“Re had been riding her dirt bike without a helmet, accelerating too fast, when she lost control and ran headlong into a tree. She had been killed instantly. And I had been out, almost losing my virginity, when the call had come in.”
That last sentence is a lie.
When I originally wrote it, I did not mean it to be a lie. I did not believe it was a lie. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I believe I was misleading you.
In Love through the Eyes of an Idiot, I tell the story of my whirlwind affair with Tracy (not her real name). If you read that story, you might get the sense that she was a sex-crazed, skin-deep, mixed-up slut, who would have destroyed my life if I had let her get too close. The truth is that I probably would have destroyed her life, had she let me get too close.
I’m still a little sad that she did not.
I don’t have many regrets about my life. But over the past several months, I’ve been discovering some doozies. Maybe not having any regrets is a sign of immaturity. Maybe you have to have lived long enough to reflect seriously enough to develop true regrets. And maybe some people never even make it that far.
Tracy was not sex-obsessed, but just sexual and sexy. And what we did together, by some definition, by my current definition, it was a kind of sex. And the feelings, as I remember, they were feelings of having made love. That makes her my first.
At the time and for many years, I didn’t see it that way. The night that Re died—I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s how I will always remember the night—we probably would have gone even farther. But she stopped, from shame. And I’m sorry she stopped, and I’m sorry I made her feel ashamed. That was the last time we ever dated.
Tracy was not skin-deep, but deeper than I was able to comprehend. It is true that our relationship was quick and shallow, a wild fling. But I remember some beautiful, wonderful, thoroughly enjoyable times I had with her. We shared some romantic, personal moments together.
She was not mixed up and dysfunctional, but struggling. A young single woman with a baby daughter and an ex that confused her and sometimes scared her. I never met him. Her daughter should be in her twenties now.
I like to imagine that she found her way, maybe got married, maybe not, had more kids, and is now living a blissful, prosperous life somewhere in Eastern Massachusetts—I just don’t know where. And I may never know. I regret that I couldn’t be a part of that; I don’t think I was capable of being a part of it.
At the time, I would have been unable to take care of her daughter. And I would have been unable to help her deal with the problems she was having with her ex. And I might have loaded onto her all the guilt and shame that I would have felt from so thoroughly enjoying our time together.
But now, I wouldn’t give up the memories of what we had for anything in the world.
Our last date still is my inspiration for all the best dates in my fictional romantic stories. The company. The conversation. The escargot—I had not tried it before, and I haven’t tried it since. Even the sex. I loved being with her and spending time with her and talking to her.
As a young man, I hated dating. For decades I would remember dating as a loathsome phase of youth. But there are two women who made dating fun. One was Margaret, my Beloved, who has since stuck with me through all the crap of real-life-after-dating. But Tracy was first. We indeed had some miserable moments. It was for those that I—not she—refused to stick through the crap of real life. We had miserable moments, but every single date we went on also contained marvelous moments. And I never gave her credit for that, for making dating fun. I am the one who should be ashamed, because I do not even remember her last name.
I do not remember the full name of the first woman I had sex with.
As a result, like Nora, who lost Julian’s phone number, Julian who showed her how to enjoy love— Like Nora could not find Julian, I cannot find Tracy.
But mostly I regret judging her. It’s so easy when you’re young and you haven’t faced the needs and feelings and problems that she was facing, it’s so easy to sit up in your ivory tower handing down dictums on other people’s lives. And that’s what morality teaches us to do.
But it’s unethical. And sad. And I regret it.
And I regret not being able to tell her I’m sorry.
I’m sure it wouldn’t make much difference now. Even so, I wish I could apologize. I wish I could tell her how significant she was to my life, or at least to my stories. I wish I could let her know how much I enjoyed our time together, in the perspective of hindsight.
Maybe she doesn’t even remember me. But I will always fondly recall the short time we spent together, both the wonderful moments and the horrible ones.
In Rev. Becky Gettel’s March 16 sermon at Trinity Episcopal (down the street here in Concord, MA), she tells the story of a little boy, a few years old at most. His mother brought him to a cocktail party: adults, fancy dress, best behavior. And naturally, while she was talking to the Reverend, the little boy began acting out.
“Come here,” she told him.
“No!” he said, and crossed his arms defiantly.
Threats were made, negotiations signed, and finally the little boy came to his mother. The Reverend saw that he was about to be punished. But what happened next surprised him.
The mother took the boy in her arms, rested his head on her shoulder, and he quickly fell asleep.
“He missed his nap today,” she explained. “And he missed his dinner, too. And he misses his Daddy, who is away on business. And I dragged him here to this cocktail party.”
And the Reverend was filled with compassion, in that space where once he held judgement.
In her sermon, Becky talks about the restoration of innocence, about moving from judgement to compassion, and then from compassion to relatedness, about seeing people as God sees them, and then as God sees us ourselves.
If you have a chance, before jumping to blame and castigation, take a step back and see the people around you as normal human beings, just as God sees you, and be filled with compassion, just as God is compassionate toward you.
Avoid the regret that comes from sitting too high on your own horse.