Part 5: Lifelong Regrets and Jumper Cables
Regrets are like burns: they may come in varying degrees, but they always hurt and always leave a mark
A new kid moved into my school when I was nine.
His name was Josh.
I remember he had bright red hair, freckles plastered across his face, and was Mormon like me, which was a rarity in my hometown.
Sharing a common gender would be reason enough to start-up a friendship in third-grade, but it helped that Josh had a Nintendo and Double Dragon.
The clincher was that he lived within walking distance of my house.
After all, long-distance friendships can be complicated when you’re nine and all you’ve got to your name is a single-speed Huffy Sigma, even if it was decked-out to the max:
Within days, Josh and I began commuting regularly between our two home bases. We played Double Dragon at his place, Legend of Zelda at mine. We devised complex plots with Muscle Men and plastic dinosaurs, and dug out a labyrinthian tunnel system in my backyard, to the chagrin of my parents.
Mostly, we spent hours talking about life as we knew it, nine years in.
I recall one fall afternoon, hanging out on my bedroom floor, my walls decked out in the full set of Star Tours posters.
In hushed tones, I confided to Josh that I ate my boogers… sometimes (not, for example, when they were all dirty from tunnel digging. I did have my limits and boogers plus dirt crossed the line).
This, I would learn years later, was what it meant to vulnerable, so vulnerable that you’re willing to open up your life’s closet and pull out something you’d never shown another soul.
It felt awkward, but somehow right.
Fast forward 28 years…
I’m trapped under the train tracks in Lyon, France — standing in front of a rental car of less than 12 hours, with a dead car battery hiding somewhere in this European engine I’ve been staring at for over five minutes.
Inside the vehicle, my four boys stare wide-eyed from the backseats, as if engrossed in a daytime drama or, more age appropriate, a ridiculous YouTube Channel.
I’m feeling vulnerable again alright, but a different flavor than back with Josh. This time there are strong undertones of “stupid” and “100% foreign,” two of my least favorite me flavors.
I begin begging passersby for a jump, but there are two major issues: first and foremost being my inability to articulate “Dead battery. Need jump,” in French.
The second, also highly problematic, is a pair of jumper cables. This, I quickly learn, is as popular a vehicular accessory in France as a car bomb.
“Welcome to Day 2 of at least 730 more days to come in France,” my pessimistic spirit is quick to chime in.
This is not supposed to be the way things go on the second day of an epic journey.
In the end, it turned out Josh didn’t care that I picked my nose.
It turned out that he did it too, which was as revelatory as learning that the Darth was Luke’s dad.
But then one afternoon I killed us, in a horrible wreck of an exchange.
I honestly don’t recall what led up to the decision. Perhaps it was the newfound fear of exposure, perhaps peer pressure from non-Mormon school friends, maybe I just didn’t like how he played Double Dragon, but I doubt it.
Whatever it was, I decided I could no longer be friends with Josh.
I still remember the fateful afternoon. We’d been at his house and were walking back to my place.
Standard operating procedure was to walk each other halfway, say “See you at school tomorrow,” then separate.
This day, however, upon reaching the halfway mark, I spewed onto the curb in front of us “We can’t be friends anymore.”
Josh looked as if he’d just been stung between the eyes. It was obvious I had just kicked him in the groin of his soul.
I’d never caused this feeling in another person before.
This did not feel right.
“You don’t play sports,” I pressed on, trapped and not knowing how to correct course.
In desperation, Josh pleaded, his soft cheeks filling with color, his eyes beginning to water, “But I’m signed up for soccer in the fall!”
“I’m sorry,” was all I could muster.
I was sorry. Sorry for Josh; sorry for me; sorry for everything.
With the heavy weight of shame now perched permanently on both shoulders, I turn and walk away, unable to look back.
There’s something about feeling trapped, the curb, and these little boys that pull me back to that regretful exchange with Josh.
Looking back with the perspective of 28 years, my biggest regret was not being able to correct course when it mattered most; my emotional toolbox yet to be filled up with enough gadgets to accurately gauge my thought, feelings, and actions.
But I have tools now, I remind myself. I might not have jumper cables, but I do have what it takes to get them.
I just need to remember to dig deeper instead of turning away.
Do I regret having left the rental car headlights on all night?
Do I regret bringing our family to France?
And so I press on, turning back to face the crowd on the sidewalk; unable to forget past regrets, but willing to make more of myself because of them.
“Excusez-moi, avez vous des… des… jumper cables?”