regret, pt. 5


I didn't really tell anyone I was leaving when I finally got around to it. Not even the handful of people I actually liked--it was better, I thought, to make a clean escape. Some of them didn't know I was going until I was gone. And it was a good feeling, lying there in the dark on the couch of my new apartment, a hundred miles from the life I'd built for myself, staring at nothing at all. Freedom is always a good feeling, even when it's a little terrifying.

But I'd gotten used to the old life, with all the plans and expectations and projects. I'd never call it comforting, but it was familiar. It had taken a lot of work to build, too, and I'd just abandoned it. I mean, yes, it had been a prison, but it was my prison. I'd designed it in an effort to find meaning in a world that seemed to have none. And abandoning all that work now meant that this quest was fruitless, didn't it? Was it even so bad back there? I could have stayed for a bit longer, made it work out with a little more effort, couldn't I? But going back was impossible.

There's a famous line, mostly used by the hopelessly naive, about how the only things they regret are the things they didn't do. Sadly it's more true than I'm prepared to admit. I've done plenty of things I regret, of course, but the list of things I didn't do? It's practically infinite. And I regret all of them, almost as much as I would have regretted doing things differently than I had.


regret, pt. 4


I came home from work one night and Eris was waiting on my front step, along with all the memories I'd managed to bury in the interim years. She gave me the same tentative smile she had when we first met, and seemed to hold me at arm's length even when she wrapped her arms around me. And despite all that, just then, clear as day, I could see this beautiful future unfold.

Except none of that was possible. I didn't know why she was here, and I didn't believe her when she told me. Well, that's a lie. I knew why she was here: she was chasing a dream. It was a dream she didn't believe in, and it was a dream that wasn't going to happen even if she did, but that's why she was here. I knew the look: I'd seen her chase dreams before. I'd seen her stop believing in dreams before. Hell, I'd led her down both of those roads.

She'd led herself here, whatever else was true. We were both powerless to stop it. I knew that in a few moments I'd invite her in and offer her a beer and tell her stories and pretend nothing had ever happened. And she'd go along with it and act like there was still a shot, and that weird false optimism would be as infectious as ever. The vision I'd had of a beautiful future evaporated, and in its place was a moment of real clarity, a glimpse of the real future: this would be just as fucked up as everything else about our relationship had been. We'd rip all of our old wounds open, and for a moment, before the spell took hold, I regretted that I didn't have the strength of will to say no.


regret, pt. 3


I made a list of coincidences the day my house was destroyed and I jumped on a bus headed east. For some of them I even did the math for how unlikely that particular chain of events was. My mind was fixed on that: everything that happened up to and including a meteor landing on the house I shared with my roommate was so phenomenally unlikely, the only thing that could possibly explain it was the whims of an angry god.

It had destroyed more than just my home. It had destroyed my entire life--who I was, what I'd done. This was an omen, a sign--I was supposed to do something with this new freedom. This was as much a gift as it was a curse, because bigger than all the coincidences of that day--the meteor, the fact that I survived, and so on--was the biggest coincidence of all: the fact that I existed at all to begin with. The fact that anything existed.

Freedom fell from the heavens on me. I could have done anything, gone anywhere. Instead I went running east, back into Alex's arms, back into a life that had just been destroyed. I could have gone anywhere. Instead I went backwards. And once I realized that my half-mad impulse had locked my course in, what could I do but regret it?


regret, pt. 2


I want to say I regretted calling you immediately, but that's not entirely true. It crept up on me like a fever. Every ounce of hope that I allowed myself to have--maybe running really did fix everything, maybe you weren't angry at me for disappearing, maybe you really would pick me up and we could act like things had never changed--vanished like fairy gold, leaving nothing in my hand but dried up old leaves, which I promptly threw on the fires of my regret.

I regretted that I called you, I regretted that you agreed to pick me up, and most of all I regretted that I still clung to that tiny shred of hope that kept me from calling again and saying that I'd try to find someone else to pick me up. I regretted the cold certainty that you'd see through that lie, and that even if you didn't, nobody would be there at the airport. I'd driven everyone away, except you--including you, really, and that was the problem.

