Did You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind? by
(303 Stories)

Prompted By The Road Not Taken

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At wedding in Boston after one year of suntanning in Davis

It was 1974, and after two years of working at the US Department of Transportation, I was ready to quit my job and go to law school. I had applied to several schools on the East Coast, as well as UC Berkeley and two other California schools that I didn’t know much about. Those last three were the result of  my 1970 visit to Berkeley described in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and years of hearing songs like California Dreamin’ and the entire Beachboys catalogue.

After all the acceptances, rejections, and waiting lists had shaken out, I was trying to make up my mind between two law schools that were similar in size and status, Boston College and the University of California at Davis. Since I was living in Cambridge at the time, in a beautiful big old house on Cambridge Street, the easier path was to pick Boston College. My college boyfriend was halfway through a two-year stint at Oxford on a Marshall Fellowship, and had already been accepted at Harvard Law for his return the following year. So I could stay in my house, resume the relationship with my boyfriend, and keep hanging out with all my other friends while going to law school.

There WAS that lure of California though. And the UC Davis Women’s Caucus was extremely active and had been writing to me ever since I had first requested an application.

It was a tough choice, but after weighing all the competing considerations, I decided on Boston College, and had written the check to send in for my deposit. Before I got around to mailing it, I had a business trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with some transportation people there. Whenever I went to D.C. I stayed with my college roommate Kathy. That night at dinner we talked about my law school choices. Kathy was of the opinion that I should NOT go to Boston College and stay in my same Cambridge life (or my same rut, as she called it). This was the best time to go someplace new, and have some new adventures. Plus, as she reminded me, I was very competitive with my college BF, and if he was at Harvard while I was at BC, it would not be good for my self-esteem or our relationship.

So I ended up at UC Davis. I packed up all my belongings in my trusty Valiant (My 1966 Plymouth Valiant convertible) and drove across country to a place I had never seen before.

My first year in Davis I was miserable. The school was great — very supportive atmosphere, and 48% women in my class, at a time when most law schools were 5-10% women — but the town was the pits. I hadn’t looked at a map very closely, and I thought it was in the Bay Area, or at least a lot closer than it was — 80 miles to San Francisco, and sometimes as much as a two-hour drive with traffic. Davis had no decent restaurants, no culture, and nobody I knew. The entire telephone book was the size of the A’s in the Boston phone book. I had made a huge mistake. So I decided I would transfer to someplace — anyplace — “back East” at the end of first year.

I almost did too. But I went to Boston in June for the wedding of some college classmates and stayed for several days. In one year in California I HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT HUMIDITY! Even though I had grown up in New Jersey, and had lived with humid summers all my life, the beautiful dry heat of Davis had changed me. I had been seduced by the weather. In fact, I had spent the entire spring quarter lying out on a ledge of the law school building suntanning in between classes, and had turned a beautiful shade of bronze, as you can see from the Featured Image. So I stayed in Davis for the rest of law school, and eventually moved only a few miles away, to Sacramento, where I have lived ever since.

Many, many times over the past forty years I have wondered how my life would have gone if I had picked Boston College instead of Davis. I imagine I would still be living in Cambridge, a city that I love very much, assuming I managed to buy a house at a time when they were affordable. I’m sure I would have worked in the public sector after law school, maybe even for the Attorney General’s Office like I did in California. I would have been able to spend more time with my mother and oldest sister, because of living on the same side of the country, which would have been nice, especially in my mother’s declining years.

I don’t think it would have worked out with my college BF, I’m pretty sure Kathy was right about that. Would I have met someone else? Would I have ever married or had children? For some reason I think the answer to that might be “no.” I might have stayed single, and done a lot of traveling whenever I felt like it, unconstrained by responsibilities to other people, like one of my Cambridge Street roommates has done. And now, forty years later and being (presumably) retired, maybe I would have taken over my mother’s house in Florida and started doing the snowbird commute between Cambridge and Delray Beach every year to avoid the cold winters.

