Just things we haven't done yet
In 1998, during my senior year of college, I made a list titled My Life's Regrets. Since I was only 21, I didn’t have much to be bitterly ruing, so it was really more of an exercise to work through some feelings I was having about a falling out with a friend. The list was four items long, and the last two were “was never in academic bowl in high school,” and “should have stuck with Latin longer.” I found it last year, in the back of an old notebook while going through things for Cringe, and the idea of the regret list planted itself in my brain, becoming a game I play when I’m sitting on the train or lying in bed at night.
This sounds like a downer, but it’s actually kind of fun. There are the obvious ones that stand out at first, but it’s the careful combing of your life’s back stairs that makes this interesting. The main rule is your regret can’t be an undoing. Think of the Mark Twain quote, “Twenty years from now, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do, rather than the things you did.” If you ignore this rule, this game quickly deteriorates into My Life’s Bad Romantic Decisions, or Why Did I Ever Say/Do/Ingest That, which I suppose are both valid games, but not nearly as fun. I mean, sure, there are two or three people in my life that I honestly wish I’d never met, but you have to respect the Back to the Future rules, and accept that you dated this guy or were friends with that girl, and you are where and why and how and who you are now in part because of that. It’s not about beating yourself up; it’s more of an inventory of the ships that you allowed to set sail.
So, some of my regrets:
- I never got to legitimately wear a Catholic school uniform
- never took one foreign language for more than two years in a row
- falling asleep that night instead of staying awake and talking to you before the door closed again
- not seeing Pavement on their last tour because I had to work the next day
- never telling that boy how I felt about him (this goes for more than one person, and I should apply this lesson to my life now)
- not moving out of my hometown sooner
- not spending a semester abroad because I was in loooooove
- not finishing the book I started writing in 2002
- not writing that letter
- not sending that other letter
- talked my mom out of piano lessons at age 5, can’t read music
- not playing with my brother more when he’d ask me to as kids
- teasing Bonnie R.
- I was the only child raised in the United States in the 1980s who didn’t play soccer
- stopping after one play
- not realizing I was young and cute when I was young and cute
- not being more involved in anything on my college campus
- ending it badly with a nice, cute, smart, funny guy freshman year because I was still thinking about my old boyfriend who'd dumped me
- all those times in my early 20s that I stayed inside on the computer or phone instead of leaving my house and going out with people
- not standing up for myself earlier
- being too lazy to end it sooner
- apologizing too late
- assuming we’d have more time together
- I am now too old to ever be an enticing reward in a kissing booth, wherever it is in the world that they still have kissing booths
- was never in academic bowl in high school
- should have stuck with Latin longer
Basically, the overall theme is wishing I had indulged my inner nerd more at an early age, or stuck with things I gave up on too easily, whether it was a lesson or a relationship. Reading through these makes me realize all is not necessarily lost: it’s not too late to learn a language or to play an instrument, so this list starts to lend itself to one like Maggie’s Mighty Life/100 Things Worth Doing (which I love, and need to do), and that makes this kind of reflection not at all sad and misty, but a sneaky life-improver guide.
For the record: the one thing I will never regret: every single time I have ever slept in.
I’d love to hear yours in the comments if you’d like to share. Feel free to be anonymous.