Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When Everything Else is Burned Away

A childhood friend recently mused about the nature of regret. Oh, God, how I know regret...and I can look to the moments when I might've made decisions that would've obviated a lot of it- but the painful moments are the ones from which I've learned. Granted, there have been small victories and little shreds of joy here and there that have punctuated my life, but the darker moments linger in my hair and clothing like some kind of demonic cigarette smoke.

One of the moments I should've claimed, and didn't, was on the screened back porch at a friend's house- a "move", fatally interrupted by someone else in attendance at the gathering, the crashing awkwardness that followed sending us frantically scattering inside to our respective corners. I don't know if it would've ultimately made a difference, had that kiss connected. I do know that it has left me with a huge pang of regret that's followed me for twenty-five years now. I remember standing at the kitchen counter, ringed by my girlfriends (chattering questions about whether or not the suspected "move" had taken place), furtively slicing a hunk of cheese and refusing to look up as the whiplike phalanx of boys passed through the room and then back out of it.

I must've looked like I'd had acid thrown on my face, because it certainly burned like it. The other party chose to hole up in the half-bath for quite some time, until filibustered out by a few fellow Teenage Republicans. Clever critters that they were, despite the earlier failure and still eager to 'help', everyone piled into the hostess's living room to watch a Steven Wright special on television. It was a massive pre-arranged fruit-basket bingo to which neither he nor I was invited- people were jumping off and on the sofa and rearranging themselves carefully until we were squashed into the same corner together. I am not quite sure, to this day, which of us was the more embarrassed, because it was pretty much a dead heat.

I could've made cow-eyes (and felt ridiculous doing it, since I was notoriously 'serious'). I could've thrown myself at him. Instead, I tried the opposite tack of digging a hole to China through the couch, and ended up moving to other seating across the room. It wasn't for want of attraction, it was my overweening need to preserve him from further discomfort. I just wish now that I'd had the guts to make him really uncomfortable; who knows. It's the what-if's that will eventually drive you insane.

Months later, on the opposite bookend of that school year, I sat on the porch railing at a graduation party, quietly counting down the short succession of hours that remained in our grasp, knowing that the evening was going to present me with a few more regrets for my ever-increasing catalog of them.

I made light of it several months ago in Graduation Night: The Wrath of Big Bird, because in the midst of an evening that was absolute hell-on-Earth for me, something funny did happen. It was the thing that I've clung to that kept it from being a night of total devastation. In many ways, my life ended as dawn was breaking the next day- and I had no choice other than to continue, alone. There are people about whom I care deeply, folks who I love, and friends I cherish, but there is a small part of me that will always compartmentalize that disconnect.

It was this time of year, you see, when autumn is waning steadily into winter...when the world dies, and lies dormant. I wonder, how much of me will never recover?

No comments: