The Butterfly Effect
Name: Matthew Nathan
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
As a 14-year-old, I had it all figured out. Married by 26. A dad by 28. Archaeologist. A trip from Point Barrow to Tierra del Fuego in the SUV my parents would naturally buy me on my graduation from high school. Oh, and a horse. And a sailboat in there somewhere so I could sail around the world when I wasn’t digging in Egypt or Israel and, you know, stuff.
Life is a lot more mundane for most of us than what I imagined, with a lot I hadn’t bargained for: most archaeologists spend more time teaching than digging. Horses and sailboats? Too much time and money. Tierra del Fuego? Yeah, right. And married people were heterosexual. So were dads. While that little voice in my head was trying to tell me I was gay, I spent my adolescence with imaginary fingers plugging my figurative ears, yelling back “lalalalalalalalalCAN’THEARYOU!!!” even though I had never had the slightest interest in girls and discovered at 15 that sex with guys interested me very much indeed.
I stopped pretending in college, and thus 26 and 28 passed, single and childless. I decided to be a TV reporter, though my parents still wanted me to be an archaeology professor (I should have listened). I moved from L.A. to Florida to Vermont, two-year stints at near-poverty wages that ruled out any long-term relationship with anyone remotely appropriate. When my dad died of lung cancer in 2000, I quit my job in Burlington and moved back to California to be closer to my mom. (Conveniently, my boyfriend at the time had just had two affairs and kicked me out of the house.) I already wanted out of news; bad pay, bad bosses and too many scare-the-viewer stories didn’t compensate for the floods, forest fires, and other moments of pure adrenaline. I made a deal with the higher power I don’t believe in: give me a travel reporting job in San Francisco and I will stay a reporter.
And that’s exactly what happened. I was hired by a production company to produce two nationally syndicated reports a week. For a blissful year, I was amply paid and was sent to the Santa Barbara Wine Country, to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, and a few not-so-sexy places like Orlando. And then the dot.com maelstrom sucked my employer down into oblivion (dot.coms = ad revenue for TV stations = extras like travel reports) and, after 14 months living at the generosity of the State of California, I took a job at a local station in Sacramento. Back in local TV news. Crap.
But it turns out life is sort of an adventure, a butterfly-effect of small decisions and uncontrollable circumstances with big consequences. And so, in my mid-40s, I find myself married and contemplating fatherhood – which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t met Adrián, which wouldn’t have happened if the dot.com crash hadn’t forced me back into local news in Sacramento, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t moved to San Francisco, and so on back through two decades of semi-conscious living. Along the way, I got to ride in the scoop of a bulldozer through a tropical storm, duck bullets, dodge forest fires, and once in a while, even feel like the stories I told made a difference. Damned if things didn’t turn out the way I wanted after all.