There’s an old Ben Folds song called “Regrets” that my son Zach and I used to play the hell out of. Zach loved it because of the melody and because it starts, I thought about sitting on the floor in second grade. … That’s how old he was when we first listened to it together, so he thought it was about him. I loved it because of the melody and because it goes on to list a lifetime of regrets, so I thought it was about me.
I’m the anti-Edith Piaf — I regret most everything! I’m not talking about things that happened to me like being dealt a crappy father or testicular cancer; that stuff you can’t control. I’m referring to the things I decided or — more often — didn’t decide to do. Remember the scenes in Defending Your Life when Albert Brooks is forced to watch himself make bad decision after bad decision because he was too scared to act? Well, that was based on me (as was the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man).
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And nowhere was this immobilizing indecision more on display than with women. There was this one time, years ago, when I went out to lunch with an adorable blonde who I worked with and we took a walk to an antiques store under the guise of me helping her pick out an armoire for her new apartment. It was a hot summer day and we were flirting and laughing with each other like we always did, and I remember her standing in front of a giant piece of pine furniture in the back of the store, and she looked so sexy and willing, and I wanted to kiss her as badly as I ever wanted anything. But I didn’t.
Another time I was out with this freelance writer who had written a stupid, little story I had assigned to her because her exquisite face had been haunting my dreams, so we talked about the story over shepherd’s pie (I can’t believe I remember that). The thing she wrote was incredibly bad and inappropriate, filled with all kinds of sexual innuendo, and she was completely ravishing as she drank Dos Equis, sitting so close to me, and the only thing that happened was that I had to completely rewrite her story.
There were so many other missed opportunities. Late-night dinner with a female boss in Los Angeles; a stunning and ambitious young woman who came into my office every day just to flirt; an attractive older woman who I sat next to on a plane ride to Las Vegas, and on and on. All kisses I never kissed and bad stories with no happy endings.
My biggest regret of all involves someone I met during a particularly tumultuous time in my marriage. Convinced that Caryn and I were over, I visited Amsterdam with friends and fell hard for a beautiful woman who was part of the trip. Long story short, when Caryn found out about the affair, we decided to reconcile.
I called the beautiful woman the next morning and said I needed to talk right away. We met in Bryant Park. “I can’t do this anymore,” I said. She assumed I was talking about my wife.
“You just need to move out already,” she said, taking my arm in hers as we walked in the empty park. “You’ll be so much happier.”
“I can’t. I mean … I can’t see you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m getting back together with my wife,” I said and, for the first time since we met, couldn’t look at her beautiful face.
“I hate you!” she screamed, pushing me away from her. “I knew this was gonna happen!”
“I hate you for this!”
“I hate me for this, too,” I said, and sat down on one of those green wooden folding chairs on the big lawn.
I kept thinking of things to say, but nothing came out. To see her in pain, pain that I inflicted, pain that I was very familiar with … I just went numb, unintentionally holding my breath until I almost passed out.
“Just leave me alone,” she said finally, and walked out of the park.
To this day, I regret hurting this beautiful woman more than I’ve ever regretted anything in my life. I regret being too scared to see what life would’ve been like with her and not ending my marriage when it should’ve naturally ended.
The good news is that I am no longer scared.
And not coincidentally, I just felt compelled to pop on “Coyote” by Joni Mitchell, an old favorite, mainly so I could loudly sing the refrain:
No regrets, Coyote, I just get off up away. You just picked up a hitcher, a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway.