I stand in the produce section wondering what a pomelo is and whether I can get a column out of it. I see a woman trip in front of Bloomingdale's, and (instead of rushing to help her up) I begin spinning it into a piece on the perils of stiletto heels.
Regrets? I've had a few, and I'll be more than happy to mention every last one of them if they can be labeled "Lisa Kogan's March column."
1976 Rebellion rocks Soweto, America turns 200, Red Army Faction terrorists stand trial in West Germany, and I am an impressionable 15-year-old fresh from seeing the Streisand-Kristofferson remake of A Star Is Born. I regret thinking that if I permed my stick-straight hair to look like Barbra's, I could somehow become fabulous enough to snag Kris Kristofferson. Instead, I attend my first major make-out party looking as if a demented poodle had taken up residence on my head.
1984 John DeLorean is acquitted, the Apple Macintosh is in stores, Miami Vice convinces men to dress as if they were dishes of sherbet, and I am 23 years old, living in New York City. I regret that I didn't raise a little more hell back when I still had nothing to lose. But I got no kick from cocaine and mere alcohol didn't thrill me at all. I was born the old soul, the good girl, the designated soup schlepper, and I actually believed that I had the rest of my life to go dancing in ruby red lipstick.
1989 Exxon screws up Alaska, Salman Rushdie irks the Ayatollah, Zsa Zsa Gabor slaps a motorcycle cop, and I leave a job in real estate that paid more money than I had ever made before—or since—to take a job as an assistant at a little weekly magazine called 7 Days. I'm not sure that changing careers in my late 20s is a brilliant idea, but my father tells me that when you really love what you do, you tend to be pretty good at it, and when you're good at something, the money eventually comes. I regret that I never thanked my dad for saying what I needed to hear at the exact moment I needed to hear it. Only a few years earlier, he'd told me that it's always best to open the garage door before backing out of the garage. Now, that was a situation where he probably should have said something a little bit sooner than when we were standing in the driveway surveying what was left of the car and the garage. Anyway, it was at 7 Days that I met my friend Mark Carson—the person who taught me everything I know about grace and courage and authenticity.
1991 Anita Hill speaks truth to power, the Soviet Union calls it a day, the Gulf War begins, and it hits me that I'm looking for something I will never find with my boyfriend of nearly five years. The rites of passage are narrow and they come just once. If I hadn't walked away that rainy November morning, I know I'd have stayed for the rest of my life. I regret that it took me so damn long to figure out who I wanted to be when I finally grew up, and I regret having hurt someone I loved along the way.
1992 There is war in Bosnia, Rodney King in Los Angeles, Dan Quayle unable to spell P-O-T-A-T-O in a New Jersey elementary school, and I spend the next 10 long months filled with regret that I didn't eat more lasagna prior to starting my hideously grueling diet.
1993 The World Trade Center is bombed, Václav Havel is elected president of the Czech Republic, Heidi Fleiss is busted and I deeply regret eating all that lasagna upon completion of my hideously grueling 10-month diet. There's an old saying: to consume one's own body weight in melted mozzarella is to go directly back to your fat pants.
1994 I don't remember much about that year except for this: The AIDS virus was savaging beautiful young men, and Mark Carson—my partner in crime, my in-case-of-emergency-please-call guy, my whip-smart, deeply honest, very brave, infuriatingly optimistic, darling friend—died as I held him in my arms. He had goodness, he had integrity, he had cheekbones that could open an envelope. He liked bright lights and big cities. He cared about justice and art. And in my dreams he's always there, dragging me to the best Turkish restaurant in Astoria or playing some CD of an obscure albeit amazing indie rocker, or simply racing forward to offer me sanctuary within his incredibly generous embrace.
Stop tormenting yourself with regrets...
Anyway, that's the ending I would have gone with if I were in charge of the planet. But I'm not even in charge of picking the pizza toppings when I order takeout with my daughter...and she's only 3. About all any of us gets to be in charge of is who we are in our stories.
In this story, I was keenly aware that Mark and I were on borrowed time, and it made me sit up and take notice of every bittersweet second. When time is of the essence, you get tickets to the show, you splurge on Christmas dinner and birthday presents, you stay up talking a little later, you don't let anything go unspoken, you pay attention. I memorized the clipped cadence of his voice and the geography of his gorgeous face. I watched as he gave and took, read and traveled, tried and failed, despaired and rallied, protested, partied, and persevered. And though he never found "the one," he loved and was loved in a world where love doesn't always come easy. I think back to the sea of people that filled his memorial service; they all looked exactly the same. They looked as if they'd lost their best friend.
There was an old woman I once knew who used to say this great thing whenever it was time to leave; she'd pull you very close and, almost like a benediction, she'd whisper, "We only part to meet again."
What I wouldn't give to have that kind of faith. Oh, sweetie, how I wish I could pick up the phone and meet you for a cheeseburger at that very mediocre little diner on West 55th Street. Just thinking about how you'd have let me steal your French fries while helping me find a perfect note on which to end this piece makes me ache. It's been nearly 13 years, and dammit Mark, that ache never really goes away.
But you taught me life is joy and sorrow, hand in hand. And that, my friend, is about all I know. That, and this: I'll see you in my dreams.
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