I have never known anyone so full of regrets as Julie. And, in the 50+ years since graduating, I’ve met lot of people weighed down by regrets – big to small. Of course, I have my own. Not being more than a good-enough mother. Working too much. And, if I live as long as my mother, I’ll regret not having saved enough.
Julie and I met at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest that billed itself as the Ivy League of Christian schools. She and I, along with our dorm mates, agree that we came out of those four years well-educated and friends for life. Nevertheless, Julie still resents not transferring to a “real” Ivy League school, like Harvard when it accepted women for the first time in fall 1969.
“I could have hung out with Chuck Schumer,” she bemoans. (Too young to matriculate with JFK; too old to matriculate with Barack Obama.) “RGB could have mentored me, set me on the path to fame,” she imagines. “We might have shared the Supreme Court bench,” she laments. As if George W (43) was looking to appoint a white woman for the New Millennium.
“You’ve done a lot of good throughout your career as a DA,” I argue unconvincingly. “Righted wrongs, protected the innocent and guarded public safety – besides having an illustrious career.” She’s having none of it.
These days, Julie’s discontent stretches from what she did/does to what she was/is. When we roomed together freshman year, my hair was straight whatever the humidity. Hers was wavy before and frizzy after rain. She’d go to bed at night with her hair wrapped in rollers the size of frozen OJ cans. I could never figure out how she was able to get a good night’s sleep. She began to peroxide her locks, which did have a straightening effect. Now, Julie’s gray hair is straight just like mine, and she wants the curl back.
“Did you watch Grant Norton’s interview with Nicole Kidman?” she asked on our last FaceTime call. She hastened to quote Nicole, who warned, “Don’t dye your hair. Don’t straighten your curls.” Because your natural color and wave will never come back. Apparently, Julie and Nicole are best buds when it comes to style tips for the young.
Despite her age and experience, Julie doesn’t seem secure in her own identity. While we, her classmates of ’70, appear content. Maybe not 100 percent satisfied, but who is or can be? “We are who we are,” most of us proclaim. Not Julie. She wants to drop the diminutive, and asks us to call her “Juliette” from now on. A moniker more befitting her self-image, I guess. Does she really think she’s an ingenue like “Emily in Paris?” The rest of us shrug our shoulders and segue to the next topic. We can’t be bothered with pretense.
Barb, my sophomore roommate, and I compare notes. (We don’t condone gossip!) “Why can’t Julie just be happy with her life?” asks Barb who sold her marketing business, retired and now helps out her daughter with childcare. “What’s with all of this regretting? Don’t we deserve, after seven decades, to wear our scars and wrinkles like badges of courage? Like the women warriors we’ve become?”
“Let her be,” advises Sammy, our girlfriend who still goes by her nickname and not her birth name of Samantha. She’s the happiest person I know despite having defended miscreants, deviants, “bad” people and the innocents (my descriptors, not hers) for more than 40 years. A tough gig that she survived.
On our last Zoom call, checking in from across the U.S., we discussed Arthur Brooks’s NPR interview, “How to crack the code to happiness in the second half of life.” He advocates for “crystallized” intelligence, which comes from accumulated wisdom, and the ability to be flexible.
“I’m happy. Really happy!” exclaims Sammy. And we all believe her. (Except possibly for Julie.) Sammy rides her horse three times a week and plays ping pong on alternate days. She’s set up a pickle ball court for her neighborhood. She’s a community activist.
I admit I’ve been struggling over the status of my relationship with Julie. One that has covered a lot of territory: first loves and obsessions, hitchhiking adventures in Europe after college, long-winding careers, marriages of varying success, loss of too-young parents. There’s a sense of loyalty, even obligation, to one another after all these years.
But, let’s face it. I don’t have forever to enjoy my life. And Julie is dragging me down with all of her negativity. If she can’t come around to leaving regrets behind and experiencing the joys here and now, I’ll be forced to end this friendship. It’s become too toxic, too draining and, sorry to say, a waste of my time. What time I have left. That’s reality.