Last night, toward the end of a very productive writers’ workshop, our instructor gave us what initially seemed like a pretty innocent prompt:
“What is your biggest regret?”
I quickly turned the page of my little notebook and started writing furiously across the paper…
For some reason, I always imagine that this individual was a young woman taking her dog for an early morning walk on the beach. Maybe she was lost in thought, perhaps she was running through her “to do” list for the day or maybe she was just trying to calm her mind…the lake is the perfect place for quiet reflection.
But then she stops.
What the heck is that?
She starts walking again, more slowly this time, and as she makes her way to the other end of the beach, she is getting closer to what looks like a large pile of clothes on the shore. Her dog is also very curious about what it is and tugs on his leash so that he can get a better look
I stop writing and sit quietly.
How do I write about this regret?
I literally want to bang my head on the table to get it out, but I’m afraid I might scare these more composed writers who are quietly sitting around the table writing furiously about their own regrets. These are nice women, I don’t want to scare them – at least not yet.
I am slowly starting to recognize something…while I may put a lot out there, I’ve become quite the expert in compartmentalizing. That is, I file away my many errors in judgement, my most painful memories and my feelings in a “box” with the intent of dealing with it some other day. And like so many of the other things I file away, I eventually forget about it. That is, I think I forget about it, but it’s still there.
I’m beginning to think that I need some of this information and that “some other day” has finally arrived.
After sitting for a moment, I decided to cut to the chase and just write down the first regret that came to my mind and the one that has haunted me for twenty-two years:
I regret that never got to meet the person who found my brother’s body.
This may sound odd to many, I know, but I think of “her” often and wonder if she still thinks about what she discovered that morning. Does she have nightmares about what she found? Does she ever wonder about us? Is it protocol for the Chicago Police Department to follow up with the person who places the call to say they made a positive identification? Did they share with her that the “unidentified body” she found was a 19-year-old boy? Would she want to see a picture of my brother with his striking grey-blue eyes and ever-present Cubs cap? Will she ever know how grateful I am that she didn’t just keep walking?
I couldn’t possibly ask those questions twenty-two years ago, as I was quite literally paralyzed by my grief.
I couldn’t have known at the time that my inaction would cause me to wonder about this complete stranger for so many years.
Are we connected by my brother for a reason?
Does this stranger have any regrets?
I will only find out if I confront my own regrets.