Our shadows longer than our souls

Last I had a dream about reuniting with some old East Asian friends that I have long lost contact with.

Mostly we just moved out of each other’s circles and our lives never crossed again. Some I wronged. Some wronged me. One fellow was there that I last knew to have suffered a mental breakdown and had dropped out of society to live on the streets of Seoul.

And there was one woman… I know now that she had been giving me every opportunity to ask her out. (Korean women are far more in charge of their dating lives in this age of Tinder but back then there was the expectation that a woman was a trophy to be won. Sadly a lot of Korean women still believe this.) I never did because she was slender and beautiful and I’ve always been a fat, thin-haired man with a lazy eye. I always told myself it could never happen. Because of that, it never did.

In my dream they were all very happy to see me no matter the terms on which we departed, and she held my hand the entire time.

I’ve been thinking about it since I woke up. I’ve been thinking that maybe this is one of the big reasons why concepts like Heaven are so attractive to people as they get older. You accumulate regrets like barnacles on a ship’s hull and no one gets to die clean. Yet when it’s over you get to go to a place where old wrongs and old mistakes are forgotten and forgiven.

I also think there’s a cartoon in this dream that I should work on today. But in this post-Cosby era I’ll need to tread carefully, methinks.


Any romantic regrets?


Nothing but.

Well, not quite. But man, way too many to list. Sign me up to be the first beta tester of your Living Your Life Over Again time machine, if you ever invent one. I still wouldn’t get it right, but holy shit would I do better than the first try.


Yeah… I don’t think that I would do that, myself. Not that I haven’t had my share of missed opportunities, but Butterfly-effecting everyone else’s life to fix my own life which isn’t really all that broken - it’s a fix disproportional to the problem.

On the other hand, if I were sent back against my will to inhabit my younger body, yeah, I’d do things a lot differently.

I’d just find different ways to be a clueless noob.


This is the song that was playing at the exact moment that I first fell in love.

I was 19, she was 17. Let’s call her L.

We’d met a few weeks earlier, introduced by a mutual friend at a dodgy goth/industrial club in Kings Cross (Sydney’s red-light district). We hit it off immediately; she thought I was funny, I thought she was beautiful, smart and kind. However, she was spoken for at the time.

Her boy was a six foot tall alcoholic methhead who we’ll call T. Physically speaking, he was a Peter Murphy clone with a Robert Smith hairdo.

Personality-wise, he was a bit of yob, but a nice enough bloke in general. She thought he was 16; we discovered later that he was actually 14. He’s a successful session guitarist and graphic designer these days.

The three of us ended up crashing at my house after a night out in the clubs. At the time, I was living in a crumbling slum, sharing it with an assortment of teenage heroin addicts.

It was a grand old terrace house, that would have been nice if it wasn’t for the dodgy neighbourhood, inoperative plumbing and rotten-through floorboards. I had the largest of the bedrooms, upstairs with the balcony (which was a deathtrap; rotted wood, rusted railing).

When I moved into the place, my first task was to clean out the room; the previous occupant had made a habit of throwing his old syringes into the wardrobe and his old condoms onto the balcony. That guy eventually fled the state in a stolen car with the police in hot pursuit, but at least he had the good taste to leave a Jane’s Addiction album (Nothing’s Shocking) in the wardrobe for me to salvage.

At the time, the only furniture I owned was a shelving unit. For a bed, I had a piece of foam that I’d found on the side of the road. Apart from that, there was the aforementioned syringe-filled built-in wardrobe, plus a mirror bolted to the back of the door. The mirror had been partially smashed sometime in the distant past, leaving a sharp edge of broken glass along the side of it.

Anyway, we made it back to my room after clubbing, at around sunrise. T immediately passed out in the corner, but me and L were still fairly thoroughly wired from our dancing chemistry of the previous evening. So I fired up the stereo, and put on the Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy and the Lash.

We started dancing to the music, but after a short time I collapsed upon the bed. L kept dancing, in something approximating an Irish reel. She was spinning around, arms spread wide, with a grin on her face as wide as it could go. But at some point during this, her hand caught the edge of the mirror, slicing a finger wide open.

She didn’t notice. She just kept spinning, arms out, smile unchanged, while a stream of blood droplets spread in a perfect arc from her hand across the walls of the room.

And that’s when I fell in love. That freeze-frame image of L spinning and smiling with the blood streaming from her hand will stay with me forever.

That relationship lasted about six years.

After we split up, there were a few brief entanglements, but nothing lasting. I was a mess; I jumped on my bike and headed to the desert for a month to clear my head,

After I got back, I met someone. She drew my eye the second I saw her; after we got to know each other, I’d find myself unconsciously orienting myself to her whenever we were near. If we were sitting around a campfire, I’d be facing her; if we were walking, I’d be beside her.

But she was married.

So, I buried it. Until the night of the party…

I ended up crashed out in a corner at their house, after a spectacularly drunken evening, trying to ignore the noises coming from the other end of the room.

