Imagine what life would be like if we could "fix" those moments that haunt us.
There are people in this world who are adept at self-love. Who understand that forgiving one’s self for transgressions past and present is a healthy mindset and a righteous path toward empathy for others. People who feel genuine kindness…for themselves.
I am not one of those people. Even though I am empathetic toward my fellow man, when it comes to myself, I can be a bitch and a half. I freely dole it out by the gallon, but I do not personally drink from the milk of human kindness.
My own worse critic, I can’t seem to get it through my head that I am “only human.” I find that to be an overused and also trite, excuse for people’s fuck-ups, mine included.
Is Donald Trump the monster that he is because he’s “only human?” Granted, his fuck-ups are by and large, unprecedented, but you get what I’m saying.
Man, I have messed up in my time. In my quest to just lead a decent, fulfilling life. You know, a good one. Is that too much for any of us to ask? Perhaps it is. Perhaps with all the crap we have to wade through to get there, “decent and fulfilling” are too much to expect. More like happy accidents.
As grim as that sounds, I don’t mean it to be. But life is difficult. (Duh.) More so now. Navigating its rocky terrain takes a sure foot and a clear head. I’ve lacked both on several occasions. And those markers frequently return to bite me in the ass.
All of us have instances where we inadvertently hurt a loved one or a friend or did something that, if the planets were properly aligned, or any number of empty excuses, would be unconscionable, otherwise. I’ve had so many of these moments and I wish I could wave a magic wand and either eliminate them altogether or go back and revisit my actions. Fix things.
Don’t you? Wouldn’t you love the chance to have even one do-over?
One cringe-inducing memory: My husband’s 40th birthday party. I don’t know if it was the alcohol or a faulty synapse in my brain, but I got it into my head that he had cheated on me with a mutual old friend, who was at the party.
Back in the day, I was sort of a jealous babe. I was never like that with any of my boyfriends previous to the one that I was destined to wed. I guess that jealousy was a sign that he was the “one.” Lucky him.
I don’t remember every detail of the party and I know that’s deliberate because that’s how I roll, but suffice it to say that I wasn’t at my best. And I seem to remember refusing to cut his cake. Like a knife to my heart as I recall that shameful behavior. Pun intended.
If I could only go back and relive that day. Be the wife and hostess that I should have been, and have on other occasions, what a gift that would be. But I can’t, so for the rest of my life, I’ll have to live with the fact that I ruined my husband’s big day, big time.
Yep. No half. Measures for me. By the way, my accusations were completely false and unfounded and we’re both still good friends with the woman in question. A friendship that has spanned over forty years. So at least, there’s that.
And then there was the time, several years ago when my folks were still alive, that I wrote a long and detailed letter to my sister explaining why I didn’t get along with our father. I wrote some horrendous stuff. True stuff, but I don’t know what I was thinking as, she was very close with both our parents and ultimately, showed him the letter.
Now, I will never understand why she did this and I’m sure that to this day, she regrets it, but the fallout from this was extreme and extremely damaging. I didn’t talk to either of them for a couple of years at least. Now, this is unthinkable as my sister and I are as tight as two siblings can be, but as we know, in families, shit happens. And I know that this mess wasn’t entirely on me but I probably should have discussed the situation rather than put it down on paper. But I am a writer, after all.
Whoever was at fault, I hurt my father deeply. Another one I wish I could fix.
So many of us carry so much baggage. Why, just once, can’t we get the opportunity to right a past wrong, maybe one that’s been burning a hole in our gut for years? I guess we would need a “Bewitched” moment for that. Or a miracle. I’d be down with a miracle. After all, people say they “happen” all the time.
Sure, there’s the “miracle of birth.” I’m not talking about that manner of miracle, more like one that’s supernatural in nature. Where we’re beamed back to the moment where we’re about to do, or have already done irreparable harm, and time stops and we get the chance to chart a different course. We get the chance to do the right thing. And then, boom! We’re beamed back.
Can a few of you more tech-oriented people get started on that? I guarantee many, many fans for your efforts.
