I was talking with a good friend a few weeks ago, and he told me that my life had “turned on its ass” (EDITOR’S NOTE: my friend has since asked me to correct this to ‘arse’ to reflect that he is English). He didn’t offend me, largely because he meant it in the context of “damn, you’re brave”, rather than “damn, your life sucks”. But what he said has got me thinking about the way that my life has turned out. It is fashionable nowadays to say that you regret nothing. People wonder how I can truly mean it, after all: hasn’t my life been turned on its ass?
On paper, yes; it has. If you look at why I came to the US and what I hoped to achieve, in many ways, my life hasn’t just been turned on its ass, it has been a disaster. I fell in love with a man and gave up everything that I knew to be with him. I left behind my family; my friends; my culture; my plans for my future; everything. I worked two jobs for eleven months, saving every penny because I knew that when I arrived in the US, it would be some time before I could work. I picked out a little townhouse for us to rent in Dahlonega. I dreamed that one day we would own it. My plan was to work in the US for a year while I waited to meet residency requirements for in-state tuition fees, and then go back to North Georgia and finish my degree. From there I would go to law school I knew not where. I would be living the American Dream. Years on, I would be able to say to my children “when I was twenty, I left home and moved halfway around the world, and look how successful I’ve become”. That was the dream.
The reality went like this:
The green card took over a year to arrive. We were broke, and we were fighting. Nothing was ever easy. Nothing ever worked out the way it was supposed to. Even when things finally started to go in the right direction – even when I found my dream job, and we were getting by – things went wrong for us. The fights became frequent and they became physical. Then our marriage ended. So much for growing old in Dahlonega with my husband, and inspiring my children with how well my life turned out.
So how can I say that I don’t regret anything, when everything I dreamed of was dashed in some way?
First, of course, I have a beautiful child I adore. If I had stayed in England, I would have a law degree by now. I would be doing a pupillage and would almost fully qualified to practise as a lawyer. But I would not have my daughter, and I would not trade her for anything.
But it goes deeper than that. It would be simple and it would be easy to say “I don’t regret marrying him, because he gave me a child”; but it would also be insulting to the truth. The truth is I don’t regret marrying him because no matter how awfully it ended and no matter what he said and did, he made me happy for a while. I don’t regret marrying him because I am not so naïve as to believe that I was completely faultless. I don’t regret marrying him because we can’t rule a chapter of our lives as a mistake just because we didn’t like the ending.
I don’t regret giving up my future in England, because I was never truly happy there. I never realised until I came to Georgia that you can live in a place all your life, but home can be somewhere else.
I don’t regret leaving my family behind, because although I miss them, we’re closer now than we have been in years. Physical distance means nothing when you have that closeness. I don’t regret leaving my family because one family member, who we lost years ago, loved this country and would be proud of me for making that leap. One family member, who I lost very recently, would have loved to have known how happy I have been.
I don’t even regret falling in love with someone immediately after I went from ‘married’ to ‘separated’, because although it turns out I fell for the oldest trick in the book (I’ll give you a clue: when someone tells you they love you, they don’t always mean it), I have learned from it. I have learned to guard my heart a little better, because it’s hard to tell the difference between those who want it and those who want something else from you. I don’t regret it because I channelled the pain into writing, and, goodness, how much writing I have done lately.
I had my hair cut recently. It may sound silly, but after years of having essentially the same hair style – long, thick, layered – it took a lot for me to get it all cut off. The last time the stylist saw me, I was preparing for my daughter’s birthday party and my husband coming home from military training, so, naturally, she asked me how the party went and how I was enjoying having my husband back.
“Actually,” I said, “there is no husband, anymore,” and I showed her my bare wedding finger. I told her what happened, because why not? I have no shame; no regrets.
“Wow, I’m sorry,” she said to me. “But hey, maybe this is what you need. A sassy new hair style. A new you, to go with the new life change.”
I smiled and I nodded, but she was wrong. See, I didn’t need a new me. I didn’t need to reinvent myself. The me that I already have is perfectly fine, thank you very much.
I don’t believe in mistakes, I believe in choices. I stand by every choice that I have made. I have been lucky enough to have friends and family to fall back on when I needed them. I have been lucky enough to have a daughter who depends on me, and I cannot fall into self-pity for her sake. Not that there is anything to pity: I have a wonderful life.
I have lost a lot this year. But with every loss, I have gained a lesson.
And I remain, truly, happy.
That is how I can say I have no regrets, in spite of everything.