REGRETS I'VE HAD A FEW
In second grade I was very unpopular. My only friends were 2 kids I only saw afterschool when we waited together on the schoolyard for our respective rides home, and one of them was a girl who was nice to everyone, so her friendship was less of a prize. The other friend was a kid named Jason, so blonde and freckled he was like the personification of a Beach Boys song; there was also a melancholy that clung to him like the better Beach Boys songs that Brian Wilson wrote when he got more ambitious and crazy, and this was because Jason was poor, usually wearing the same red t-shirt 5 days a week. Oh god, he had a crush on me. How sweet to have a crush on me, when everyone else made fun of me all day, calling me a Gaylord because I was overly affectionate with girls I admired and being such overly astute witnesses to all my little embarrassments, like the time I had to wear mom’s sagging underwear to school and everybody saw it when I sat down with my legs open. Jason adored me. He was sarcastic and affectionate and loyal. But I thought girls got popular from being mean, and not mean from being popular, so I was mean to him, in hopes of winning more friends. Then I went back to the same school for third grade and found out that he’d been hit by a car while riding his bike over the summer, and was killed.
Once I told a homeless man named Malik to wait outside of a 99 Cents Store for me, because I was going to bring him out some food and a pair of flip flops. Then, while shopping, I got a phone call from a guy I liked who invited me to a happy hour at a nearby bar, and I only had a half hour to get there, so I left from a different exit than the one Malik stood by and walked along the other side of the store to get to my car, so I wouldn’t have to spend valuable minutes on him.
In Junior High, I branded myself with a hanger crudely bent to spell “CUNT,” on the back of my neck, and it is still readable to this day. I have had to keep my hair long all these years, and worn it loose covering my neck, even when it’s so hot outside I get a rash of little red bumps over the brownish-red, shiny lines of CUNT.
Once, when my brother was talking to a boy he was in love with, I picked up the phone and yelled “Mark picks his nose and eats it!” and then hung up. I thought I was just being funny. Mark always laughs at things like that, even though I know they are just pity-laughs (he appreciates the chance to be charitable, though), but this boy, Jude, was really popular. If he came out of the closet it was going to be especially for Mark, a pimply but handsome young punk rocker who was maybe or maybe not worth coming out of the closet for – Jude still wasn’t sure. He just laughed and said “Oh my God! You’re sister sounds as bad as my stepbrother!” when I did that. But then, when they went on their first covert date, to a party thrown by college kids Jude knew from sneaking into The Coconut Teaszer all the time, they were about to kiss, standing alone together on a patio, on a warm summer night, the summer the cicadas were alive. “He was going to kiss me, Laura. ME. He touched my elbow and I shivered! It was going to be the best night of my life!” he’d tell me later that night, crying so much I was scared he was going to choke on his drool. At the last minute, Jude burst out with a casual laugh and said “I’m sorry man, I just keep picturing you picking your nose.” They never talked on the phone after that, or saw each other outside of school. Jude’s first kiss was with a girl named Jacky and Mark’s was with the Algebra II teacher that everyone thought was so cool for letting kids screw around in class.
Once, forty years ago, when I was an old woman with long loose breasts and a short, prickly beard, I went back to my home town, back to the old 99 Cents Store I used to shop at as a vain, wild young woman. It felt scary to be back somewhere that’d once been so familiar, so long ago. It is how the Darling children would have felt if they were real and had somehow found their way back to Neverland. I got off the bus, tucked my glasses into my bosom, and hobbled over to the side of the store where the recycling bin and the small homeless encampment had been, just for old time’s sake. Oh god, oh horrible me, Malik was still there, ageless, waiting for me to come back with his food and his sandals.