My Biggest Regret

Monday, July 14, 2014

When I was in college I met this girl named *Ally (not her real name). We were introduced through a mutual friend and soon Ally and I were hanging out all the time.

At 16, she was two years younger than me and obviously twice as smart. We bonded over our mutual love of books. She worked at Barnes & Noble and was artsy and sophisticated in ways I had only ever seen on TV.

I'd hang out in her dorm room a lot even though mine was usually roommate free. She had posters of famous paintings and stacks of books. She'd brought her entire book collection; they filled the space beneath her 4ft high bed.

She was a student in the honors program which meant she was more often than not in her room doing homework. She never skipped class and went to bed early to wake up for her morning shift at work.

At first her knowledge and her passion for politics and history intimidated me. I could hardly keep up with her conversations half the time, but instead of thinking me stupid - she taught me.

I remember when I introduced her to World Market. We drove thirty minutes to visit and we spent two hours touching everything in the store and collecting candy we'd never heard of from places we'd never been to.

She never finished the last bit of her drinks. An inch or two of liquid in various bottles and cups littered her room. Always making me nervous that my flailing limbs and unsteady feet would knock one over onto her bookstacks.

And then she had to leave college. She got cancer and wouldn't be able to continue. I visited her two more times before I moved back to San Antonio.

When I returned back home, our friendship was continued through letters and emails. She didn't have a Facebook or Myspace. She was and old-soul. Believed that being able to have such constant contact with people strained the friendship.

She'd tell me how her remission was going. She was excited to be able to go back to school. They had let her back in the honor's program. We talked about whatever recent foreign film we both had watched.

Our correspondence eventually dwindled. Emails and letters in the mail came few and far between.

But then, I got one - an email. It had no subject line and contained only one sentence.

My cancer came back. 

And I apologized to her. Told her how sorry I was. But I really had nothing else to say. Why would she want to hear about all the good things going on in my life when she had to go through chemo and radiation all over again? What was I going to tell her to keep her spirits up? "Don't worry champ, things will get better?"

So I stopped writing. At first, I just didn't write for a day. Then the one day turned into a week. The week turned into a few weeks and the longer I didn't write the longer I couldn't write.

What excuse would I have for not writing? My life was too busy at the moment? My life wasn't going exactly to plan? The longer I didn't write, the more I thought that I just couldn't jump back into our friendship. Yeah, I hadn't written in months but I couldn't very well write now as if nothing had happened.

So I didn't have the courage to write to her.

For a year. I didn't write to her for a whole year.

But by then it was too late. She had passed away.

I regret that I didn't let her know how much of an impact she had on my life. From her love of foreign films, bottled Starbucks frappuccinos, and Portugal. The Man all of which stayed with me.

I regret that we didn't get to reminiscence enough about the flyers we posted around our dorm that provoked a meeting with our entire floor, the RA, and an official counselor. The flyers that no one knew we had put up because we spent hours making sure no one would see us. Setting our alarms in the hour where no was still awake from the night before but no one had yet gotten up for classes.

I regret that we didn't steal all of her stupid roommate's animal crackers.

There's none of that "No Regrets" bullshit here. I regret everyday I didn't write her. Everyday I didn't take the ten fucking minutes of my not-so-busy day to keep our friendship alive. That I was too embarrassed, or stupid, or ashamed to say "I don't know what to say".  I regret that no matter how much my letters may have sucked, or how incompetent I was to deal with this whole situation I wasn't at least there to be there.

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  1. Oh, Valerie. You have such a kind heart! I'm having a similar feeling now because I don't know what I should say. "This is beautifully written and very moving" seems shallow in light of the gravity of the subject matter. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friendship and sorry that circumstances kept y'all physically apart. I'm not going to say that it's understandable that you drifted apart (though it is) because I don't think that's what you want to hear. It's perfectly reasonable for you to regret not keeping in touch, but don't always dwell on that part of your relationship. Also cherish the good memories and the ways she changed you for the better. "Ally" sounds like a wonderful friend, and I'm happy that you had the chance to know her. I completely empathize with your sentiment that the longer you don't write, the more you can't write. I don't really know what I'm trying to say, except that I recognize that this is hard and maintaining friendships is hard and knowing what to say to a friend is sometimes hard. Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

  2. Thank you Megan. It's hard to focus on the fact that we may have naturally drifted apart anyway. But I am grateful for the fact that I got to know her at all.