Thursday, April 3, 2008

A tortured musing on regret

I'm sure you all have regrets. Right? I have a few, but none of them are for stuff I, like, *did* in my life, like getting really drunk and putting on a lampshade and acting like an ass at a party. As stupid as many of my actions in life have been, I'll stand by all of 'em, asinine or not. Hell, why not? They're all part of the tapestry of experience. You do something stupid, you wake up the next morning, you swear, "Shit, I'm never doing THAT again," and then somebody comes up to you and says "Dude, you were a RIOT at that party last night" and you think "okay, maybe I *will* do that again, somebody serve me up a Guinness." And on and on.

No, all my regrets are for stuff I did to people -- that's the only place in life I feel any lingering guilt, times I actually hurt other people with my actions. Like that one time me and Chris broke up our band Deep Shag because we were becoming too popular, and we were too stupid and young and tortured to deal with even *that* level of fame and notoriety, but then we neglected to tell the lead singer of the band (the ever-lovely Lisa Parker) out of sheer passive-aggressive fear of confrontation, and she found out from somebody else and then very rightfully didn't speak to me for the next five years. Oh, lord Jesus, did I feel guilty over that. I beat myself up until I was black, blue, and bloody -- and finally saw her at a show, got down on my knees in literal tears and apologized to her from the bottom of my heart. And she very kindly saw fit to forgive me, and as I see it, she really didn't have to at all, I was such a total irredeemable ass. And now we're friends again, but don't think I don't think about how badly I hurt her every time I see her at the grocery store. I don't think I'll ever quite forgive myself for that.

Or -- oh, this one still hurts to think about!! But heck, if I can't tell you guys, who can I tell? -- that one other time when I took a bunch of acid in high school and became totally paranoid, and convinced myself that this one girl named Shannon was out to get me and my friends, and so in a drug-induced fit (Note: DO NOT DO ACID. EVER. SERIOUSLY. You couldn't pay me enough money to ever touch the stuff anymore.) wrote "Shannon is a bitch" and other such slogans on little pieces of paper and put them up all around the yearbook room, and of course she found it and didn't speak to me again until college when -- again -- I tearfully apologized to her. I'm not sure she ever forgave me, and I know I haven't forgiven myself for that one either. That was just stupid and it hurt somebody badly. That was TWENTY YEARS AGO, too, that's how long I carry guilt around.

The worst is relationship regret, though. Can I hear a "what-what" from the gallery? Every relationship, especially ones that end, leave you thinking "if only I'd done this, or this, or this differently," and you beat yourself up and hopefully next time around you don't make those same stupid mistakes. This is called "growth" and this is what we all do. Part and parcel of life.

The relationship regret that still bugs me, though, is one particular relationship I let end wholly through my own stupid failings as a human being. All my other relationships ended like all normal relationships end -- either in an explosion of screaming or just petering out one way or another, and those are their own kind of sad but you get through 'em. This one ended, though, sheerly because I was a total moron. We got together when I was young -- nineteen -- and sealed the deal when I was still young -- twenty-three. That's young. That wasn't young for our parents, or our parents' parents, but in the modern age? That's very, very young. And when you haven't had any serious relationships prior to this (except one long-term high-school girlfriend, shout out, Suze!) that's almost alarmingly young.

To say that I was an emotional infant is being kind -- I was an emotional fetus. I was an emotional sperm-not-yet-joined-to-the egg. I was an emotional glimmer in some plumber's eye. I was so not ready for a relationship, let alone one of the magnitude I was attempting. I should have gotten out early -- there was a point when I knew I wasn't ready -- but I didn't, I just gamely kept galumphing ahead, never voicing my problems, never talking about anything, just plowing on like the moron I was.

Worse yet, I spent the entire relationship thinking "gee, what if other relationships would be more interesting?" and flirting on the edge of cheating while never actually cheating cheating, like with actual sexual intercourse, which at least would have been decisive. Oh, no, not even that level of maturity (or full-on immaturity, whatever!) did I muster. Instead, I just emotionally detached myself from the relationship to the point where I wasn't even there. Heck, I spent more time with my bandmates than with my spouse. And never once -- not even once -- did I perform the slightest bit of relationship maintenance, like, I dunno, talking about things. Or seeing a counselor. Or just actually trying. Instead, I just drowned my sorrows (or perceived sorrows) in pitchers of beer and just kept going on and on and on...

...until finally I bailed, for no good reason whatsoever other than a vague relationship ennui and the thought that I might like to "play the field." Oh, I convinced myself that I had reasons, but they were horse-hockey. Total bologna. The reason that relationship ended was purely and simply that I was not mature enough to handle a real relationship.

