Choose Your Own Charlotte

August 26, 2014 at 11:17 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

If you spend your pocket money on punk records and poetry books, turn to page 24.

If you play netball and whisper about the bad girls of Croydon High, turn to page 33.

When I was sixteen, I was called to the principal’s office. No-one was more surprised than me. My blue hair, tattered Sex Pistols t-shirts and permanent scowl hid – I hoped – the fact that I was a straight-A student, with an application pending for a language exchange in Europe. I ran all manner of scenarios through my head as I skulked along the corridor…did they know I’d been sneaking into TISM gigs, or drinking bourbon from the bottle in city alleyways?

The message was short but perplexing: call your father. I did so with nervous hands, dialling a number I still know off by heart over twenty years later. He told me that I’d been offered not one, but two places in Europe, and they needed my decision now.

If you smoke bucket bongs while listening to Guns ‘N’ Roses, go to page 41.

If you wear ripped lace dresses and army boots from flea markets, go to page 55.

Twenty minutes later I watched my dad drive into the school car park. He had an atlas under one arm, while the other reached out for a huge congratulatory hug that seemed to last forever. Then we spread out the atlas on the bonnet of the car, and opened it to Europe.

We stared at it, frowning. I had been offered a year’s language exchange in Belgium or Spain. I knew little about either country. I’d wanted Switzerland, but no placements were available, so my dreams of chalets and chocolate were to be replaced by…well, what, exactly? All I knew about Belgium was that it had funny names like Antwerp and Flemish, and gave the world the Smurfs. As for Spain, I didn’t know a single word of the language, but had once made paella in home economics class. It was going to be a tough decision.

We were out there so long I missed gym class, but for once it was ok. Dad put his hand on my shoulder and told me to trust in my decision, neither of us verbally acknowledging that I was now Officially Leaving. I looked at the sprawl of countries, so many names and beckoning adventures, languages stretching across both pages like ribbons.

And I chose Belgium. I think my main reason was that it was closer to London, and my ferocious little punk heart filled at the thought of wandering the same streets as Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Not the best rationale by which to choose your home for the next year, but there you go.

If you ride bicycles over canals as the snow falls, go to page 64.

If you soak up the sun on a stroll down Las Ramblas, go to page 78.

I left one week after my seventeenth birthday. It was one of the most pivotal years of my life; challenging in ways I’d never imagined, yet rewarding in aspects I’m still discovering today. It threw me into the world utterly on my own and instilled in me both a fierce independence and a passion for languages that led to my degree and career in linguistics. I fell in love with Belgium – moved back there in my thirties, in fact – and miss it so much my heart aches every time I think of it.

But it took my little sister to point it out: did I think that in choosing a country where the winters were dark and cold, and I could stay holed up inside to write and daydream, that it helped form the character I have now? Which is, to be blunt (as my lovely little sis can be, bless her), rather wintry and introverted itself. What if I’d chosen Spain, and the year I turned into an adult filled with sunshine and sangria, socialising in the streets and hearing the purred constants fall from my mouth…how different would I be?

I used to love those Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid. I never cheated. I always read the whole story, following every strand until it shook me out the other end, wherever that may be. I made a monumental decision in a school car park, one of the first to shape my adult life. And I now know that I chose my own adventure wisely.

I recently wrote a CYOA story myself, and it’s just been published at the wonderful literary magazine Corium, so go take a peek at ‘Choose Your Own Charlotte.’

If you want to play cheesy French pop and look up the history of the Smurfs, go to google.

If you want to read about a teenage girl with bad posture and an even worse attitude, go here.

corium

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2 Comments

  1. Dorie Mol said,

    I really love your writing style, and your creativity and originality! Reading your stories is as refreshing as going on a short holiday!!

    • inkymouth said,

      Oh, thanks so much, Dorie – what a lovely thing to say! But a holiday is always good too…I know I can’t wait until mine 🙂

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