I wrote, a few days ago, about the things I wanted to try in my next life. Like going out dancing more, and joining a high school sport. Because, like most of the rest of the world, I have moments where I think, “Well, it would be nice if…” or “I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t…” I spend some time fantasizing about the ways life might be different if I’d made a different decision at some specific juncture, if I’d asked someone out instead of just flirting in the bar and going home or if I’d gotten over my innate distaste for the women’s gym teacher in order to talk to her about the school’s teams. And I wonder, what if…
But I work hard – very hard – to avoid letting that wondering move from an idle curiosity into a more emotion-laden regret. My firmest philosophy in life, for several years now, has been: “Change one thing, change everything.” It’s just impossible to predict how many unintended consequences might have stemmed from one small change, and if any one event in my life had not occurred, I could very well not be here, as myself, in this life, now. (Not that I would neccessarily be dead, mind you, just that I would be an entirely different me.)
I had to get to this point, for my own sanity. I didn’t have this attitude as a teenager, and it literally very nearly killed me. I was raped at 12, with immediate and long-term PTSD for the next several years. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I got effective help, as compared to the two single-appointment counseling efforts my parents carted me off to in my mid-teens, three years after the rape but they had only just learned about it then. They meant well, and most of their parenting was really very good, but they did a spectacularly poor job in committing to my mental health treatment. They allowed me to say, “I don’t ever want to go back again,” instead of coexisting with the discomfort of a pissed-off teenager for a while until the mad worked off and gave therapy some space to work. I know why; they were young, too, and I have always ben fiercely independent and strong-willed, and they were hurt because I had successfully kept such a huge secret from them for so long. They just didn’t know how to cope with me. Which is only fair, because I didn’t know how, either.
I spent most of those years wallowing in the fear, and the hypervigilance, and the illogic of it all. When my parents were out of the house, I was on the phone with one friend or another the whole time because I was terrified of someone coming to the house and hurting me and no one knowing about it until it was too late. I would stand at the front door, looking out the window, watching the headlights come up the street, because I wasn’t allowed to be on the phone when they weren’t home but I couldn’t cope otherwise; I learned the shape of their specific headlights, and would quickly hang up as soon as I saw them coming around the turn at the base of the hill. At night, for several years, I dragged my dresser in front of my door each night, because being in a room with only one exit was just unbearable; no entrances or exits at all was preferable to just one. I had the only bedroom on the basement level of my parents’ split-ranch, and so I was in college before I realized that, when I had the really bad nightmares, the whole-body reexperiencing-it-all sorts, I was actually crying and reacting out loud, not just in my head. No one had ever been near enough to hear me while I slept before then.
It was not a good time.
And a part of me does mourn that loss of innocence and cheer and optimism, that all drained away during those years. I regret how much energy I burned trying to appear happy and well-adjusted. I regret not asking for help sooner, because of all of that wasted time.
But a bigger part of me accepts that I needed to go through that, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been so desperate to leave high school a year early. Between my own demons, and a bitter ex-friend who felt that, since I hadn’t told her about the rape, then it clearly must never have actually happened, high school was unbearable. Gossip and rumors flew, with a culmination of one of her football-playing buddies driving me home from a school chorus concert in another town, pulling over to the side of the road, and demanding certain specific activities “because everybody knows you’re like that.” Being someone who hadn’t yet had a serious boyfriend, at 15, I wasn’t even entirely sure what “that” was like, but I knew I didn’t want any part of it with this asshole. I walked home, in my cheap polyester chorus uniform, about 15 miles, showing up hours later than my parents expected me. (That’s when they found out about the rape and all of it, in a big dramatic encounter that’s a story for another day.) High school became unbearable after that. I started reading up on suicide methods and weighing my options.
The chance to escape to college a year early, I am certain, saved my life. College wasn’t all smooth and easy, itself, with my first encounter with rum culminating in my first experience with “date rape,” such a kind and pithy term for an ugly and horrible experience. There were plenty of other bad moments and painful times in college, and all of them, in the moment, I thought I would regret. I thought I would be happier to just skip this stuff, to just fast forward to the next phase, whatever that looked like.
But if I had changed my actions then, taken a different course, I might not have ended up here, with these kids and this husband. This life is, admittedly, painful and difficult right at the moment, but I also know that the long-term outlook is good. I just need to get through a year or so of angst, and then we’ll be ready to start the next phase in a new house, with a new outlook.
So, no regrets. Even when I really, really want to have them.
This is part of a Wednesday carnival of sorts, where several of us are blogging on the same topic and then comparing notes…
Please join in, and let me know.