This prompt asks for an alternative story, and I don’t have one, I just have questions and maybes. It’s too hard to imagine my life as a Boston lawyer. Maybe some day I will write a novel about my fictional Boston self.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    A great story, and not only because I never knew of your East Coast/West Coast law school dilemma (or the fact that I had a similar one and chose the East Coast). What particularly made it great was all the “what ifs…” that you posed throughout. I think that is much more introspective and instructive than the “…and I never looked back” approach, which I always question anyway. And, as to your “what ifs…'” I anxiously await your novel.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks John, I can’t imagine taking a “never looked back” approach to any decision. No matter how happy you are with your choice, there are always those pesky “what ifs.” And please don’t wait TOO anxiously, it might be a while before I get around to the novel.

  2. Loved this poignant crossroads you so skillfully described here, Suzy! I thought your paraphrase of the conversation between you and roommate Kathy was funny and frank, friends delivering their clear but loving observations.

    You brought back plenty of recollections, including phone books, and the return to humidity. As is often true, your story telling moves fluidly along such clearly developed and described narrative lines. You have told your monumental tale of dilemma in a very personable style here! Thanks!

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you for this lovely comment, Charlie. I am going to be rooming with Kathy at my reunion next week, and will show her this story. I’m guessing she won’t remember the conversation at all, although it is still quite vivid to me!

  3. John Zussman says:

    “Well, East Coast girls are hip, I really dig those styles they wear,” and I like your fantasies about Boston Suzy … but somehow it’s hard to picture you as anything but a California girl. As a California transplant myself, who immigrated right after college and immediately knew I’d never go back, I’m delighted that you succumbed to the lure of a California adventure and, once here, decided to stay.

    As usual, you found the perfect title. I just hope that beautiful tan doesn’t come back to bite you one day, dermatologically.

    • Suzy says:

      You’re the first person who has ever called me a California girl. I still speak with Eastern vowels (not the universal California schwa) and have Eastern attitudes about a lot of things. But 43 years into the adventure, I think I’m here for good!

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    HUMIDITY! The bane of my existence too, but here I’ve been for the better part of 47 years. It’s a migraine trigger for me (you should come to the Vineyard if you want to experience humidity!) and makes my head want to explode. But how can you possibly think that you would never marry? You have walked down that path twice. Don’t you think somewhere here in the Greater Boston area, you would have found someone to your liking? We can dream of what might have been, but no one can ever know.

    You look impossibly beautiful in your Davis tan in that photo. And I love your description of the phone book, not even as big as the “A” section of the Boston equivalent. But it seems that you adapted fine and have made a good life for yourself. A close friend of mine came to Brandeis from Chicago once she discovered that Wesleyan (where she had already sent in her acceptance) was half way between NYC and Boston…2 HOURS away from either; just as you described your feelings about Davis not being so close to SF. We live, learn and adapt.

    • Suzy says:

      Betsy, I am savoring your phrase “impossibly beautiful”! Thank you so much for that. Of course you’re right about finding a potential mate in the Boston area, no real reason to think it wouldn’t happen. Just trying to imagine a totally different life that might have occurred as a result of that one choice.

  5. I came out to CA during the time I was suspended from college (from what would have been my senior year) and hitchhiked up from LA to Seattle and back down, and then back up a second time, and I didn’t need the LACK OF HUMIDITY to seduce me! I loved The Golden State for just about…everything. Including my perception, at that time, that gender equality was more advanced out there, and that was due to the CA women being more assertive and not being socialized to be as demure. (Again, one guy’s perception at the time.). So I am impressed that for you the deciding factor was the humidity. Well, it made for a very interesting and readable tale.

    And i won’t repeat the phrase “impossibly beautiful.” But I will say, if you were lying out in the sun somewhere where any of your professors passed by, you were asking an awful lot of them (assuming at the time all males)–I mean to grade you in an objective and unbiased manner.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you for your comment, Dale, and for going back to this story from the link in my current story. I don’t think any of my professors saw me tanning on my ledge, and if they had, I doubt it would have affected my grade. But I appreciate the compliment!

      And while you say you were seduced by everything about California, you didn’t come out here to live, so it wasn’t a very successful seduction!

  6. Glad now to have caught up with this story Suzy.

    I had a similar grad school decision to make – to stay in New York and go to Columbia or move to Boston and go to Simmons.

    I chose the former but how would my life have differed had I chosen the latter? I’ll never know!

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