On several occasions in my stories, I’ve cast myself in a less-than-attractive light. I need to soften some of that self-flagellation by saying, “I am not a jerk.” I am, in fact, a good person, and I hope that those who know me would attest to that. But I am upfront about my faults…to a fault. And I have a lot of time on my hands these days to think. To reflect upon some of the more questionable things I’ve said and done in my life.
I’ve found that often, even when we have the best intentions at heart, we’ll score a major foul due to circumstances beyond our control.
When my husband and I and our three cats moved from Chicago proper to a suburb about forty miles from the city, I worked as a copywriter at an ad agency in the city.
The new commute was horrendous and I was miserable. That didn’t last long though when the economy took a dive and I was laid-off with fifty other people.
I’ll never forget that day. Oddly, I saw a line of staffers walking past my office toward one of the conference rooms. Not thinking much of it, I took a break and ambled down to the lavish, barrister-staffed coffee and smoothie bar, one floor below.
When I got back to my office, one of the HR wonks was waiting for me, along with a stack of packing boxes. Yep, down to the conference room I was led, where I was handed my walking papers and a “firing folder,” filled with all kinds of helpful info for the recently-dumped schmuck.
During this time, our oldest cat, Nonee, who was our “original” cat, meaning she was our first, had a number of health issues. She was eighteen years old and that was to be expected, I guess.
It was so hard to watch our “first baby” go downhill. She became incompetent and had a host of other problems.
Nonee loved the cozy basket we padded out with towels in the family room where we could keep an eye on her. She rarely left it, even to pee and we had to change out the towels, frequently.
Several times throughout the day, I would carry her to the litter box. It was hit or miss as to whether she’d use it. She was so frail and I think now, “Was I gentle? Could she feel my frustration?”
I literally ache thinking about this. One day, I caught her looking at me as if she was thinking, “You just want it to be over, don’t you? You’re sick of cleaning up after me.”
No. God no. I loved her so much it hurt. And I can still see that look in my mind’s eye.
Damn it. Why can’t I push that back like I do so many other things?
The day I wish I could redo…fix…above all others, and that’s saying quite a bit, was Nonee’s last here on Earth.
My husband was at work and I was home, checking out employment ads while I kept an eye on Nonee.
It must be noted that we had one car at the time, as we didn’t need two in the city, plus parking was a bitch and when we moved here, I took public transportation to my job.
So I was home alone with our ailing baby, and suddenly, before my eyes, her condition worsened. She was in extreme distress. I don’t know how else to put it.
Immediately, I called our vet and he said to bring her in posthaste. I felt the panic rising, nearly choking me as again, I didn’t have a car, but I was going to call a cab.
But first I called my husband. Before I even got the words out, he said, “I’m on my way.” Because that’s the kind of guy he is.
Nonee was in my arms and from the way she was breathing or struggling to breathe, I knew it was too late for taxis and vets or help of any kind.
She started to convulse and I started to wail, loudly as I ran with her in my arms from room to room, as if searching for a miracle. When my husband got home, I was sitting with her cradled in my arms, the tears running down my cheeks.
The animal hospital took over from there.
For weeks after, whenever I ventured out for my treks around the neighborhood, my sunglasses hid the tears I shed even as I walked.
I was a miserable failure that day and I would give anything to go back and redo…everything. I would struggle to be calm during Nonee’s last moments. I would whisper in her velvety ear, tell her how much she was loved. Tell her that it was okay to let go of the pain and that we would see each other again.
I would give anything. I hope she knows this.
Maybe I will see her again, and then I can explain things. Tell Nonee how scared I was and apologize for letting her down when she needed me the most.
I would cradle her in my arms, both of us at peace this time, devoid of pain, or fear. Tell her how much I’ve missed her all the years since her passing.
But, I don’t want to wait. I want to fix things now! I want the chance to be who I should have been on Nonee’s last day. If only I could do it over. But something tells me that instead, I will be haunted by this particular failure, until my last day.
And that will be my penance.
What would you do over, if you had the chance? Note, I welcome comments but please keep them civil.
© Sherry McGuinn, 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Sherry McGuinn is a slightly-twisted, longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and numerous other publications. Sherry’s manager is currently pitching her newest screenplay, a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story.