The Road Not Taken

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, with a question. Have you ever looked back on your life and realized how different things might have been if, at a certain point in time, you had made a different choice about your future? For me, that defining moment was almost exactly fifty years ago.

Tidewater Community College – the original campus

In the fall of 1973, when my husband’s four years in the Navy were almost up, we had to decide what to do next. We’d been lucky. It was the Vietnam era, but he’d been stationed almost the entire time in Virginia Beach, Virginia, giving me the opportunity to earn my MA in English from Old Dominion University in nearby Norfolk. After that, I worked as adjunct faculty at Tidewater Community College, ending up at the Virginia Beach campus, at that time housed in eleven barracks at the Camp Pendleton National Guard facility until the permanent college could be built. I had a full load of classes in speech and drama (my second major as an undergraduate). I loved that job, and I had many friends among the faculty, staff, and students. We’d made more friends through the Little Theater of Virginia Beach and the Norfolk Savoyards. Our Navy friends were likely to leave the service of be transferred elsewhere, but others were permanently fixed in the area.

Little Theater of Virginia Beach production of The Fantasticks. I was the mute.

So, we had a decision to make. Go home to Maine, where we had no clear idea what the job market would be, or stay on where we were. In the end, the decision wasn’t that hard. We came home. The first few years were rough—jobs were scarce and we had to live with my in-laws for far longer than was comfortable—but eventually things settled down. We reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I finally wrote the novel I’d been thinking about for years, and then wrote a whole lot more. There might be a few things I’d do differently, but not many.

And yet, on occasion, I can’t help wondering. If we’d stayed in Virginia, would I still have buckled down and written that first novel? Or would I have been too busy teaching, working backstage on assorted productions, and hanging out with friends? Would I have heard about Malice Domestic, in nearby Bethesda, Maryland, and attended the early conferences, if not as a writer, then as a reader? What career would my husband have found? He’d been trained as an aviation electrician’s mate. His BA was in sociology. He ended up in law enforcement in Maine. In Virginia? Who knows?

a part of Pungo fifty years later

I do know where we’d have chosen to look for a house or apartment. We were used to cities by 1973, thanks to living in Norfolk and commuting to the pricier Virginia Beach, but we both grew up in small towns. Just south of Virginia Beach is an area called Pungo. We had theater friends who lived there and it struck us as comfortably rural. A web search tells me it is still an agricultural community, although it is part of the city of Virginia Beach, but housing is a lot more expensive than it is in Maine.

“The Road Not Taken” (unfinished oil painting, 1974, showing my view from backstage during The Fantasticks)

In retrospect we were wise to return to Maine. We ended up on twenty-five wooded acres on the outskirts of a small town. We’re both retired. We’re both writing, and he has his own woodworking shop built onto the garage. I can pinpoint the road not taken, but I have no regrets about going the other way.

our home in Maine

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. In 2023 she won the Lea Wait Award for “excellence and achievement” from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. She is currently working on creating new omnibus e-book editions of her backlist titles. Her website is



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5 Responses to The Road Not Taken

  1. Brenda Buchanan says:

    That’s an interesting thought exercise, for sure. I’m sure I speak for many of your friends and fans who are so glad you made the choice to return to Maine and to write.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I had several, but one I remember clearly. I went for an interview at Poland Springs (before they were so huge and expanded). I had a degree in community nutrition with a minor in organic chem. the job I had applied for was secretrial assistant. They switched the interview to “lab tech? But I had sour grapes after the experience I’d had in chem (1989 and still anti women in chem) and didn’t want to go into a lab. Looking back, at all the expansion, I probably would have really grown with the company. Sigh. But would still be retired and I wouldnt have written so many books while waiting for real work etc. etc.

  3. John Clark says:

    I visualize my life like a cosmic pinball machine…So many ways the ball of life could have bounced. I was headed to Canada in 1970, but ran out of money. I wonder what my life would have been like if I’d gone.

  4. kaitcarson says:

    Interesting essay, and one heck of a tough job market in 1973! I sometimes wonder about the road not taken, but I firmly believe we are where we are supposed to be.

  5. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    We taught at Christchurch School, an Episcopal boarding and day school, in the Middle Peninsula in the 70s, not all that far from you. Virginia was lovely, but I’m a New Yorker and no southern belle. Adjusting to the Middlesex Junior Woman’s Club was quite beyond me. My Mainer husband leaped at the chance to advance his career and be headmaster at Lee Academy, so back north we went. That was beyond me too, LOL.

    We have life-long friends from that era; in fact, we’re going to see them at the end of the month…and a bunch of grandfathers who used to play football under my husband’s coaching. It should be interesting!

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