Since then, I've grown up, and what once was youthful bitterness has now turned into guilt and regret. Oh, sure, I grew as a result of that stuff -- my next relationship was a disaster of Pearl Harbor-esque proportions for completely other reasons (karma? Can you say karma?), but it didn't end from lack of trying, that's for sure. I took from the total failure of that First Big Relationship a lot of lessons, believe it or not. And I'm nowhere near perfect, now (heck, ask anybody! I'm well known for not being perfect!) but I'm better than I was then. I'm at least an emotional four-year-old, now, instead of a fucking zygote.

But shit, it doesn't stop me from feeling loads and loads and loads of regret and guilt, even still, even though I'm more than ten years removed from the end of that breakup.

There's probably a polemic about "learning to forgive yourself" that would apply well to this situation, but I'm not really very good at that. Suffice to say: regret sucks. Learn from your mistakes. The end.


LAP said...

Yeah, when I was young I used to think disappointment was the worse thing ever- and even though I don't have a lot of regret, the regret I feel for actions that hurt others is definitely much worse. Of course, I truly think that the people who are hardest on us are ourselves.

Superbadfriend said...

Well said, Lap.

Even just being aware that one has been hurt and acting upon that to make things right is quite remarkable too.

CleverTrou said...

Since I know the people you mention - come to think of it, I dated both! - I feel obligated to chime in.

For whatever reason, I really latched on to the bit in Star Trek V where Spock's brother offers to take away Kirk's emotional pain. "No - my pain makes me who I am," Kirk seethes. So I get sort of fatalistic about how the things I did and the things that were done to me led me to where I am now, which isn't all that bad.

On the one hand, I think we were all mutually immature when those incidents happened. Shannon was no Mother Teresa in high school, and you lived with your first wife (& me) for years before you married each other, and I suspect she'd agree she's grown since then.

On the other hand, we do these stupid things when they do the most damage, when we're solidifying our ideas about ourselves - including both things like, "I'm a nerd," or, "I'm the star quarterback," and things like, "I've hurt some people who didn't deserve it, including my best friend" - and our ideas about the rest of the world, e.g., "even the people I trust most can turn on me."

Coco said...

I do the same thing ...
and add on top of that irrational thoughts about how I could hunt said person down and fix things, and we could be friends and go for long tandem bike rides and share milkshakes. . .

Never really works out that way. Sometimes we just screw up, and you can't fix it, and it doesn't do any good to beat yourself up about it, but you can't stop yourself, either.

Jon Hunt said...

Coco: WORD UP. I do that too.

Febrifuge said...


For one full paragraph, dude, that was my exact story. I know, I know, it's not the first time, and won't be the last.

I've found that one nice sign that I'm actually ready to move on to the next level is that the tedious details of all the past failures no longer seem to be so deeply etched. What was a long and intricate story gradually becomes a logline.

"We were both too young; we were scared of similar things, but that was all we really had in common." "She was sweet, but kind of crazy." "Turns out, she was 10% progressive and openhearted, and 90% full of crap."

I do still feel bad about the time in 2nd grade when I accidentally kicked a girl in the head. And I totally should have made out with more women at more parties. But except for the very worst of the bad days, that stuff doesn't stick to me the way it once did.

Anonymous said...

She forgives you, dude. She forgives you. We were all dumb then. Gloriously, insanely, adoringly dumb.

Maybe it was the acid they dropped onto the Otis Spunkmeyer cookies at R & J's.

Anonymous said...


Sounds like your acid trip wasn't as fun as two musicians named John and George who had a dentist sneak it into their coffee at a party...

Then again, they got into a lift and thought their destination was on fire, so maybe it isn't such a good thing to put into your body after all.

(that Marquee guy)

Jon Hunt said...

>> Maybe it was the acid they dropped onto the Otis Spunkmeyer cookies at R & J's. <<

That was so frighteningly, jaw-droppingly old school, whoever you are!!

Ah, Ralph and Jerry's. May it rest in piece. I still have nightmares about that guy who came in that one day after drinking two bottles of listerine, pissed himself, then staggered next door to Positively 4th Street and passed out.

Anonymous said...

Haha, I couldn't resist.

Them were some salad days on 4th St.
I remember two R&Js workers who used to have an acid contest. They would work the night shift and take more and more acid, and the rule was, "whoever freaks out first and has to go home has to buy the other a 'bag,' i.e., a bag of weed.

I remember you running around dressed in black, with long, straight black hair, wearing hippie beads/medallions and always talking about The Charlatans (UK). I seem to recall a record store called Groove Monster, too.

belsum said...

Wow. What a thing to encounter while catching up on all the blogs I missed while in Texas! Ah, Deep Shag. Ah, #1.