Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Writing Prompt # 8: Regrets

I'm always envious of people who claim that they have no regrets about things that have happened in their lives.  These people say things like, "I was a different person then" or "I was at a different point in my life." They say "Everything happens for a reason" and " I wouldn't be here today if I hadn't gone through that yesterday".  

But I view regrets a little differently.  Regrets teach us.  They give us that queesy, nausious feeling, that means "this is not right".  They teach us "do not do that again".  Admitting that you regret things means you acknowledge that you should have chosen or acted differently.  Owning this knowledge hopefully changes our behavior for the future.

That being said, I really don't regret too many things.  Do I wish I had made some different choices? Of course.
* I wish I had taken physics in high school
* I wish I had had enough confidence to play sports in high school
* I wish I had thought about a homecoming queen speech before walking up to the microphone
* I wish I had gone to a different college from the beginning
* I wish I had studied abroad in college
* Sometimes I regret tossing out my journals from high school & college (see below)

Shortly after M & I moved in together, I found my old journals from high school and college.  
I stayed up reading all of them in one sitting and had the overwhelming sense of nausea.  They were so raw and real and overall pretty depressing.  They were full of teenage angst and coming-of-age epiphones.  They didn't remind me of someone I remember being.  They contained memories that I mostly wanted to forget, and feelings that I never wanted to re-experience.  And the writing was terrible-- it made me cringe with self critisism as I read them.  I had the fleeting thought to toss them back in the box and re-discover them in a few years, but I chose to shred each and every page.  Sometimes, I momentarily regret having shredded them.  Perhaps, being able to read those journals would someday help me be a better parent when my own son naviates the high school and college waters.  Perhaps those journals would provide inspiration to write about some of those experiences.  But honestly, if I had those journals in my hands right now, they would probably be in the shredder by tomorrow.

Although I don't regret situations mentioned above, I regret two specific situations that stand out in my mind like a mountain in a cornfield.

The first took place in the mid 80's during the time of swing-sets and pizza parties and Saturday morning cartoons.  A group of girls had gathered at a classmate's birthday party.  I have no idea how many girls were at the party, I only remember four players: myself, the party girl, and two other classmates.  All the usual birthday party festivities were happening-- though I don't remember the specifics.  I'm sure they included pizza and balloons and games and gifts, gossiping and giggling and the board game Girl Talk.  That night, we camped out in her room, some of us snuggled into our sleeping bags on the floor, and a few of us cuddled together in her queen sized bed.  All was good-- until it wasn't.  One minute we were whispering, laughing, babbling about boys and pizza and movies and the next minute we were teaming up on the  birthday girl.  Things had gone from laughing together to laughing at.  She was being teased and tormented... at her own party.  Did I join in?  Probably. I really don't remember.  But I know for sure that I did not stand up for her.  Even if I said nothing, I played a huge part in remaining silent.  The worst came when we (I'm sure we were all responsible in some way) tossed her out of her own bedroom and into the hallway.  More mean words.  Laughing. Snickering.  Tears.  And then that very bad feeling I have always gotten when I know something is wrong and bad and yucky.  This black glob starts to creep slowly through my body-- filling up every pore with a poison-- alerting me that what's happening is not right.  I remember that feeling.  I remember wanting to say and do something, to make it all stop.  But did I do anything?  Did I move or shout or make them stop? No. I did not do a single thing.  That birthday party situation still haunts me today.  I think about it every time I hear about a child's sleepover birthday party.  I dream about it.  I talk to kids at school about it.  It's definitely a regret I will harbor the rest of my life.

The second situation also involves the way I treated someone.  Without going into too much detail, I'll say that I really took advantage of a person who cared about me an awful lot.  I used them, and left them feeling used and sad and confused.  The same black glob crept through my veins, but I ignored it.  After that, our friendship sort of faded... and when I finally realized the damage I had done, it was too late to repair anything.  This person and I remained friendly, but everything had changed, forever.  In the years after that incident, I made myself feel better by reminding myself that we were both young, and young people don't always take feelings into consideration.  Now, years later, we are not even in each other's lives and sometimes I wish that was different.

For me, I've come to stand up and take notice of that nasty black poison when it begins to seep through me.  I've learned to examine what I'm doing, right at that moment and then make immediate changes.  Usually, this comes in the form of biting my tongue and taking deep breaths.  I still lose my temper, I still yell and gripe and moan and say things without thinking.  But the biggest lesson these two incidents have taught me is that treating someone badly, even one time, can stick with you (and probably them) for years to come.

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