Regrets, I've Had a Few
Have you ever thought about things you would do differently in your life if given a second chance? I know I have.
Jane Eyre trailer (1943) taken of Joan Fontaine. Screenshot taken at 1:42 from this DVD release — 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
First, as the child of two Italian immigrants who always admonished me to "Speak English," especially when we were out in public, it wasn’t long before I lost most of the Italian which had been my first language. It just slipped away when I wasn’t looking; and I haven’t been able to grab hold of it securely again, despite many adult education and online courses, Rosetta Stone discs, and several trips to Italy ... which brings up another regret ... that I didn't go sooner than I did. Through my early twenties I had zero desire to travel. Friends went to Europe, Asia, Timbuktu. I did not envy them. I was happy in my little cocoon at home and my job as secretary to a man who I knew had been overworking and underpaying me for years. I loved it anyway, until it got too bad even for meek little me. (Yes, I really used to be meek.)
One day, after I spent my lunch hour working on a project for his wife, my boss made one demand too many, so I chose that moment to tell him I wanted to take my two weeks of vacation consecutively to travel that year, though I had always taken them separately in the past. "Absolutely not," he said. "I can't spare you for that long." I went back to my desk and immediately phoned a friend who had been begging me for months to go to Italy with her. She said, "Hello." I said, "Make the reservations." I still had absolutely no desire to travel, but I was determined to spite Simon Legree. So I went and was hooked. I loved it. Couldn’t wait to go again. So I did. Not only to Italy, but to twenty-one other countries as well over the years. Should have started sooner.
Another regret was my choice of school. Because of very stringent budget constraints which could stretch only barely to cover tuition (a pittance compared to today’s astronomical fees, but a huge sacrifice for my hard-working barber father), I was limited to a local school to which I could commute. I missed out on the whole college experience. It was like an extension of high school, but with a long daily bus and train ride to Boston University. Though I'm grateful to have a BU degree, unfortunately the department I drifted to was PAL, BU’s College of Practical Arts & Letters, an all-girls school (what was I thinking?), which no longer exists.
PAL wasn’t even anywhere near the main BU campus and was actually a glorified secretarial school. I should have gone to the university's School of Communications or School of Journalism — either of which was much more closely aligned to my interests; but in that unsophisticated era, who knew? Not me. And certainly not my just-off-the-boat parents who were just so proud to have a college-girl daughter, they wouldn't have cared if my major was toilet cleaning. High school guidance counselors? They didn't come on the scene until years later. An artistic friend was going to PAL, which offered an Arts program in addition to typing and shorthand, so I simply tagged along. Stupid!
At the risk of sounding immodest, I did become a fantastic secretary, but that turned out to be one of my biggest regrets. We secretaries didn't have glass ceilings. Ours were reinforced steel. In those early days, the only women I knew who managed to get ahead were those who were smart enough to claim they didn't know how to type.
It took me a couple of more decades to live down my 100-words-per-minute skill, and I landed a job as Operations Manager of a chain of New England dinner theaters. I loved the responsibilities and the fact that I actually was capable of doing more than taking dictation and filing, though I felt like an imposter who was playing at being an executive. When I represented my company at Actors Equity arbitration meetings in New York, for example, I always expected someone to ask what I was doing there and to throw me out. I especially loved all the fairly-tale friendships I developed — from chorus kids to stars, including the fabled Oscar winner, Joan Fontaine, who was still a legend at that time. Unfortunately, the calendar is unkind, and one of the last things Joan said to me shortly before she died was, "Darling, nobody knows who I am any more." That probably includes you, too. "Another regret, though one over which I had no control.
Another regret, though one over which I had no other regrets include never learning how to swim, ride a bike, or skate. I did, however, learn to ski (sort of) as a child — not on an alp in Austria or Chile with the jet set, but with Sally next door on the unplowed street where we lived. And not with high-tech skis and boots, but on wooden slats with upturned tips, and in our rubber overshoes-clad saddle shoes that we slipped under straps attached to the wooden slats. We had no control — not a clue as to how to slow down or turn or stop. Fortunately, very few cars were on the road way back then; so there was very little danger — unless we found ourselves speeding towards that big oak tree on the side of the road that refused to move out of the way.
I also regret the years (I'm embarrassed to tell you how many) of piano lessons and the two hours of daily practice that turned out to be a complete waste of time. Sure, I played Chopin’s Polonaise, von Suppe's Poet and Peasant Overture, and Rachmaninoff's piano concertos flawlessly at recitals — not because I had any innate talent, but because of all those grueling hours of practice. Today I couldn't play my first recital piece, Meal Time at the Zoo, even if I were offered a million dollars. Oh how I regret that there was no technology way back then to capture my virtuoso performances! I would give a lot to be able to hear them today.
And speaking of wasted time, I really regret the hours I spent trying to straighten my curly hair — the oversized rollers, the buckets of hair gel, the unwieldy flat irons. Oh, they did the job — until I was foolish enough to step outside if there was even a hint of humidity in the long-range forecast. Then, BOING! Frizz city. I have long since stopped fighting the inevitable and now step from the shower to the street. (Well, I do make a stop to put some clothes on first.)
I'd like to say that in the time I've saved by not trying to straighten my hair I wrote the great American novel; but to be truthful, I've frittered the hours away napping, snacking, and binge-watching TV. Another huge regret.
And I wish I had had the guts to take a visiting writing teacher's advice and move to California were she felt I had a future in TV sitcom script writing.
But enough of these maudlin confessions. If I haven't already done so, I don't want to bore you to death. I would really regret that.
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