As a new year starts: An excerpt- on regret

centerlineLooking back on 2013, I do have some regrets.  There are things I wish I’d done differently, moments in which I wish I’d chosen different words, a different tone, a different reaction.  That feeling of regret can be felt in our guts when we do something minor like slide a paring knife into our finger when cutting an apple, or after we say “shut up” to someone we love. Regret can also be overwhelming, like for the person who crosses a center line in a highway and hurts someone, or the regret over bad decisions that seem to haunt us every day.  My novel, “Light in Darkest Days,” coming out in the upcoming weeks, was almost entitled “Center Line,” based on this premise.  This sense of deep regret, times a BILLION, is what Tim Rutger lives with every day as he writes his diary from prison.  This is how he describes it:

I ache when I see a hand missing a finger’s tip, or when I hear of the man who sliced off his hand in a machine at work. The stories of the driver crossing the median and being killed by a semi, these rattle me with an obsessive sympathy. Worse yet, who can listen to the story of the man crushed when his car passes under a tree in the exact number of seconds after it’s struck by lightning. The looping in my head of if only he hadn’t walked back to the bedroom and kissed his wife on the forehead while she slept, he would have been past the tree when it fell.  Seconds, they are brutal beasts.

It has always distracted me, this watching out for things that shouldn’t have been.  I was disgusted at the arrogance of scars on peoples’ thin skin.  I just wanted to carry the injured back to that moment and whisper in their ear, move to the left, do it!  Walk away from the flame.  Don’t start the chainsaw!  I wanted to be a ghost, a force that could grab the thing the driver was reaching for so he wouldn’t turn the wheel into his death.

Stripes made me nervous, dotted ones more so.  They were this literal line between existing and no more.  Towards the end of my normal life, I drove on two-lane highways and tensed up as each car passed on the other side, over and over I’d think, well I escaped that one, I’m safe so far, that one missed me, thank God, I’m alive.  I just wanted to avoid regret.

I wasn’t as afraid of death as I was afraid of the feeling of if only.  How could I avoid the most remote sense of wanting a do over?  If you are consumed by this, everything is dangerous.  If only I hadn’t stepped that way and fell out of the tub, striking my temple on the ground.  If only I hadn’t taken the trash out in the rain and been electrocuted by the lightning.  How can I avoid being the paraplegic saying, I misjudged the distance of the train?  Everything started to look like a regret trap.  Everyplace was the landscape for one inch too far, ten seconds too late, one blade too sharp.

This is what I now know:

Try your damnedest to avoid a thing, and that thing will eat you whole.

It is too much to admit, bile rises in my throat when I write this statement:

My entire life has become nothing but a misguided saw on a fingertip, or a median crossed with just the tip of my bumper, leaving me catapulted out of the car and decapitated in the trees along the median.  I reached for something in my passenger seat, I didn’t put the safety on my saw, I swam out six feet too far, thinking I could tread in the waves.  

In my life, this happened:

A blade went into that place in a human chest where it will kill said human fast and certain.  I have all my fingers, my head is still attached to my body, I’ve never even been in car accident.  But a woman is dead, and there is nothing left but this: the desire to sit on my own shoulder of then and whisper into my own ear, Don’t do it, do not cross the center line.



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