The Big Picture


September 14, 2010 by The Citron Review

by Michelle Ong


Decide now: the brunette or the blonde?

Choose the brunette and experience what few will ever know. Travel to every country in the world in search of wealth and excitement. Climb the seven summits and stand on the roof of the world. Hike the longest trails across virgin wilderness. Raft or kayak the wildest and most challenging rivers. Discover what lays hidden in the darkest caves, through the labyrinths, into the underground sea, and out to paradises few have glimpsed. Snorkel in the clearest oceans with the prettiest schools of fish and best preserved coral. Dive in caverns, reefs, and forgotten shipwrecks, uncovering hidden caches of treasure left by pirates centuries ago.

Never stay in the same place for more than a week. Befriend the most interesting people who will teach you priceless skills and regale you with tales of intrigue. Dabble in every type of adventure possible.

But know that at the end of the year, you will die during one of these expeditions.

Choose the blonde and have a lifetime of security. Have a house paid off, two well-behaved and considerate children on the way to successful careers, and a community that admires you. Work at a respectable firm with good benefits, regular salary increases, promotions, and bonuses, and an ample pension. Be loved by a devoted wife who will consistently laugh at your jokes, appreciate your stories, and trust your judgment. Be friends with those who will always care for you and come to your aid. Grow old in peace, perfect health, and contentment, with your expanding family by your side. But know that you will never travel outside of your town during your lifetime.

Or choose neither and live a life of chance. Make mistakes and either learn or repeat them. Love a woman and never know whether she’ll leave you the next morning, after decades of marriage, due to infidelity, boredom, or maturity. Have children who may love you one day and forget you the next as they age and face their own problems.

Travel when you can, to both comfortable resorts and backpacking tours, prey to mugging and lost luggage, crowded scenic spots, wretched hotel rooms, food poisoning, irritating tourists, and persistent beggars and salespeople.

Work at one job after another, always fearful of layoffs, pay cuts, and yearly reviews. Endure office politics and the drudgery of weekly meetings, miscommunications, unjustified blame, tight deadlines, and long hours. Be unsure if you’ll ever have enough to retire with and offset the costs of a nursing home.

Buy a house you may never pay off, in a community helpless to the homeowners association’s whims and nagging neighbors. Retreat to that home until the loneliness after your wife and children have left descends.

Surrender your health to time and overuse. Yield to weak muscles, deteriorating bones, dwindling eyesight, and dysfunctional organs.

But know that even though you never experienced all that you wanted to, you chose autonomy and the struggle that compels us to get up every morning and carve out our own fate.


Michelle Ong is a native Texan who lives in North Carolina. Her work has been published in Caper Literary Journal, Red Fez, and Arabesques Review, among others. She blogs at


One thought on “The Big Picture

  1. Kelli T. says:

    Nicely done. Very thought provoking.

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