Johnny America




Illustration of two acrobats.

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.

Filed under Fiction on March 24th, 2023

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Reader Comments

Lynn Penney wrote:

Damn the tor­pe­does! thank you for this for­giv­ing stance on our dark side!

Laurie H wrote:

Nah. Em­pa­thy, love — I don’t buy it! 🙂 Se­ri­ous­ly, fun story!

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