I never parted from Mama if we were mad at each other. From the time I could drive I would threaten to follow her to work if we didn’t fix whatever lay between us. As a result, when the day came going on four years ago now and I had to stand over her casket, I felt grief — crushing grief –; I felt profound loss; but what I did not feel was regret. I’m not saying this makes me a great son or a great person because it doesn’t. I’m saying it because I haven’t followed the “no regrets” program with everyone in my life.
I met Tracey over the phone when she was a sales rep for a book seller and I was a middle school librarian. After our first conversation I wouldn’t deal with anyone at the company but her. We were kindred spirits. Our friendship was ten years of phone calls, emails, and texts. I never once laid eyes on her in the flesh. I knew she was up in New York living a life that would terrify me and loving every minute of it.
We’d go long stretches and not hear from each other but once Facebook caught on, it became much easier to keep in touch. She introduced me to the music of The Cramps and offered me the “real” tour of New York if I ever got the courage up to fly to the Big Apple. I didn’t make it for a thousand reasons: money, time, commitments . . . the usual. Then, last spring, through Facebook I found out she was sick — extremely sick, like at death’s door sick. She had a condition called “lipid pneumonia” which made her lungs fill up with a fatty fluid the consistency of oil.
Something strange happened then. We had a fight. Of all things, she was sick as a dog and we had a fight. Part of it was over someone in her life I hated — well, as much as you can hate someone you’ve never met; part of it was because I kept badgering her to leave her beloved New York City and move back to her family in Florida with warmer weather and family to look out for her. It was ALL stupid and the majority of the entire fiasco was my fault. Then she started to get better and better and got out of the hospital and it looked like everything was coming up Milhouse.
But she was still angry with me and I was too proud and stubborn to admit any wrongdoing or back down from anything I said. So, we stopped communicating. Last I talked to her was July of last year and she was, “fine thank you very much!” Then nothing. Well, Monday was her 40th birthday and I thought fourteen months was plenty to act like an ass so I sent her an emoji laden post telling her happy birthday on Facebook.
About an hour later I got a reply to my post, not from Tracey, but from her mother. It simply said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you but Tracey died Thanksgiving Day of last year.” I sat and stared at my phone so hard Budge asked me what was wrong. She knew who Tracey was so she was sorry for my feeling too.
It’s so weird in a way. I never laid physical eyes on her, but she’s left this empty space. She’s been dead nearly a year and I didn’t even know! Now it’s too late. I’ll never know what she thought of me those last months. Did she still consider me a friend? Did she feel betrayed? Did she feel anything at all? What I feel is much simpler.
I feel regret.
I feel regret that when she needed me most I wasn’t there in person or electronically. I feel regret that this amazing person who was part of my life will never know just exactly how much she made me smile or how much she taught me . . . all because I waited too late to stretch out an olive branch. Our last words to each other were harsh . . . because of my pride.
Now she’s gone.
Which got me to thinking how she’s not the only one. I’ve got friends and family I haven’t seen in years and some of us parted on bad terms. I’ve got people I need to apologize to but I don’t know where they are and it’s taken losing a real friend to open my eyes to just how fragile and fleeting life is and how enduring and everlasting our words are.
If you happen across this post and you are a friend, former friend, or family member; if you are someone I’ve wronged, comment below, email me, reach out and give me a chance to mend and take back some of the things I’ve said and if you can’t or don’t want to please know that for my part, I’m sorry. I’ve said and done stupid things and hurt people unknowingly and quite willfully at times, but I’m going on fifty and the man is sorry for many things the boy has done . . . and many things the man has done. I’m so sorry.
The Quakers have a proverb: “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”
You only live once is not just a Millenial throwaway line by some rapper. It’s not just something to say. No, it is a truth . . . an immutable truth. No matter what we may believe about what comes after we’re only going through THIS life one time and this life is just a mist, a fog, a momentary vapor.
So please, take my advice. Never part with harsh words. Always be the first to say “I’m sorry” whether you feel it was your fault or not. Reach out to your friends and loved ones because you never know if what seemed so important to say, the argument that was so vital to win, the point so desperate to make just might be the last words the two of you ever share and then, when you finally decide to try to mend things you find out you’ve come to late.
Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.