NOVEMBER ISSUE: On Regret

This month’s advance extract from The Cure For Sleep is about regret: those moments of painful awareness that often come at the end, when it feels too late – as when I arrived so suddenly at what I believed was my last minute of living.

Readers were asked to respond as follows: Have you experienced terrible regret as a result of your own actions – or failure to act? Did it change you? How?

Any stories received on this theme will be curated below.

Eye Image from Tanya Shadrick's collection of The Book of Life (Marshall Cavendish)

November extract

I’M NOT DEAD I’M NOT DEAD I’M NOT DEAD

I bellowed this, over and again, with increasing force (although only my lips moved, I learned later, from the woman holding my hand). And each time I shouted, I came only a little further back, and with the unsteady motion got on a river, as if my voice and words were oars. The Awful Rowing Towards God: book by a poet who’d tried to die several times before she did. Yes. This was that. Where she had gone, I was going. Heavy now with duty, I fought the pull, even as I hoped it would carry me away.

The pain began.

Not the body. This was anguish. Of mind, soul: acute, unsparing. Regret – sharp and precise as a knife slipped inside an oyster shell – broke me open, exposing something raw, ugly and absolutely true.

My cowardice.

[Full extract on Substack]

The Cure for Sleep

Reader responses

‘Remember how this feels.’

The last words she said to my face.

Said with compassion and love, but knowing how deeply both sides of the sword would cut me. She meant ‘learn from this’.

‘Remember how this feels.’

She meant: ‘feel my love but feel my anger’.

The bright sunshine of a Queensland winter streaming through the departure lounge on her perfect skin. Light as bright and warm as the English summer I was returning to without her, because I had lied. I’d lied to immigration and I’d lied about that to her. A lie I had desperately tried to turn into a truth, because everything else between us was a pure and powerful truth. She was the one for me and I was the one for her, and we’d become bonded together like a yin and yang. We both knew how that felt.

‘Remember how this feels.’

But my lie was like the lone prop holding up an ancient mine-shaft; it was rotten and fragile and it was always going to be when, not if, it would splinter and collapse.

‘Remember how this feels.’

It felt like the end. The end of everything that mattered and the end of everything that I had cared about – not just for four years – everything I would ever care about. The end of something perfect and irreplaceable, like watching your home be consumed by a fire.

‘Remember how this feels.’

The love is still real. It hasn’t abated or withered or slipped away or been bettered or replaced.

We still speak most months. Her winter mornings are my summer nights, and we laugh and care and reassure and help and we have not forgotten.

‘Remember how this feels.’

She only ever said it once, because she knew that was enough.

Tim le roy

They say there are no coincidences.

The very same November morning that I received an email notification for Tanya Shadrick’s recent book excerpt, I also experienced one of my life’s greatest regrets.

Just thinking about it generates a cold sweat as I’m made aware of the first wet rivulet inching down my spine; I become the source, a headwaters for streams of sweat and tears. Sorrowful fingers wander the keyboard’s checkerboard landscape and I wonder if there’s sufficient letters to type the words I’m hunting; can I summon them?

My stomach growls, not from hunger, but from that incessant gnawing of knowledge I’ve done something irreparable. In times of distress an immediate loss of appetite ensues as I enter a state feeling less human…something less likeable, less recognisable. A zoetrope of thoughts flashes an incessant reminder of my regret.

Regret: the very word implies an occurrence from which there’s no recovery and that is an agony. I blame my thinking for releasing its leash on insecurities; the tight rein on demons was loosened – their freedom lashed out with words deadlier than any weapon.

What did I do or say, you may wonder? I destroyed something most rare and exquisite, a unicorn manifest as human. Its decent nature shone brilliantly in any light; a gentle creature who stood patiently for me to come closer.

Great tenderness arose from the heart I’d forgotten, coming back to me in great waves, new and fresh. I’d been lifted into that world I’d only glimpsed from the distance of dreams, and faced an opportunity for new beginnings through a narrow portal, just wide enough to enter.

Almost there and I crashed, my words destroying the very thing I held so dear.

I face ultimate regret.

Diane auby

I have many feelings – anger, frustration, grief – but regret isn’t a massive one.

When I was young, I sought out adventures. I made a point of saying yes. When I first told people about my cancer diagnosis, one friend confessed that her immediate thought was ‘Thank God she’s done so much travelling.’

I’ve been lucky. I married the right man. I have two children, who are becoming adults I enjoy spending time with. I had a satisfying career. I could have had more, but I could easily have had less. I sometimes wonder how things might have been, but they are idle thoughts, not regrets.

The regrets I do have are small but sharp. Here’s one:

I was a student. One of my great aunts was ill. Seriously ill. I bought a Get Well card – it had snowdrops on it, her favourite flower. The card sat on a shelf in my room for days. My aunt died. I hadn’t sent the card.

I told myself it didn’t matter too much, I wasn’t a big part of my aunt’s life.

The next time I saw my mother, she gave me the jewellery that my aunt had wanted me to have. It wasn’t much, nothing valuable, but she’d worn it when she was my grandmother’s bridesmaid, and she wanted me to have it, as the only granddaughter.

I regret being careless, and thoughtless, and selfish. I still regret it – it still hurts me. And I wish I could say that that incident changed me, but it took years of similar missed opportunities for me to realise that it really doesn’t take much to give someone a moment of pleasure, of feeling cared for. That we should take every opportunity to be kind.

Sarah Connor
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