My Way or the Highway

When I was 18 years old, in my first year of college, my father and I had a disagreement about who I was allowed to date. Disagreement is a huge understatement: I still get flashbacks to the violence of that night, the fear and loss I felt, as I ran into the night to find a safe spot to hunker down until he calmed …and having to fetch help later, when his fury left him and the heart attack hit.

The point of contention wasn’t important really, the event was bound to happen sooner or later:  most of the ways I viewed the world – desperately wanted to view the world – were at odds with what was going on around me in my immediate family. The drinking and drugs, the emotional and physical violence, became more and more intolerable as I saw how other families lived, what was possible outside of our circle of abuse, and I was getting increasingly worse at hiding my feelings about it all. But that night this would – like the year before, with my mother – change everything. I’d be even more of a damaged person than I already am, I supposed, if it hadn’t. Who would I be, if this had happened, and I’d thought my father’s fury was an acceptable expression of his displeasure over the colour of my boyfriend’s skin?

But the next day, he said the words that freed me, and offered me a Choice. Like the year before, when my mother had raised her hand to me, and unlike the many many times before, it had failed to elicit fear or obedience from me…she had offered me a Choice: go to juvi, or go to live with your dad.  My dad’s offer? “So long as you live under my roof, it’s my way or the highway”. I looked at what life was like, in the ‘safety’ of my family, and then looked at the risks of hitting the road… and left home. 

I found a cheap apartment, got used to living in debt, with thinly populated cupboards, and got on with my life. With nothing but my heart, smarts, determination, and – luckily – the friends and chosen family I would make along the way.

I’ve never, ever, regretted the Choice I made that day.

I was unprepared for leaving home at that moment. I had no savings, and low-paid, part-time employment. Leaving home just then pretty much guaranteed that I was hitting the boards ill-prepared to ‘succeed’ in life: in college the following year, I lived on doughnuts from my workplace and tins of cold vegetables, and I remember walking through supermarkets wondering what I could buy to eat with my last 25 cents. I was (almost) easy game for the cult leader cum pimp posing as a talent manager, and certainly easy pickings for men who offered slight affection and a warm meal in return for my… company. I left that first apartment 2 months in arrears and owing one of my professors and the student loan administration money. It would take me four years to finish the second year of a two year undergraduate degree. In the decades since making that choice, I’ve mostly been poor, very poor, with a few decent stretches of just getting by.

But I’ve also made some amazing friends – I like to believe I’ve helped some of them as much as they’ve helped me, but to be honest, think I’ve received much more help than I could ever repay – and had some of the most amazing adventures.  I’ve been accepted into a new, chosen, family who’s bonds are based on shared values and goals. Now at 62, I’m healthy in mind and body, in a loving, supportive relationship, with friends scattered around the globe, a stable roof over my head, and plenty of grub in my full-size fridge/freezer. I’m living the life I dreamed of, so many years ago. It’s taken decades, but I know, very clearly, that I wouldn’t have the life I live now, a life I treasure beyond imagining, if I had chosen to remain in my father’s (or mother’s) house. I’ve never once, through all the stories I’ve told, or might someday tell, and the ones I’ll probably never speak publicly about…I’ve never regretted that Choice.

So I know this Choice, intimately and clearly: the ‘my way or the highway’ Choice. I recognize when it’s being offered, whether spoken aloud or through actions. And I know the risks – and opportunities – of choosing the highway. I know them very well, indeed.

This is the Choice being offered to Scotland by the government of the UK. It’s a choice that’s been on the table – no matter the political makeup of the government – for more than 300 years. Stay in a relationship which offers the pretence – and it is only a pretence – of safety, stability, and support? Or hit the highway, and risk everything to choose our own way, for better or worse, richer or poorer? So far, Scotland has been like that young girl, so many decades ago: believing the lies about not being able to survive on her own (as if we’re ever truly on our own!); trying to keep the peace, so as to continue belonging to this family, this group of people brought together by a union that had gone sour years before… Or step out on her own, to create a new and different path, new relationships, new unions made up of those who share our values and goals?

This is Scotland’s Choice. It always has been. But it is clearer now, for more people who live here, than it has ever been before. And this is not the 1700’s.  Those who would force us to stay – who threaten us with poverty and yes, violence – do not have the power to blockade our ports or call our traders pirates. The UK government cannot force us to stay, if we choose to leave, it’s a different world now. We can walk away from this toxic family of nations, take the risks and grab the opportunities, make new friends, renew old friendships, and build new unions. Like the union called marriage I’m in with my husband, no two unions are created equal. And just because my first wasn’t the right one for me (or him), doesn’t mean every union will be toxic.

Nobody – not the SNP, not the most optimistic, dreamy, heart-centred thinker – is saying it’ll be easy. It may take decades to build the life we dream of for Scotland. We have no promises of where the road will lead us, and there will undoubtedly be hardships and setbacks along the way. But they will be of our own choosing, and ours to survive. And we certainly know, intimately and clearly, what our lives will be like, what Scotland will be like, if we choose to stay. We know of the real poverty behind the myth of those broad shoulders, the lie of unity and equality. The violence done to our resources and our chances at a healthy, prosperous life, by an elite who see Scotland only as their larder and playground.

And if we choose to leave, we have so much more in our pocket than that young girl did then: the people, the land and resources, history and culture, the heart, smarts and determination are off the scale.

I know what my Choice is. It’s never been a question for me, really, but a road I’ve been traveling my entire adult life. I’ve never regretted it. I cannot believe, knowing what I know, knowing and loving this country as I do, that Scotland would, either.

Their way? Or the high way? What’s your Choice going to be?

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