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Ann Brenoff

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On The Fly: My 5 Regrets

Posted: 07/25/2013 7:28 am

It's been said that hindsight is the perfect vision. But since life doesn't come with do-overs, we are occasionally left with looking in our rear view mirror and thinking about what we would have done differently had we known the outcome. Regrets? "Regrets" seems like such a harsh word. Here are five things I simply wish I hadn't done:

1. Drove so fast and drove under the influence.
For much of my early 20s, I would have to say I was a reckless driver. I drove little sports cars with the top down and sped along the back roads of Monmouth County, New Jersey, never wearing a seatbelt. Seatbelts, unbelievably, weren't mandatory back then. And for the record, I wasn't alone. Everyone didn't start buckling up until 1984, when they began penalizing drivers and passengers.

In my early 20s, I was a cub reporter at the Jersey Shore, working the night shift. I sat in an office glued to a police scanner and wherever the cops and firemen went, I followed. In my first year of journalism, I covered death by every means possible -- including being buried alive in the sand as a fraternity hazing prank. About the only death I never wrote about was that of my faith in humanity, which crumbled quickly working the night crime beat.

Every night, a group of us would turn off the newsroom lights around 2 a.m. and hurry over to Paddy Murray's Irish pub in Long Branch to knock back a few Johnny Walkers before last call. In this era before MADD and SADD, we called it "unwinding." I knew I was trying to chase away the ghosts of the tragedies I covered each shift -- but knowing it wasn't enough to stop me from drinking and driving.

What eventually stopped me was covering a prom night drunk driving accident in which five teenagers died. I heard the call on the police scanner at around midnight and hopped into my yellow MGB, taking the curves of Rumson Road so wide and fast that my tires squealed. The crime scene was roped off with police tape but one of my buddies on the force let me in to take some notes of the gruesome scene. It was a dark night, but even with just the moon's limited illumination, I could see the girl's teeth and part of her nose still embedded in the cracked windshield. A veteran cop pointed out the back seat passengers' limbs that had been sheared off and flung from the car; he then stepped aside and puked his guts out at the curb. As I turned to leave, I slipped and fell on the slippery pavement. I assumed it was oil leaking from the demolished car. I was wrong; it was blood that forever stained the soles of my shoes.

I drove back to the office never exceeding 20 mph, wrote up my story and didn't go to Paddy Murray's that night. Actually, I never went to Paddy's again ever.

I was lucky. No one ever suffered because of my foolishness. I count that among my blessings.

2. Clung to the complacency ship.
In 1989, the death of my best friend pushed me to the emotional edge and I took a break. It also caused me to take stock of everything. I dumped Mr. Toxic, rented out my house and took a leave of absence from my miserable-but-important job. Actually, I took a leave of absence from my life. I wound up volunteering in the Israel Defense Forces.

It was the last great brave thing I've done and I wish that wasn't the case.

In 1989, I was far less encumbered than I am now. It was me, my dog and my mortgage. (The mortgage was covered by the renter and the dog stayed with friends.) To jump off my life's speeding bullet train now would be way more complicated, I tell myself. I have two kids in school who would hate being ripped away from their lives and friends. I have a husband with health issues who takes comfort in his proximity to his doctors. I have college accounts to fund and just a few years left to make sure my retirement piggy bank holds more than just coins from the sofa cushions. So yes, running off on an adventure isn't as relatively simple right now.

Bullshit. It wasn't simple in 1989 either, but I found a way. Stepping off the train requires a leap of faith not just that there will be a happy ending, but also that you will take whatever ending you wind up with and be happy with it. For practice, I rented Eat Pray Love and am hoping for some inspiration.

3. Wasn't kinder to those who were unkind to me.
Everyone comes with baggage and the truth is, sometimes they drop it on our doorstep. Having the gifts of a quick wit and a quicker temper, I have not always let slights pass. In fact, most of the time, my reaction has been to lash out when wounded. I have shredded people who offended me, whether they did so intentionally or otherwise.

It took my daughter who lived as a special needs child in a Chinese orphanage until she was 5.5 years old to teach me how to forgive. I watched her navigate through elementary school in Malibu, California where others tried to define her by her differences. She smiled at them and offered them her love. As a third grader, she embraced a bully who had just stolen her ID tag from her violin case and tossed it in the garbage. "Why does it make you feel good to be mean to people?" my daughter asked the bully. "I'm sorry you hurt so much and do that."

The teacher, the bully and her mom, and I just stood there -- mouths gaping.

I've tried to be the person my daughter believes I am. I regret that I've wounded people with my sharp tongue and my sharper pen. Gifts like those shouldn't be misused, and I on occasion, have.

4. Just said "no" more often.
No, not in the Nancy Reagan sense. I wish I had just said "no" to boring dinner party invitations, the pressure to wear three-inch heels, trying snowboarding at age 60 and buying a stick shift.

Life is too short to waste a single precious evening in the company of people you don't enjoy. Three-inch heels are to blame for my broken-down feet today and I no longer remember how sexy they made me feel when I wore them. Snowboarding is dangerous, lacks the grace of skiing and bears no resemblance to surfing -- whoever told me it did was outright lying. And the stick shift? Why on Earth do they even still make them? They should have been retired as a mode of transportation along with the horse and buggy. I know of nothing that makes Los Angeles driving worse than being stuck in stop-and-go traffic in a stick shift.

5. Felt I was too old to do something I wanted to do.
I was wrong. If I want to do it, I am not too old to try and do it. It doesn't matter if anyone else thinks I'm too old, too young, too thin, too fat. What matters is what I think and I regret the times I've forgotten that.

Certainly, as we progress in years, life can easily become a big old elimination derby. One day you are hiking your favorite trails and the next day you're on a hospital gurney awaiting hip surgery because you hope to do it again. I don't want to let go of the things I love doing. And I certainly don't want to stop doing them because someone else thinks I shouldn't.

Other than this, the only thing I regret is having any regrets at all.

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