grayscale photo of white flowers

I Was Mean To My Dad The Night Before He Died

That’s a true thing—a fact, not an opinion. He tried to talk to me and I was in a bad mood and ignored him. There was no fight, no reason to be upset with him. I was irritable and he was there. The next day, he wasn’t.

It’s impossible to make some things pretty because they aren’t. There are bottomless, uncomfortable, harrowing regrets, the most painful of truths because they aren’t just thoughts. They were real. They are real.

Regret, when we live in it, is staring out the window, dark-circle-eyes wistful and empty, broken songs on repeat, pulse weak. Or it’s anger, heat, getting loud and apologizing and getting loud again. Ultimately, either is staring into nothingness, vast and infuriating. Regret is a taker that always remains empty.

The show is live, no edits. All there is to do is be honest and, with care, try your best to forgive.

Because the truth is, we fought a lot. There were other days we weren’t so nice to each other. He was still alive the next day.

There were perfect days; he was still alive the next day.

And then there was the day, early June, humid air and blue sky above, that he wasn’t.

Should haves are pointless. Should haves will kill you. Should have or shouldn’t have taken a certain opportunity, held back a sharp tongue, walked away, gotten on that train without a clue or care where it was going.

Whether by your hand or not, a film reel lies still somewhere, its contents untarnished, unmanipulated, unmoving. No judgment, no interpretation, completely uncut. Time’s hands are less steel, more cement; you can break it, maybe, and take the pieces you want to take, but you can never melt or mold it into something new.

I mean, you can, but that’s also called lying. Some do this to manipulate others; most do this to self-soothe. We’ll rewind the same remix until we’ve heard it so many times that to us, it’s the original.

Regret is useful only when we’re a student of it. It has the capacity to show us where we might have hurt someone or hurt ourselves, where we made ourselves too small. It begs us to look, look, please, at two screens: the full story and our story, side-by-side. We blink, the world gets blurry, and we open our eyes to a massive mirror, held an inch from our face. It’s confrontational, but not ill-meaning.

We should have been nicer. I should have been nicer. (Remember that should haves will kill me, and if I only make space for the should haves, there’s no room to welcome the wills and won’ts.) You can strip it to the bones and put it all back together, then do it all over again, but understanding without action is futile at best, hopeless and vain at its worst. We choose if regret is tyrant or teacher, because if it’s present at all, there has to be something to learn, and in that we find forgiveness, bit by bit, until we have it memorized.

I promise, this is optimistic. All I’m saying is that it’s okay, or it will be. It will be.

About the author
Writer. Former pessimist, born-again optimist. Follow Maggie on Instagram or read more articles from Maggie on Thought Catalog.

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