The magazine editor Phillip Picardi recently posted on his blog about regrets. “I hate people who say they have no regrets,” he wrote. “They are all liars.” I’ve been thinking about his blog post recently. He writes about his regrets with humor and honesty. Some are small regrets—buying a winter coat right before moving to L.A.—and others are big regrets, the kind that keep you up at night as you stare at the ceiling, wondering how you got there, where you went wrong.
I like to think I am one of those people he hates. One of the liars. To be optimistic, to feel good about myself and my choices, I often tell myself that I have no regrets. But he’s right. I am lying.
I regret not buying those paintbrush earrings in Sequoia (the flower, not the art implement). They were a little pricey and I was poor, but every time I go hiking now in California and I see the red blooms, I think of those earrings and how I would’ve loved them.
I regret not being angry in certain situations. I wish I was better at being angry. Rage seems purifying in a ruinous, cathartic way, and I wish my anger didn’t melt so quickly into sadness.
I regret not holding people accountable enough. I regret letting comments and actions slide.
I regret every single time I’ve paid for food at Applebee’s. (It’s just not worth it, folks. We know this.)
Quarantine has been strange in that random memories—some of which I’d completely forgotten about—will float into my head, demanding to be acknowledged and processed and shined upon. I recently remembered about a position I applied for back in college. It was a ghost writer job that involved chronicling the life of a woman named Clarisse. I was a junior back then, and I was still toying with the idea of journalism because that seemed like the most sustainable way to make a living through writing (hahahahahaha).
I met Clarisse at a Popeyes to interview. Part of me wants to make a scene of the whole thing—to describe the smell of chicken and the gentle swell of people around us—but that’s not the important part. That’s not what matters.
Clarisse had HIV. She’d only ever had one partner before she’d found out she was infected. That was a long time ago, back in the ’80s when HIV/AIDS was associated with gay white men. Clarisse fit neither of those three categories. And what I remember most about our conversation was her talk of the hospitalizations, how her mother could never stand to visit her, how she would never use the acronyms or even acknowledge her daughter’s illness. The wave of loneliness was striking, and I wrote about this before when talking about Joanna, but sometimes people hand me a feeling, a cluster of vulnerability, and sometimes I don’t know how to hold it. My hands shake and I let it slip through my fingers, pooling into an oblong puddle on the floor.
When I think about Clarisse, I think about the loneliness, about her mother’s emotional abandonment. But I also think of her boyfriend who gave her HIV. How she had to bear the cost of his actions, no fault of her own. And isn’t it so often that way? Women living with the burden men have put upon them? It’s one of those facts of life that once you notice it, you can’t stop seeing it. I watched an animal rights/factory farming documentary the other night, and even in that film there was a scene when a chicken farmer decided to take on a contract (AKA extensive debt) despite the cautioning of his wife and the whole thing fell to pieces, and the camera flashed to her only a couple of times because he’s the farmer and it was his choice and his chickens, but she’s the one I couldn’t stop thinking about, her patience and understanding as she stood around the kitchen table with their children, how she didn’t get to make the choice but she had to endure it. I think about that a lot. What it means to endure. Every minuscule feeling nestled inside that six-letter word.
I didn’t get the ghost writing position. But here’s where the regret comes in: an editor who had previously worked with Clarisse reached out to me a while later, wondering if I was still interested in the work. And I said no. I was busy that semester—I had a job, an internship, a full class load—but still, I said no. Conceivably, I didn’t have time to work on a project like that, but I regret that I couldn’t say yes. I regret not saying yes to this fellow human, saying yes, let’s uphold your voice for the world to see. I regret that I will never know her full story, that I will only have that one afternoon at Popeyes to remember her by.
I Googled Clarisse’s name recently, and besides the sparse articles about her that circulate on the web, I couldn’t find any recent news. I think she’s still alive, but I regret that I also don’t really know.