In first grade, my teacher banned the use of “What if?” in her classroom, a rule which I found to be particularly useless. “What if” questions form the basis for creative thought. Without the hypothetical prodding, fiction novels would be nonexistent, discussions would last as long as a tic-tac and original ideas would never even get a chance. When, in 1976, Edward Packard launched his Choose Your Own Adventure series, he aimed to prove the importance of “what if?” The books, which let readers determine the path of the story based on their own decisions, enthralled me throughout my childhood as it allowed me to see the result of each possible choice simply by flipping through the pages. What would have happened if I had done that stupid thing in college? What would have happened if I had eaten a bagel this morning instead of a Pop Tart? What would have happened if… well, you get the point. So, in honor of Edward Packard, I’ve decided to make my own Choose Your Own Adventure story so that you, too, may be able to determine your own path.
The New Year’s Eve Debacle
It’s New Year’s Eve. You’re sitting in your living room, watching re-runs of Boys Meets World on your television and wondering why anyone would name their child Topanga when suddenly, you hear a knock at the door. You weren’t expecting company tonight. In fact, you told all of your friends you were doing laundry so you could mourn Justin and Selena’s break-up in private. The knock comes again. It’s dark. You live alone. You’re still in your Hannah Montana pajamas. Should you answer the door and halt that persistent knocking? Or should you pull the blanket up to your neck and switch to a re-run of E.R.?
If you answer the door, go to the bullet marked (A). If you stay in your living room, go to the bullet marked (B).
(A) You pick yourself up off the couch and stumble over to the doorway. You twist the doorknob, swinging open the door and revealing an empty doorstep. Whoever was knocking has vanished. Just before you angrily close the door and curse the rotten kids you are convinced are giggling at their ding-dong-ditch prank in some bush across the way, you notice an envelope sitting on the top step with your name scribbled across it. You never get mail and you wonder if the envelope contains the Ellen tickets you have been trying to win for months.
If you open the envelope, go to the bullet marked (C). If you pick up the envelope and toss it in the trash, go to the bullet marked (D).
(B) You scoff at the annoying stranger who has the gall to interrupt your alone time and continue watching television. Moments later, everything goes black. Turns out the Mayans were right about the end of the world; they were just a couple of days off. Jesus tried knocking on your door to spare you from the apocalypse but you never answered. You start the new year in a state of non-existence.
(C) With a heavy sigh, you crouch down, grab the envelope and shuffle back into the house. After trying (and failing) to rip the envelope open with your finger, you smash a jar on the ground, pick up one of the shards and carefully run the edge under the flap. Inside, there is a wad of cash and a note that reads, “Treat yourself to a new outfit. Wear it to 666 Abandoned Warehouse Road at 7PM tonight. Come alone.” You ponder the letter. You really need a new outfit and going out is certainly better than sitting home alone but the note is stained with a red substance (it kind of looks like blood) and seems sort of suspicious.
If you follow the note’s instructions, go to the bullet marked (E). If you ignore the note and go back to watching TV, go to the bullet marked (F).
(D) You toss the letter in the trash. If it was really important, they would have emailed you, right? Minutes later, you get a phone call. It’s Jigsaw, that reject clown from the Saw movies who forces strangers to play games with him. He says you’ve been infected with a deadly virus and he put the antidote in the envelope. You search the trash for the envelope but it’s nowhere to be found. You start the new year writhing on the floor in pain waiting for the clown’s next instructions.
(E) You decide to follow the note’s instructions. YOLO, right? You’re not doing anything for New Year’s Eve anyway. Besides, that red mark is probably dried ketchup. After a quick change of clothes, you march off to your car with the envelope in hand and drive to the nearest town. You buy a stunning red dress and head off towards the destination. You pull up to an eerie looking mansion. Its lights suddenly flicker off as you turn off your car. You start to question your decision and scan the area for any signs of danger. Last chance: do you enter the house?
If you choose to enter the house, go to the bullet marked (G). If you decide to chicken out and go home, go to the bullet marked (H).
(F) You decide to ignore the note because it seems too suspicious and also because it didn’t have any pictures so there was really no point in reading it anyway. You crawl back under the covers of your bed and sleep through the Ball Drop because your phone alarm didn’t wake you up like you wanted. You start the new year hating your telephone company for making you sleep through an event that happens every year.
(G) You approach the door of the mansion. Before you have a chance to knock, the door swings open, the lights flash, and a collective “Happy Birthday!” erupts from inside the house. As your eyes adjust to the brightness, you see all of your friends gathered in the room ahead. One of them approaches you. “Every year, you overwork yourself and forget your own birthday so this year, we figured we’d remind you by throwing you a surprise party!” they explain, handing you a slice of cake. You start the new year surrounded by your closest friends.
(H) It’s dark. It’s quiet. There’s an owl in a tree staring at you and it’s really starting to creep you out. You turn the key in the ignition and drive home. In the morning, you slip out of bed and stumble over to the mirror only to find Justin Bieber’s face staring back at you. You ARE Justin Bieber. That’s why you cared so much about the Jelena break-up. You shrug and fall back onto your bed made of gold. You start the new year as a Pop singer with baggy pants.
You can’t always know what’s going to happen in life. Unlike the Choose Your Own Adventure books, every decision you make is final and you can’t know if another choice would have lead to a better or worse path simply by turning to another page. You can, however, make the best of the decisions that you do make. As my pal Bieber once said: “The grass ain’t always greener on the other side. It’s green where you water it.”’