He felt as if no one really understood him, and anytime someone came close, he realized that what they thought they understood was that he was crazy. Confused, mistaken, pull-your-head-out-of-your-ass clueless… you know, crazy. And he never felt this more acutely than when it came to talking about regrets. Sure, he’d had regrets, who hasn’t? Maybe those pompous, pretentious prep school gasbags, whose self-professed perfection in all things, no matter the abundant evidence to the contrary, actually revealed them to be delusional and clownish. Can’t complain? No regrets? Go fuck yourself.
Anyway, it began years ago, with a college girlfriend that he badly wanted to fuck. Sexy, flirtatious, gorgeous. They were in her room, on her bed and making out when he thought he would try to run his hand up under her skirt. She grabbed his wrist, pulled his arm away, and kissed his hand. And in that sexy, flirtatious voice, she said, “I’m not ready yet. It’s too soon.” She looked right at him and got very serious, like she was about to speak a timeless, universal truth, and said, “When it comes to sex in new relationships, you have to think, will I regret doing it or will I regret not doing it? If the relationship lasts, it’ll come naturally. If not, well then…” and she let her voice trail off as if she were gently placing a jewel of profundity in his palm.
He’d seen this trick many times before. People genuinely thought if you could express something in what sounded like a clever aphorism, it must be true. He took her hand and kissed it, stared wistfully into her eyes and said in a soft voice, “That’s horse shit.” She pulled away, and her confused expression gave way in a few seconds to disgust. He decided to make his point, whatever the consequences. “Darlin’, if you wanted, you could think of it this way. If a relationship doesn’t last, at least there was sex, so it wasn’t a total loss. And if you do stay together, then you’ve got the preliminaries out of the way and can move on to the more adventurous and acrobatic fucking.”
She stood up. “I think you should leave.”
He stood, walked to the door, turned back and said with a smile, “Last chance.” She walked into the bathroom and slammed the door.
He told this story once to a friend, who said, “Looking back, do you regret saying any of that? If you held out, and not acted like a maniac, you might have gotten laid before long anyway.”
“No” he said, “What I regret is that I didn’t piss on her floor before I left, or at least spit or something to convey how completely full of shit I thought she was.”
“You’re insane,” the friend said.
This was just another example of how no one ever saw his perspective when it came to regret. Once, on the basketball court, he pushed a guy in the chest with both hands because he was fed up with the other player’s elbows, and ended up getting disinvited from that particular Thursday night pick-up game. When asked if he regretted letting a little rough play get him so worked up, the only thing he could think to say, “No, I regret that I didn’t punch him in the face and knock his teeth out.”
He remembered reading a quote somewhere to the effect that the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, they didn’t invest enough heart. And that’s how he felt. Everyone he knew experienced regret for the things they did and wished they could take back. But his regrets were always the other way. He wished he’d done the things he did even more so, more emphatically, less half-assed, with more commitment, more heart. Did he regret walking away from this or that? No, he wished he’d burned it to the ground before he left. That insensitive remark? All he regretted was not saying it months earlier, and louder.
Lately, as he moved increasingly in the direction of his full-throated, in-your-face, no-regrets ideal, he found himself isolated, ostracized, resented. Was this the swinging pendulum of regret that pulls you back from the abyss? Were his friends, or rather his former friends, just too soft to handle the truth spoken plainly or was he living in his own fantasy world in which he’d lost any sense of what was acceptable behavior among the other humans. Maybe his type of regret, the missed opportunity for a more extreme expression, was nothing more than a veil for his antisocial impulses. Maybe regret for a thing done badly and the desire to undo it is what makes society function, makes empathy possible, even love.
Nah, he thought.
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