Most of all, I regretted that I'd dug up a past that I knew was dead, to make sure that not even fond memories remained. By the time I got on the plane back home, I regretted all of these idiotic notions that the world had changed, or that I had changed--nothing ever changes. But I knew I was right about one thing: when I got back we'd act like nothing had changed. We'd be guilty and bitter, and by the time we were done with each other we'd regret even the most beautiful moments.


regret, pt. 1


Memory plays funny tricks on you if you aren't paying attention. Or even if you are. You left without warning, so of course I didn't know that the last time we met would be the last time we met, but suddenly that night loomed large in my mind. You seemed subdued, fidgety, nervous--not the breezy, confident woman I knew. Not the girl who was as annoying as she was enchanting. The girl I was drinking with that night seemed defeated.

I didn't dare ask what was wrong, because you had taught me that this sort of thing was usually a trap. But the trap never sprung. The night wore on and you became increasingly agitated, and after we left, rather than wait for the bus like we usually did, you insisted on walking, and as we walked you talked endlessly, gesticulating wildly. You were a little drunk, and you were talking very fast, and you tripped over your words or used the wrong ones, and didn't stop to correct yourself. And I thought: this isn't you. This is someone else entirely.

We reached the door to my house you looked like you had something you wanted to say, something you'd been trying to say or build up to all this time, and for a moment I swear you were looking at me like you needed help. I smiled and said "did you forget where your house is?" and suddenly, effortlessly, the woman I knew you as returned, smiled charmingly, and said, "No, I was just making sure you remembered how to work the doorknob." When I demonstrated that I did, you grinned and left.

And that's how I remember that evening. For the first time since I'd known you, you were vulnerable, and I just played the same stupid game we were always playing. Rather than try to help you--someone I cared deeply about, despite all evidence that this was a terrible idea--I decided to treat you the way you'd always treated me. I'd take it back if I could.

a prelude for july

It's hard to believe we're actually halfway through this extended conceit I'm putting you through. This is an example of a lie, the sort of lie we tell all the time because we don't know how to properly mark something as significant or noteworthy. So we pretend we're having difficulty believing it, when the opposite is usually true. It's far harder to disbelieve than it is to believe.

This is where hope comes from--humans will never have a hard time believing something, even when we have no evidence for it. Hope was the theme of my stories from January, you may recall. This month is their counterpoint. This month, the stories are about regret.

I was tempted to make the counterpoint to hope something like nostalgia, but that isn't properly the opposite, is it? Hope is thinking of the past with positive thoughts; nostalgia is like hope, except pointed backwards. There's still positivity there. Regret, on the other hand, is hope's truest companion.

It may be helpful to read January's stories before you read this month's stories. This is the part of this project where I start writing variations on the stories I've been telling for the first half of it, and I suppose that makes it the part where we find out whether my hopes for the project ultimately turn into regrets.


eternity, pt. 5


I used to use words like "forever" because I thought every eternity was like that first summer we spent together. I doubt you even remember that road trip we took across the mountains. There was an early heat wave, but you were always in your element in the burning sun. You navigated some small town I don't even remember the name of like you'd been there your whole life, talking to people I didn't recognize like they were old friends. I guess for you it was just stepping back in time.

We slept on the floor of your friend's apartment that night, and I told you how surreal this had all been, and of course you just laughed and said the heat must have addled my brain. You laughed at everything back then, of course. I imagine you still do. But even at the time I remember that day stretching on forever, an endless chain of people and places. It was strange and magical and wonderful, and I used words like "forever" because I imagined days with you would always be like this.

Now, of course, that day is an eternity ago, and I realize that "forever" is as much a threat as a promise. Several summers on, you were still making the days stretch on forever, except now it was exhausting just trying to keep up. I would have given anything to make those days end, except, of course, you were my ride. So you never stopped, and I never realized that I could have gotten off at any time.