“You’re 9 years old,” I say to my younger self. “What do you have to be sad about?”
The charcoal portrait, sketched in the shadow of the Sacré-Coeur, now hangs in my father’s front room. And I look heroically gloomy. Presumably the artist did his best to capture the merriment of a family vacation, but the face is so sodden with regret it near drags the paper from its frame.
This was no isolated moment of childhood melancholy. "Cheer up," complete strangers would routinely say to me, "it might never happen." ("Too late," I would say under my breath, "it already has.")
I suppose some of us tend that way naturally. We’re always trying to swim back upstream to the moment just before we think it all went wrong. Our minds, sadly, aren’t well-behaved libraries shelved with orderly memoirs. They’re gothic charnel houses piled high with gaudy carousels, furiously spinning out past moments, past conversations, past relationships. What if I had done things differently? What if I had said something else? What if I had been someone else? The linoleum is worn through with pacing. We rehearse and re-rehearse dialogue as if we’re preparing for opening night on Broadway, except there is no play, these conversations ended long ago, and many of the people who shared them with us are long gone. Regret, the barbed wire hula-hoop, loping heavily around the brow, lacerating the skull with each revolve. Regret, the malevolent halo.
“What’s done is done.” “That tree has fallen.” “Why regret things you can’t change?”
Miserable comforters all. They may as well tell someone to ignore an itch they can’t scratch. The unreachability is what makes it so impossible to disregard.Read More