I write for many reasons, often because I find it easier than talking to people. Sometimes because it is the only method I know of bringing emotions out of myself in a way that helps me cope with them more helpfully and productively.
Last night as I sat talking to my teenage daughter who is now as tall as me (a fact which she takes great delight in pointing out to her old Mum on a regular basis), I found myself looking beyond her 13 year old form, back to her childhood. Her words kept tumbling out, but in my head I was seeing and listening to her at four, five; small and innocent and totally trusting.
I recalled us sitting together on the high bed in her attic bedroom in an old house of ours, the walls bubble gum pink, stuffed, furry toys scattered around the floor. It was bedtime and we were reading a story as we did every night. Except that night I was overwhelmed with depression; a foul, black mood swamped me like a heavy cloak, rendering me incapable of breaking free from its negativity.
I had struggled all day with a debilitating hangover and desperately wanted to crack open the wine that sat downstairs in my fridge. I barked the words of the book at my little girl, racing through the story-telling at break neck speed; no silly voices, no humorous play-acting, no deliberate creation of suspense through dramatic pauses, or varying intonation. Just the sound of my monotone, depressed voice, almost shouting the words out to her while she sat by my side, listening gratefully.
When she was little, my daughter never saw me really drunk; I wasn’t lying on the settee day and night clutching a bottle of vodka in my hand. I got up at 7 am each day, hangover or not, got her ready for school, fed the cat/gerbils/rabbit (whichever we had at the time), took her to school, went to work, muddled through, picked her up from school, walked home, cooked dinner, put her to bed. I did all those things, I functioned.
But there were many times when I didn’t give her what she desperately needed as a little girl; my unadulterated attention – me without the tormenting presence of addiction niggling in the darker reaches of my consciousness; me who read her a story in an entertaining and fun way, present and attentive and not possessed by the thought of that bottle of wine in the kitchen.
But you can’t unpick the past and restitch it in a better way.
Last night, as she talked to me about her day at school, I was so overcome with sorrow at what I had thrown away all those years ago, that I had to excuse myself, fleeing upstairs to the bedroom where I cried for just five minutes – stifled, secretive, agonising tears, shed because I will never be able to go back to my little girl that night, and read her the story in the way that she deserved. It is, quite simply, one of my biggest regrets.
On that note, and because I try to turn every negative in to a positive, I would like to share this quote with you, on the matter of regret;