The Silent Killer: Regret

Sometimes the inspiration for a story can come from the smallest encounters. Published by the great folks at Elephant Journal.

“I had the worst dream last night” my friend said as we sat down over coffee.

He is an artist and although I don’t know him well, I really like him and I know that he has had a rich life.

“I dreamt that my life was a sham, that I had done nothing, accomplished nothing, that I was nothing”. I waited for him to continue. “I’m still trying to shake it off”. He stirred his coffee thoughtfully and waited for me to respond.

“Ah, yes” I said, “the cat of nine tails I like to call regret.”

I considered my response carefully. I am not one to think much about regret—I’m a doer, not a regretter.

Or so I thought until I decided to move to another country. My life was no longer defined by hard edges and certainty. It was more like a pudding, a bit slippery and hard to grasp. I now had more time on my hands, to theoretically do something new and interesting with my life. Being an introvert, my free time often went to thinking, which led to self-criticism, which led to regret—and to the cat of nine tails. I’d pull that baby out and flagellate away, wincing with every claw at my self-esteem, until I was convinced my life was nothing but regret.

This usually happened at night and I often awoke tired and grumpy and not at all feeling like the world was a bountiful place. So I listened with rapt attention at what my friend was saying.

“I mean, I have regrets, who doesn’t? If you have no regrets then you haven’t done anything, or you’re lying.” He looked at me expectantly.

“I sometimes have this dream”, I told him, “where I wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, terrified and convinced that I never actually graduated from high school, so that makes the rest of my life moot”.

He carefully laid his spoon on the table and stared at me, trying to discern if I was sharing my innermost confession or was having him on. Given we didn’t know each other well, it could have gone either way.

A smile escaped my lips and I said, “F*ck it, I hated high school anyway”.

The moral of my story?

Although regret is a part of life and potentially a great teacher, it is not a bedfellow to spend time with.

Don’t even let it in the room. Give it a cursory nod as you walk on by, head held high, no backward glances, no second looks. Regret is a story as ludicrous as my “terrifying” nightmare and in the cool light of dawn, it is always the same for me.

I see no evidence of the cat of nine tales but rather, I see evidence of a life well lived.

10 thoughts on “The Silent Killer: Regret

  1. Hi Alison, I ALWAYS dream that I go back to our high school, Ernest Manning to finish my grade 12. The three of us live together( triplet sisters) and we all go off to school together each morning. Something always gets in the way of me finishing, can’t find my locker, can’t remember the combo, the hallways are always changing and I can’t find my classroom, I forget constantly what period math is in(never passed math) and have to go to the office to find my schedule(In real life I am not this stupid, by the way). Rhonda and Lou seem to do just fine and finish. It’s like ground hog day. I can’t even find my sisters, or the car at the end of the day!!!! What do you think this means!!!

    • Well, I’m not an expert but I have lots of vivid dreams, and recurring ones, so here’s what I found in my dream books. The last line is particularly telling as I think I am one to under-value my accomplishments:

      Recurring dreams are quite common and are often triggered by a certain life situation, transitional phase in life or a problem that keeps coming back again and again. These dreams may recur daily, once a week, or once a month. Whatever the frequency, there is little variation in the dream content itself. Such dreams may be highlighting a personal weakness, fear, or your inability to cope with something in your life – past or present.

      The repetitive patterns in your dream reveal some of the most valuable information about yourself. It may point to a conflict, situation or matter in your waking life that remains unresolved or unsettled. Some urgent underlying message in your unconscious is demanding to be understood.

      Dreaming about school points to feelings of inadequacy and anxieties about your ability. If you are no longer in school, such dreams may point to unresolved childhood issues. The dream may also reflect a life lesson that you need to learn.

      To dream that you do not have enough units or credits to graduate suggests that you are not giving yourself enough credit to your successes and achievements. You are short-changing yourself of your accomplishments.

  2. This is an interesting story on second reading. I awake with the same demon, most nights..but have never called it regret….hmmm…is it? Is it not? I have always just called it my demon….I will think on this a tad…keep writing. I am going to forward you a piece from a dear friend, Her daughter, at 22 , is suffering from a brain condition that the best docs in Calgary have not really named..maybe a weird form of epilepsy. Awful..she was in her first year at Emily Carr in Van when these “spells” started, with complete amnesia. At the same time, Mandi,s husband of many years left and moved in with his new younger lover…other than that Mrs Kennedy, how did you like Dallas. But Mandi is healing, sort of, and finding her voice in writing…you might appreciate the power in this piece.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. It’s amazing how the cool light of dawn unravels the seemingly gut-wrenching fears that can come in the night. Appreciate this one too Al, wise sister!

  4. Great piece Alison. I’m glad the Bloggess introduced us. I’ll definitely be following you moving forward (as well as going into your back story!)

    I’m glad to say that regret is not one of my many failings. I spend too much time worrying about the future to think about the mistakes of the past. Nothing we can do about those anyway.

  5. Hi Alison, many thanks for your thoughts and prayers, and the introduction to your blog. This is my first ( virginal) blog reply, as social media to me is like an new car engine that you can’t work on unless you’ve got the diagnostic tools ; a flat head 6 cylinder where you can crawl in and sit beside is my social media equivalent to a paper and pen . I digress, sometimes more often than necessary, but to continue, your article on the Mexican cultural attitude towards death led me to your ” Regret” blog and dreams which I do have something to say about. In the early 80’s my family moved to Atlin British Columbia. This tiny enclave of gold miners come artists is the remains of the Yukon gold rush of the 1890’s and last inhabited town in the northwest of the province, accessible only through the Yukon territory. We lived there for about 3 years and to this day I have at least 2 dreams per month ( 24 per year times 30 years ) . Maybe there is a regret of unfulfilled gold . By the way, does your cat of nine tails have nine tales? I too wonder what it would have been like to finish my high school with you at E.M.H.
    Miss you
    Rick Merrell

    • Aahh, dreams are a wonderful thing. The meaning of yours about the Yukon would depend entirely on what, exactly, you are dreaming about…running away from bears? Being crushed by the Northern Lights? Your search for gold? I don’t know much about your time there, but from what I know of your life, you struck gold my friend. Thank you so much for replying, and what an eloquent and thoughtful Reply it was. Besos y abrazos – and remember, you are always welcome to stay and visit with us in Merida xo

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