“I have no regrets, sweetie.”
“Yeah, but if you were given a chance to live another part of your life again … you know, a do over, would you?” Twelve-year-old Manda’s digging for a story.
“Hmmm … let me think about that.” I pour another cup of chamomile tea and reach for a fresh-baked double chocolate cookie. Manda takes one as well, and dips it in her chocolate milk. A triple chocolate delight. We both giggle when the kitchen table wiggles on its three good legs, the foot on the fourth having disappeared a long time ago. I really must fix it.
Memories flood back ~ memories of lost youth; lost love; lost opportunity. Years on I understand the root causes of so much loss, but that doesn’t make up for lost time. Now I’m simply trying to make the most of the years I have left with the awareness that I have struggled so hard to achieve. Such a wonderful gift I give myself.
“Have you thought of anything, yet?” Manda asks while agitating her cookie in her milk. “And nothing sad, like the last time. I don’t want to cry.”
Ah, the innocence of youth and their penchant for associating tears with all things sad. She’ll learn one day, I hope, that tears cleanse the soul in preparation for new horizons. If I cry for the past, it’s only because I’m giving myself permission to let it go and move into the future. Accepting permission is almost harder than the letting go.
“Okay, then …” I squint my eyes as if peering into the distance for a point of interest. “Right … I have a funny story about a botched date.”
“Oh, goodie!” Manda shrieks with glee. She leans back in her chair to get comfortable, and fixes her beautiful brown eyes upon me. “Tell me everything …”
“Well, I was 16 and just starting to date. I met him at school … or was it church? … gosh, what was his name?” I stumble for a moment fumbling with memory. “Doesn’t matter … let’s call him Rick.”
“You don’t remember his name?” Manda is astonished.
“Well, you need to understand that my tendency has been to block unpleasant memories. And while this seems funny now, it wasn’t at the time so, I’m afraid, I don’t recall the young man’s name.” I take a breath. “What I do recall is that he shared my birthday and was exactly one year older than me. And, oh yes, he was quite cute.”
“Oooh, that’s interesting.”
“Yes, I put rather too much stock in the birthday thing, to be honest. Like it was kismet, or something.”
“Fated that we should meet.”
“Oh,” Manda nods in understanding. “And was it fated that you should meet?”
“Well, we met, didn’t we?” I twiddle with the corner of the table cloth, remembering my pain. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be sharp with you. Still a bit of … never mind.” I gather my thoughts and begin my story. “As I recall we hadn’t been dating long when he decided it would be wonderful to take me to the opera. At first I was excited that he should be so thoughtful. He knew my mother ~ your grandma, Esther ~ was an opera singer and I guess was trying to impress me with his sophistication. And he did. Golly, what was the name of that opera? I don’t know. Anyway, as the date got closer I started to back off.”
“Why?” Manda asks between nibbles of cookie.
“Fear, I suppose. Fear of getting what I wanted; of being happy ~ you know, having a nice boyfriend who wanted to do nice things for me. I guess I didn’t feel worthy.”
Manda frowns. “This isn’t sounding like a fun story.”
“You’re right,” I agree, and continue. “I decided I wanted to put him off, but he’d already bought the tickets and I’d made the commitment to go, so I went. But I didn’t dress up, I didn’t wash my hair, and I acted like a cold fish.”
“You did? That doesn’t sound very nice.”
“No, it wasn’t very nice. He’d gone to so much trouble and I was pushing him away, the same way I used to defend myself from all kinds of good things and people. I guess it was easier for me to be unhappy. My father had been such a deadbeat and so emotionally distant that the moment any decent man tried to get close I’d push him away. I just didn’t understand healthy, emotional interaction with the opposite sex.”
Manda gives me a quizzical look.
“Hmmm … I didn’t understand my own feelings let alone someone else’s … never mind being able to relate to them. I was guarded and insecure and it played out with me pushing back all the time.”
“This isn’t funny at all.”
“No, it isn’t. Poor guy was so bewildered and, frankly, so was I. And I felt terribly guilty about it. I had no idea what I was doing or why I was doing it. Just horrible …” I attempt to drown my sadness in a sip of tea and realize something a little stiffer would probably offer better success.
“So, how would you do it over?” Manda grimaces, so far not impressed with my funny story.
“Well, that’s the thing about do overs, isn’t it? Hindsight always gives us the perspective of age and experience,” I pause and sip more tea before continuing. “I would be more gracious, that’s for certain. He’d spent the money and gone to so much trouble. I recall us sitting in the gods ~ it’s all he could afford ~ and wishing I could be anywhere else, all the while conscious of my dirty hair and poor behaviour. He tried so hard and I was such a … oh, dear …” My thoughts trail off for a moment as I consider how many moments of my life I’ve missed because I was too afraid to enjoy them.
“Oh, sorry,” I shake my head and smile. “I’d have washed my hair, that’s for sure,” I wink, attempting to be light-hearted, and take another sip of tea.
“Sorry, Auntie, but it sounds like you have some regrets after all. And your definition of funny is not at all accurate.”
I sigh and gaze upon the loveliness of this innocent old soul. “Not regrets, sweetie, remorse. It’s not nice to hurt people’s feelings, and I’m afraid I hurt his. Still, I didn’t know any better at the time, and I have learned since then to be kind even when I may not necessarily feel comfortable. Not everything is about me.” Another sip of tea. Another wink. “And not everything is about you either, dear.”
“It isn’t?” Manda jokes in mock astonishment, her eyes big as coat buttons.
I shove the cookie plate in her direction with a playful flourish. “You’re funny. Here, just one more before dinner or I’ll give you something to do over.” We both giggle and take a cookie.
There’s nothing about this moment I’d do over .
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©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016