Erica O'Rourke's What-If Moment

Life is composed of moments and decisions — some good, some bad. In Erica O'Rourke's latest YA, Dissonance, she explores alternate universes and the choices people make every day. Today, Erica shares her own "what-if" story and wonders what her life would have been like had she chosen a different path. Take it away, Erica!

Cover of Dissonance by Erica O'Rourke Any author will tell you: stories begin with a “What if ...”

It’s human nature to wonder about the road not traveled, the choice not made, the life almost led. Sometimes with regret, sometimes with relief, always in hindsight, with a shake of the head and astonishment at the power of a single moment. What if, what if, what if.

What if, for example, I hadn’t looked out the window?

My senior year in college was perfectly planned. Graduate; find a job teaching English; marry my long-time boyfriend. I’d spent my first day back on campus sweltering in the late-August heat, unpacking while I waited for my boyfriend to arrive. For no particular reason, I looked out the window just as he pulled into the parking lot in his shiny new car.

He stepped out. Stretched. Then he stopped, studying the beat-up blue sedan in the next spot, cocking his head. The gesture seemed off, somehow — too tense and cold for a lazy summer afternoon.

I could have gone downstairs to meet him. I could have finished shelving my overpriced textbooks. Instead, five stories up and unnoticed, I watched.

He grabbed the side of the door, as if to close it — and then slammed it into the other car, the impact jolting his body. The sound carried across the parking lot, metallic and deliberate. I flinched as he did it again. Then he closed his door, locked the car and ambled inside. The entire scene took less than ninety seconds.

“What was up with that car?” I asked after I let him in.

“What car?” He leaned down to kiss me.
I put out a hand to fend him off. “The one you hit.”
He shrugged. “They would have dinged my door when they left. I got them first.”

It was the act of a bully, casual and cruel. If I hadn’t turned my head, I would never have spotted it, or seen that side of him. I would have carried on exactly as before, following the map of my perfect life in perfect ignorance.

But choices can’t be undone; sights can’t be unseen. My tiny choice led to a bigger one. A short time later, we broke up. My carefully planned world reshaped itself into something infinitely better.

Was it fate? Random coincidence? A warning from the universe, or an isolated mistake? I’ll never know. Sometimes, I wonder: what if hadn’t looked out the window? I don’t think I would like that life very much. That temper would have turned on me, and I would have turned into someone else entirely.

I wrote Dissonance because I’m fascinated by the might-have beens and the what-ifs. I wanted to explore how lives could change due to a single decision and what, if anything, stayed the same. Delancey Sullivan has grown up witnessing the power of choices; unlike the rest of the world, she can move between those what-ifs and possibilities. And while the circumstances may change, some things — family, and first love and secrets – are constant.

- Erica O'Rourke

Tell us about your what-if moments in the comments below, and be sure to pick up a copy of Dissonance today! For more YA authors and books, visit the Everything YA page.