Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read to the end just to find out who killed the cook. Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark, in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication. Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot, the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed your mother, sunk like a dog in the living room couch, chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness. You were meant to inhale those smoky nights over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still you end up here. Regret none of it, not one of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing, when the lights from the carnival rides were the only stars you believed in, loving them for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake, ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.
– Dorianne Laux
Oh but Dorianne Laux, whoever you are, regretting nothing is so very hard. It almost asks to much of me, when there is so much that brings a flush of shame to my chest. Too many important things abandoned, embarrassing things said, years lost and opportunity wasted.
This is a love letter of sorts. It is a sorry. It is a I don’t know why I do the things I do and still I keep on doing them, only knowing that this is what I feel right now, and this therefore is what I must do. It is an explanation for eternally being the girl in the red shoes. For picking at locks in the middle of the night and screaming into resentful darkness when there is no reply. It is an apology for being so downright bloody ridiculous, for treading the waters of a muddy swamp. And loving it too much to climb out and remember how to run away. For being too authentic and so rarely real. For not reading life’s instruction book and never really understanding how to play the game… and yet playing games regardless. Wierd painful games of advance and retreat: embrace and escape. For always saying Au Revoir when claustraphobia grabs me by the neck.
I’m sorry. I do not know any other way to survive.
And now I am thirty seven and the house is full of flowers. A single red rose from my Dad, a tiny rose bush from my Rocket Scientist, lilies from my best friend, two daffodils wrapped in foil from my little boy, the squashed flowers of my chamelia pressed around the tyres of every passing car. Perfection bruised and throwing itself under the feet of everybody who walks up my path. And there is a canvas. A square canvas with a tissue paper heart on it, and the words I AM U spelled out in red and yellow tissue paper blobs in the centre. My son’s scrawled baby signature in the corner.
I am you. I didn’t understand it. I smiled and kissed him and thanked his Daddy for dreaming it up and we drank tea and on my birthday my little boy and I climbed astride an old fashioned carousel and I squashed his body between mine and a gilded stick of barley and we bobbed up and down, round and round and round, faster and faster, every time waving at his Father as we passed him, beaming into the photographs he took to mark the occasion. Waving till we were dizzy. Fairground music too loud. Seeing his face flash by. There. But not there. There again and gone again. Later the three of us standing in a line in the hall of mirrors. Something like a family. Distorted, twisted and adored. Giggling. But not too much. Never quite letting go.
And yet letting go is what I do. I create things I love and let them go when something shakes my confidence. I let all that work go to waste. I expect too much of myself and shuffle about in shame when perfection is stained by doubt, exhaustion, embarrassment or imagined expectation. I judge people by the books they read. Never ask for help. Think mine is the last word on any given subject, believe every man I have ever loved still belongs to me and can hardly tolerate any child but my own. I laugh too loudly everywhere I go. Great big guffaws. Then let the floodgates open. Tears gushing violently through my day.
Yesterday Mark, Finn’s dad, called to say he had been offered a job he has long coveted and I shocked us both by busting into huge noisy scary tears. So proud I could not speak. Glad I did not have to try to swipe away his disappointment without ever touching him. And then he came to visit and told Finley to give me a moment, to unwrap his persistent arms from round my weary neck, and I said it’s ok, he is me, you said so. And he said No, that is not what I meant.
I meant Look at him, when you doubt yourself. When yet again you are about to bugger up something you have worked so hard to create on another crazy Alison whim. I meant look at him and be proud of yourself, because you created him and you could not have created anything more utterly perfect. You did that: he is you, just you. He’s mine as well, but it is you who has made him what he is, so whatever you have sacrificed, whatever is lost is worth it. Regret nothing.
And I wanted to say, oh but I do. I regret giving away my little cat Button. I regret not working harder to keep the shop I adored. I regret being so bloody sentimental about us. I regret rose rinted glasses, getting fat and getting thin and knowing how it feels to be both and still not knowing why it matters. I regret staying up late and watching sci-fi movies that appall me, wasting time struggling through books that bring nothing to my life, muttering mean things about other women just because I feel that way out and texting New England in the middle of another lonely night. I regret long term procrastination, saying au Revoir when I should just keep on keeping on, not taking my own advice and feeling mildly ashamed of everything I am on a daily basis. I regret wearing that really odd red thing with the frills and thinking I looked gorgeous in it, not telling my son’s teacher I thought she was wrong, not going on holiday enough and pouring double cream on everything.
I am in fact abundant with regret. There are things in my past that make me cringe. But regret is mere trivia in comparison to pride.
And I am proud. Because, yes, perhaps I did travel here on the back of every mistake I have ever made, but here is lovely, the past a foriegn country I don’t need to return to. We are a family. A wibbly- wobbly, bent out of shape, fairground house of horrors family, but a family all the same. A Mummy and Daddy no longer holding hands but eternally linked by those of the little boy we made.
This isn’t after all a lament. No not that. It is instead a hymn. A chorus full of gratitude.