Q: How do you spell mousetrap in three letters?
I learnt that joke when I was about 7. It was the first joke I ever found for myself (in one of those long thin jokebooks that did the rounds when we were kids) that I actually understood. I still like that joke.I told it to my mother-in-law this last Christmas and she laughed delightedly. Little Person, like you (or at least, the you that you were when I was 7), is not a fan of that joke. She’s more of a physical comedy kind of girl (again, like you, if I recall correctly).
As Little Person grows up, and I see more and more of you in her, I find myself remembering the good things that we shared growing up. Things I had chosen to forget, so that I could keep the easy narrative. You know the one – where I cast you as the baddie, and I’m the helpless victim, who finally has the courage to stand up for herself. The truth is much more complicated than that, and so I rewrite history in my head.
But twenty years on, I’m still left with my great regret. The one thing in my life I wish I could definitely go back in time and change. The thing I definitely and most assuredly got wrong. You offered a peace offering, and I said no. I know why I said no – I was hurt, I was surprised, I wanted you to feel the pain that I had been feeling, I thought I would get another chance.
But sometimes there is no second chance. Sometimes there is just that moment, that decision. And a lifetime of unknowable consequences. I wish I had understood what I had been saying no to. Because I thought I was saying no to letting you hurt me again, but I wasn’t. I was saying no to family Christmasses, and shared jokes, and memories, and adventures. I was saying no to guitar lessons for Little Person, and saying yes to a lifetime of regret.
I should have done better. I could’ve done better. I knew better. That’s the disappointing thing. I could have done the thing that opened the path to restoration and healing, and instead … instead, tears run down my face just thinking about it. Because no matter how much I hurt, no matter what the stories I told myself about you, that did not give me the right to judge you, and throw your peace offering in your face.
I have always been good with words, but I have always avoided writing about this. Because I was always so upset, I was always so angry. Maybe I have spent the last twenty years being angry at the wrong person. Maybe I was lying to myself, hiding from the truth. This truth: I said no, because I was too afraid to say yes.
There are so many things I could have said on that day long ago. Words between no and yes, like I want to, I don’t know how, this is too difficult for me, I don’t know what to do. I could have tried harder to do the right thing.
And that is my great regret.