semester—and write a book independently on my adventures in Southeast Asia, or

4. At 25, I continue to live in Central America, and now live and work in an open-air hostel on a beach in Belize.

* * *

1. In 2008, I stumble upon a Craigslist post for a “marketing assistant” position at a women’s college in Oakland. Even though I have a steady, well-paying job at a local school district, and initially think nothing of the job post, I nonchalantly email my resume. I land the job and move forward, or

2. In 2008, I stumble upon a Craigslist post for a “marketing assistant” position at a women’s college in Oakland and ignore it, or

3. In 2008, after a decade of drafting scripts, I finally sell a screenplay, or

4. In 2008, I sell my one-bedroom condo on the Peninsula so I can move into a bigger place with my current fiance, or

5. In 2008, after several years wandering and writing in Southeast Asia, I finally come home, or

6. In 2008, after visiting the United States numerous times over the years, I hope that I’ll marry a nice American man so I can remain in the country.

* * *

1. At the start of 2011, I live in San Francisco, work in travel and higher ed, explore the world as often as possible, and am so busy that I forget I am single, or

2. At the start of 2011, I live in Brooklyn, work in publishing and bartend on the side, and date periodically, or

3. At the start of 2011, I live in Montreal, am married to a French Canadian, and have returned to the Bay Area a few times per year since 2002, or

4. At the start of 2011, my 31-year-old self does not exist.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

I am an editor at Longreads. For over a decade, I've worked on curation, editing, and storytelling projects across Automattic, including

3 thoughts on “An Outline of My Parallel Universes

  1. I often wonder how life would be if my dad did not drag the whole family to California after he retired from the U.S. army. My younger brother was kicking and screaming as well … he was entering his senior high school that year that we left the Phil.

    I am blessed with how things worked out since I would not have the most precious people in my life right now – my Jonathan and his family, and you, Cheri. And we would not have known Malou if I didn’t meet your dad. Continue on this parallel.

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