Most of us have those points in our lives where we look back and say, “Gee, I should have done that instead.” I, like you, have a few of those. Some may say I have too many for a man my age. My mind, however, always casts back to the very first of the moments; the very first one where I was cursing myself for not having done something different as soon as I walked out the door. And, like the beginning of oh so many classic movies, it involves a girl.
Her name was Jolene Riou, and when she first joined our class in the fourth grade, I was smitten. She had a beauty and grace that my fourth grade eyes had never seen before. Sure, I had crushes before this, but something about this one was different. It was so much stronger than a crush. I actually think it was love, but my nostalgia may be warping it into something that it never was. But the point is, as far as my fragmented memories are concerned, it was love. I felt it with every fibre of my being. To quote John Cage from Ally McBeal, “I was drawn to her.”
But, even as a forth grader I was quite shy, and so I never did anything about this. I fooled myself into thinking that it was just another crush, and that in a few weeks or so I would move on to someone else. But, that didn’t happen. It remained. Throughout the next few grades, I satisfied myself with admiring her from afar. It was soon discovered that she could sing like an angel, so she became a headliner at most of the talent nights and school plays for the rest of our school career together. One time, she joked about how I could use my intelligence (I was quite the geek in elementary/junior high) to earn lots of money, and then use that to finance her singing career. She even dreamt of being a marine biologist. Yes, I think it was love.
Junior High soon came. I don’t know about your experiences, but Junior High was an interesting time for me. Once those hormones kick in and you start “developing,” it’s more than just your physiology that forever changes. Up until this point, I had always envisioned myself as being a knight in shining armor of sorts, allying myself with the girls in several boys vs. girls playground battles. Now, with no more recess, I could no longer be the knight in shining armor. The knights had become those playing on the basketball and volleyball teams, winning trophies for the school that would be forgotten in a matter of months. Being, as I am now, a rather nonathletic person, my knighthood was taken from me, and I was relegated to the role of geek. I drowned my sorrows by discovering Star Trek. It made me rather emotionally unstable, and I’d burst into tears at the drop of a hat. And trust me, when the hormones are kicking in, the last thing a girl/woman wants to be around is someone like that. But Jolene did. While those so-called knights took to teasing and taunting me, Jolene was one of the few who showed me kindness. I believe I made this comparison before, but it’s still valid. It’s as though I were Quasimodo, and she was the gypsy Esmeralda. Of course, like Quasimodo, my love could not be realized. She started dating some high school guy named David, and seemed quite happy. I met him. He was the big, athletic type who could easily kick my ass. And since she was happy, there was no need to fight for her. She was happy, and that was all that mattered.
In the closing weeks of Grade 9, as we prepared to voyage to that strange new world called High School, I was hit with a bizarre inspiration. I felt like writing a short story. So, during a class that was free because the teacher felt there was nothing left to teach, I whipped out my binder and began writing. Jolene just casually asked what it was, and I said it was a story. She asked if I would name a character after her, and so I did. She then asked if she could read it when it was done, and I said yes. I then had the best ever reason to keep writing.
The final day of school soon came. It was only a half-day, with the majority of it being the awards ceremony. As you may remember from some previous columns, that bitch Colleen Ozee walked away with everything (Jolene and Colleen were best friends, how’s that for irony?). We all returned to the classroom. Hand were shook, good-byes were said. You see, living on the border between two school divisions, people have a choice as to which high school they can go to. Some of us were to never see each other again. Jolene and I were two of those people. I caught up with my parents, and gave them the stuff from my locker. I told them to go on ahead, that there was one last thing I needed to do. Alone. I went back into the classroom, to find that Jolene was the only one left. It was just her and I in there. I gave her the binder and said that my story was done. She took it from me, and leafed through it. She gave it back to me and said, “It’s good.” I don’t think she actually read it, but I didn’t really care. She thought it was good, and that made me feel like I was walking on air. We said our farewells, and then I walked away. Never to see her again.
As I walked down the hall, the regrets started settling in. It was just her and I in there. One of those perfect moments that you’ll never have back. True, fate can arrange you to meet the person of your dreams, but ultimately it is you who decides weather to speak up or not. I chose not to. And I regretted it as soon as I walked out the door. Up until this point in life, I was haunted by that. For all of high school, it would always go back to, “You should have said something, Mark.” It wasn’t until my freshman year of college and a young woman named Jen Ripley that I was able to get on with my life, but Jen is a story for another day. I started thinking I was over it. I even casually mentioned it in one or two of my previous columns, and that got nary a blink from my loyal readers. Yup, it was a chapter in my past dead and gone.
Until Jolene signed my guestbook. Go ahead and see for yourself, you can come back later.
She says in her private message that after reading some of the things I wrote about her, it was the least she could do to at least say “Hi.” (Well, she did say more, but it is a private message.) A flood of old memories and emotions came back to me. Here, this voice from my past actually found me and was speaking to me. Not quite as over it as I thought. I spent the next day trying to figure out how best to proceed. Should I let the message go unanswered? Should I try to take the road not taken and wash away that years old regret? The conflict of emotions and logic and rational thinking was unbearable. I just didn’t know what to do. Until, this one single, clear, loud thought came roaring to the forefront. Say something. Anything.
So, in my usual Scarecrow way, I wrote her a very rambling e-mail. I wrote to her of the flood of emotions that came back to me. I wrote of my confusion as to how I should approach this. I wrote of my confusion as to how I should tell her all that she meant to me. And then, I asked her one simple, humble, question: how are you? Finally, I answered a few questions she left me in the private message. This was about a week ago, and at the time I write this, I still have not gotten a response. But I don’t really care if I get one or not.
I had always envisioned what it might be like if Jolene came back into my life someday. How it might happen or where. One dream had her simply wandering into my place of business one day. Another would be at one of my book signings, and she is one of the many people in line. However, one scenario I had never imagined was her just stumbling across my website one night and reading all about how I felt. And that’s why I don’t care. My regret had been the fact that I never told her how I felt. Now, be it due to some twist of fate or dumb luck, she knows. The e-mail was unnecessary, and whatever happens next is a bonus. But the point is, she now knows.
Regret is a funny concept. It was Spock who said, “Having is not as pleasurable as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” That defines what regret is right there. I want to have that single moment with her back, but it will never happen. What I have is a life filled with regret. And now, it seems as though one of them has been washed away. We have to learn to let go of our past; the moments that we’ll never have again. And if we get the chance to remedy one, we should seize it. But wallowing in self-pity, waiting for those chances, is no way to live. No more regrets. One down, oh so many more to go.