I consider myself to be a very lucky person most of the time, because I don’t have very many regrets in my life. There are times I could have been kinder, and I do regret those sometimes, but I try to use those feelings as reminders to be kinder next time. For the most part, though, I’m pretty good about seizing the day, telling the people in my life that I love them, and doing the best I can under the circumstances.
Despite all of this, there are one or two regrets that I have in my life.
Regret #1 involves my grandfather (my mom’s dad, for those of you keeping score at home). After my grandmother passed away, he hired me to clean house for him once a week. It sucked having to get up early on Saturdays to go do it, but as the weeks and months went by, I really came to appreciate the time he and I spent together. We would always go to lunch together after I cleaned for him, and we got a chance to connect in a very special way. Grandma passed away in 1997, on the first day of school of my senior year. When I left for college the next fall, I had to stop cleaning for Grandpa, because it was too far to walk, and I didn’t have a car, but when I was home on the weekend, I always set aside time to spend with Grandpa. Near the end of my college career, I took a course on Writing the Personal Narrative as a part of my Creative Writing emphasis. Our first assignment was to choose a person who had influenced us and write about that relationship, and I wrote about my grandfather. When the assignment was finally finished, I wanted to show it to him, so that he would know how much our time together meant to me. I had always been too shy to really say anything, since he wasn’t one to talk much about feelings. That summer, my boyfriend and I planned to drive up to the small town where my parents still live and get them to sign some financial-aid forms for me, and I planned to have lunch with Grandpa and give him my essay. I don’t remember exactly what happened — I do know we only had a very short window of time in town, since we both worked; I may have chickened out; Grandpa might have been busy; I might not have wanted to give him the essay in front of my boyfriend — but I do remember that I didn’t give him the essay that trip. The next trip we made to town was for Grandpa’s funeral. Although I read a (slightly edited) copy of the essay at the funeral, and my mom put a “clean copy” in his casket, but I still really regret never sharing the essay with him while he was alive.
Regret #2 is stupid – the short version is that I got way too bent out of shape about something silly in high school, and I almost hit this other girl. To this day, I still think she deserved it, but I am ashamed of myself that I almost acted on that belief. I do not want to ever be a person who hits other people, for any reason. The one positive side to this story is that I remember how I felt in that moment, and that has helped me relate to the teenagers who used to pass through my classroom door. I can say, “I know this seems to be the most important thing in the world right now, but trust me, when you get to be my age, when you remember this moment, you will hide your face behind your hands and just say, ‘Oh man, I did that.’ Trust me.”
And those two were pretty much it. Until today. Today is the day that I add Regret #3 to my list. On the one hand, I don’t want to make this all about me, but on the other, it’s my regret, my feelings, and my experiences, so I hope you’ll bear with me if this seems a bit narcissistic or selfish. Please know that I don’t intend it that way.
I’ve had emotional issues for most of my life. Different doctors have had different theories as to the cause of these issues; some called it clinical depression and wrote me prescriptions for medication that mostly did not help. Others called it bipolar disorder and wrote me more prescriptions for more medication that mostly did not help. My most recent “mental health professional” said that it was all “situational depression,” because my emotional issues were always tied to something going on in my life. More recently, my thyroid was implicated, and now I have medication that helps a little, but not quite enough, and I plan to ask more questions and request more lab tests at my next doctor’s appointment, so that maybe we can find better ways to help me feel even better. I’ve always been introverted, shy, and overly sensitive (which is a trifecta of bad news; my issues probably stem from a synergistic relationship between all three of those traits), and I worry a lot. 21st-century American culture is not kind to any of those traits, and sometimes it’s hard for me to relate to people, or for people to relate to me, and I worry about that too.
Anyway, during the spring semester of my senior year in high school, I was tasked with writing a research paper for my English class. I was also concurrently enrolled in Freshman Composition, in which I was also tasked with writing a research paper. Because I am crafty and lazy, I decided to write the same research paper for both classes*. It was especially lazy because I had learned to write research papers in the fourth grade as a part of an Independent Study program, but this was the first research paper most of my classmates had ever written, so I was quite a bit ahead in terms of knowing what I was doing. Because this was during the time when my doctor thought it was clinical depression, I chose that as my topic. In the course of my research, I read a fascinating article about Robin Williams and his battle with depression. I knew who he was, of course; I’d loved him as the genie in Aladdin, and I’d enjoyed watching reruns of Mork & Mindy on Nick at Nite. I don’t think I ended up using the article as a source in my paper (I bet I still have a copy somewhere, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t go trying to dig it up just at this moment), but I remember feeling so happy and sad at the same time. I was happy because his descriptions seemed so familiar to me, and for the first time, I felt that I wasn’t alone in having these feelings. I was sad because I knew how much those feelings sucked, and I was sorry that he felt them too.
Over the next few years, I held on to that sense of connection I felt with Mr. Williams. I saw a few more of his movies (I know Patch Adams isn’t his best, but it’s one of my favorites, and I absolutely adore Hook), and in the back of my mind, there was always this idea that if Robin Williams could feel the way I feel and still manage to be a successful and famous actor, then maybe I could manage to finish college/find a good job/make a good life for myself. He served as a symbol for me: if he could hurt that much inside and still be that upbeat and funny, I could make it through this paper/this work shift/whatever.
The Associated Press reported earlier this evening that Robin Williams was found dead of an apparent suicide. This spawned Regret #3. I had always thought in the back of my mind that I should write to Mr. Williams and tell him how much that article meant to me, and how he had inspired me, but I never felt adequate for the task. I’ve tried on other occasions to explain why some things mean so much to me (I once tried to write on my MySpace blog [if that’s any indication of how long ago that was] about why Star Trek means so much to me, but the piece never jelled, and I deleted it when I deleted my MySpace, and I haven’t tried to write it again), and I just never seem to find the right words to describe my feelings (I actually really suck at trying to explain feelings – I can give a good analysis of the parts I like and the parts I don’t, and I can explain which parts inspire emotion, but I’m not good at all at putting names to those emotions). So I never wrote the letter, much less sent it off. Now I really wish I had. I’m not conceited enough to even imagine that my one little letter would have made any difference in what happened today – I’m sure he gets more fan mail in a week than I get junk mail in a year – but if I had, I would at least know that I had taken the opportunity to say “thank you” while he was still able to hear it.
I am intimately familiar with the despair that can lead a person to take his or her own life. I’ve felt that despair. For a good chunk of years, I felt that despair every day of my life. Although that chunk of my life is many years ago, there are moments here and there even today when I feel that despair. I’ve learned to cope with it somehow; to hang on when everything seems so hopeless, but it’s hard. I’m very fortunate to have people in my life who care enough to keep an eye on me when I need it, and who can talk me out of that deep abyss. Mr. Williams, I hope that wherever you are now, you have stopped feeling this despair, and that you don’t hurt inside anymore.
*Please remember that this happened in 1998, when we still had to look up magazine articles in the dark-red Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, and we were still using an actual Card Catalog (with real cards, not a database on a computer) to find books. This would not work in today’s TurnItIn.com world. A small part of me regrets taking the easy way out, but the larger part of me knows that I wrote the hell out of that research paper, and I probably wouldn’t have worked that hard if I’d been writing on two different topics at the same time. Also, the sort of informative paper I wrote back then is mostly dead anyway (and good riddance; arguments are more fun), and most teachers and professors give more nuanced assignments than just “pick a topic and research it,” which is what I was told in both classes in 1998. Also, seventeen-year-olds don’t make the best decisions.