On Loving Regret

tricia butterfly tat When I was twenty eight, I got my first tattoo. I had spent months thinking about how I wanted to celebrate my new understanding of my life. I was recently separated from my husband and finally enrolled in a college that I would graduate from. This was a completely selfish goal, one that I had brought into my marriage but had failed to meet. Married to a Marine, I had moved from New York to Florida to California and back to Florida, leaving myself with a resume of three attempts at earning a degree at three different colleges. It was as a student at the college from which I finally graduated that I came to understand that literature and writing were my only true passions, the only ones I would ever be able to pursue.

I designed the tattoo myself. It was one word in my own handwriting, with blooming vines wrapping and climbing among the letters. Beloved. This was the title of the book that had ten years earlier planted the seed of desire to study literature and to do what that author, Toni Morrison, had done and was continuing to do. Touch other spirits with words. Incense, incite, inspire. (Photo: Tricia’s butterfly tattoo)

Delighted, I peeled back the dressing to reveal the raw word in my flesh to my mother and was greeted by the one look that erases every trace of the remarkable beauty from her face. “You’ll regret that later,” she said, and turned her eyes away. It was an appropriate thing for a mother to say to a daughter she didn’t know very well. Interestingly enough, she would be the one to motivate me to get out of my seat one afternoon last summer to get the second tattoo I had designed. This one was a large butterfly, an emblem from a dream I’d had back when I was doubtful of whether to leave my husband for good. My mother and I had fought, and I was as angry as anyone could be at another person, the kind of angry that is really inspired by love, longing, and loss. Clearly, she had been wrong. The butterfly tattoo was about leaving her. I had no regrets about either of my tattoos, nor will I have any about the two new ones I’ve designed and plan to have completed before my fortieth birthday this coming July.

Like everyone else, however, I do have regrets. Many more than I did twenty years ago, when I hadn’t yet done anything worth regretting. But unlike many other women at my celebratory age, I do not believe in living without them or letting them go. For me, having regrets means that I am forced to examine my life, my actions, my behavior, my very self, without flinching. I languish in them, turning them over and over inside my soul. I torture myself, cooking regrets at a low, hot burn until I am ashen, exhausted. What happens then is the important thing: I understand. I know. I am more than I was before.

Letting go of my regrets would be personal sacrilege, for they are the source of my insight to who I was, who I am, and who I intend to be. I hold to them the way I hold to the marks I have etched forever into my flesh; they are the mile markers on the road to my destiny. The only regret I never hold is the one that says I should live without regretting.

Tricia Amiel on Tricia: After ten years of teaching English, I’ve finally begun to live my dream of being a working writer.  Lucky me.  I have three children 19, 19, and 9…a little poetic.  Life is good. I’m also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader available for work.  For additional information or to contact Tricia, email us at info@womenatforty.com.