Dead Reckoning: Learning to Live Without Regret
"Why didn't you ask me to stay?" I say.
"I didn't know it was an option." He sighs. "Can I have you in the next lifetime?"
We are in our 40s. We live in different cities, belong to others, and are parents to, between us, seven kids. It would be impossible—impossible—to change course.
Yet somehow I find myself saying, "Fuck the next lifetime. I am going to die someday."
I'm perfectly healthy. According to the actuarial table, I'm unlikely to die for another 40 years. But death has been on my mind, flashing in my periphery. I once looked at a diving board and thought, "I wonder if I've already done my last front flip." I was 36. I couldn't stand the idea. So I did one then and have done one every summer since. There will come a day when my aging body will prevent me from doing another. But today isn't that day.
In navigation, dead reckoning is the process of calculating a position relative to a previous point. The exact places where we make our decisions usually go unmarked. But in the signal moments of my life, death has served as my own personal North Star.
One such moment is right now in this SUV. Sitting beside Carlos, I take my bearings: I have a good marriage, not a passionate one. I work for people I admire and adore, but my job is ending. I live in a glamorous city, but long for fewer bills, better sleep, proximity to my father, and space for my kids. In that driver's seat, I make a choice: I'm not interested in the next lifetime. I will live in this one.
I change my return flight, extending my stay in Phoenix another two weeks. I want a chance to explore a love whose loss I have always mourned, a chance to help my father, a chance to pause. I ask myself, "If the last stop on my trip is death, what do I want to do, to feel, between now and then?" Between this point and death, I want to make love to this man. Between this point and death, I need a marriage full of ardor instead of bonhomie. Between this point and death, I don't want to be too shy or too safe.
Carlos says, "I've drawn half my breaths in this life." We've lost 20 years. We don't want to lose more. I return to New York and quit my job. I leave my husband. I move with my girls to Phoenix. My friend David writes an e-mail: "Carpe diem, yes, fine, sure. But why are we behaving as if we all have six months left to live?"
But why behave as if I have 60 years?
I try to sell my father's house, but can't do it. I want it: the quail, the olive tree, the big eucalyptus, the jackrabbits. I want to watch my girls run down the same hallway I did. I buy the house from my father, move in, and ask Carlos and his kids to move in, too. To others it seems reckless; to us it seems overdue. My soon-to-be ex-husband thinks I'm not in my right mind. David says that after 15 years, he can no longer bear being my friend. My sister bursts into tears and asks if this isn't all "a little too soon." And I wonder if I've gone too far. If I will live to regret this. If I've broken my husband's heart, derailed my daughters. I feel alone and adrift and half the time insane. To make this leap, I need a faith that's almost religious—in my instincts, my desire, this man, and myself. But a friend tells me: "Love expands." And for that there is plenty of evidence. My life grows emphatically richer. I suddenly have more—people, space, joy. More heartache, for certain. But that's life, and I have more of that now, too.
When I'm not despairing, I see that what I have is extraordinary. Carlos and I wake each morning in the house where I grew up, in the room where my mother drew her last breath. The sun peeks through the glass doors. Jackrabbits nibble the grass. Quail dart along the deck. The olive tree stands sentry. Soon the kids will pile into bed with us. Carlos says, "We have another day." There will come a morning when I will have done my last front flip, inhaled my children for the last time, made love to Carlos for the last time. There will come a day when one of us isn't in that bed, when we will have had each and every one of our days. He makes a wedding ring for me from the olive tree my mom planted outside our bedroom. I say hell yes. Death is the ultimate destination, no matter which way I steer. And I want to live days worth dying for.
More Ways to Break Free from Regret