And then she grabbed my ankle. It turned out that both her and her husband were into group scenes.

That was fun, albeit confusing.

Later on, I went to visit them. She was keen, he was uncomfortable. He was a bit of a yob, and more than a bit controlling; he liked watching her, but he didn’t like the thought of her doing anything without his permission. It was awkward.

So, I backed off and tried to stay clear.

And then she came to visit me.

I’d made clear that while I was okay with poly, I wasn’t interested in messing up anybody’s marriage. I had no interest in being someone’s bit on the side.

But she was there, and she wasn’t keen on taking no for an answer.

And I fucked up. It’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever been faced with something that I absolutely knew was wrong, but did it anyway.

And then, of course, it all blew up in my face. She was just getting back at him for an affair he’d had a year earlier.

Which is why that bit of my life is always tied to this song:


I just wanted to be a friend to Kim at first. She was in an abusive relationship with several dollops of crazy, so I lent her an ear persuaded her to stand up to her man and leave him. She disappeared and he chased after her. She came back to town a month later; he was out of the picture. We hung out as friends and soon it came time for her to leave the country and return to her home country. I hung out with her a lot… really liked her, but didn’t want to push it, having made that mistake recently and gotten burned.

After she left, her friend, let’s call her Jin, asked me if I had slept with her or not and I truthfully said “no”. Jin then told me that I was either dumber than I looked or a lot smarter. When I asked her what she meant, she just laughed it off. Two years later, I found out that Kim had gotten pregnant by a man when she was in another country and was suing him for child support since he refused to marry her.


My unrequited high school crush ruined me for all other women.


Sophomore year of high school, there was a group of us ‘bad kids’ that hung out together before and after school, during lunch, pep rallies, etc. Skipping classes and hanging out in the hallways or sneaking outside to smoke. I had initially dated one of the girls, then after we split I pursued another, although that never materialized. Meanwhile there was another girl, super-hot, but totally out of my league. There was a little flirtation, but I would’ve never had a chance with her.

Years later, when I was in college, I was taking part in the nightly migration of the bar patrons after closing time. The streets were crowded with people walking (or stumbling) out of the bar district. As I was crossing the overpass over the highway, a woman a little ways ahead stepped aside and climbed up on the edge. I must not have been afraid of heights at the time, and also I must’ve been pretty drunk because I climbed up next to her and started talking.

Rowdy drunks stumbled by behind us, cars and trucks rushed by below. I said something like she should step back because it was dangerous to be up there drunk. She spoke about the futility of life and asked me if I would make a suicide pact with her, and would I hold her hand on the way down? Then we looked and recognized each other. At that moment she said the most shocking thing. I could have just fainted and fallen over. “I had such a crush on you in high school.”

What?! That was unthinkable! Someone could actually have a crush on me?! I said something about how I’d had a crush on her too, but never thought she liked me. How we always have so many opportunities that we just don’t even realize. If only we’d pursue them. I don’t know what I said really, but whatever it was, it worked. She stepped down, I stepped down, we said goodbyes, rejoined the crowd and went our separate ways home.

If I had a regret, it’d be not getting her contact info. We shared some intense moments. But I have no idea what happened in her life. I’ll never know her side of the story.


Honestly, though, there’s no single thing I regret, but more the pattern. At this point, I’ve been single for all but a year-and-a-half of my life, and most of that time I was miserable in that relationship. So I’m used to living alone, to having things organized the way I like, to be able to find things because I have a physical memory of setting them down.

At this point, I’m beginning to think that even though I’ve been conditioned to want to cohabitate with someone, I’d be miserable actually doing so.

If I had somehow managed to be in some more serious relationships, then I’d have a bit more experience making room in my life for another person. But really, I haven’t.

And that’s really what I regret. Not any specific relationship that I never initiated - the people I wanted to ask out, I mostly asked out, and got turned down - but the fact that solitude has allowed me to become so neurotic that I can no longer see a future where I live happily ever after with another person. Either I’d drive them crazy, or they’d drive me crazy, or, most likely, both.

I’m seriously considering halting all attempts at finding a partner - not in the spirit of “Someone will come along when you’re not looking,” but rather because I think I’d honestly prefer to be left alone. As frustrating as that idea is, I think actually having to adapt to someone else’s peculiarities would probably be a lot more frustrating, and it’s just easier, in every possible way, to write off that path entirely.


Either way, my opinion is that that’s a wise course. I’ve had a few relationships of varying degree of success, plus some lengthy “dry spells,” and the worst months/years of my life were when I was actively seeking some kind of relationship. If you focus on anything or everything else in your life other than love, then you can really get your house in order, which may very well be enough. If someone comes into your life all unlooked-for, then great, see where that goes. The best relationships I’ve had were total surprises, and ones I did not seek out at all.

But I would no longer spend any time trying to get myself in that position anymore. A solitary life can be hugely rewarding and fulfilling, and relatively free of the endless compromises and communication issues that crop up in even really good relationships.