I want to say that I want everything back that I’ve wasted. All the money, all the time, all the opportunities.
The money I spent on things that would have been cheaper if I had waited, or if I had gone to another store. The money I wasted on things that I thought would be better than they were. The money I threw away on things that broke as soon as I bought them: things that I threw away almost before the money for them left my hand. I want back the money I spent on the ten bikes I lost between the ages of 8 and 18. One a year. I want back the money for all the food I have bought and dropped, all the expensive coffee I have spilled, everything I’ve bought that went bad before I got a chance to eat it. My God, I want back all the money I spent on cigarettes.
I want back the time I’ve lost being bored. Being depressed. Thinking that I just didn’t feel like doing anything useful or important, or even anything fun. Just doing something I enjoyed would have made me feel better; why couldn’t I just do that? Just start? All the time I have spent changing channels instead of turning off the TV, and turning pages of bad books rather than putting them down and picking up better ones, and all the mindless video game levels I have played, and replayed, and played again. I can’t even remember the video games I’ve finished: but I remember how anticlimactic it has always been to reach that final screen. I have never had a less satisfying “win.”
I want back the time I gave to people who didn’t deserve it, and I want to spend that time with people who deserved more than I gave them. I want to tell Rocco that I made it. I want to talk to my uncle Rob and my cousin Chelsea more. I want my Nonna to read my book.
I want another chance at all the opportunities I’ve missed: because I was too slow, because I was too lazy, because I was too afraid. I should have written twice as many books, and I should have sent ten times as many query letters; maybe if I had, I wouldn’t be writing this: because I wouldn’t be teaching any more. I want the opportunity not to do this any more, and if I’ve had it and missed it, I want it back again.
I want it all back again. That’s what I want to say.
But as I was thinking about this, I realized: those things I wasted were only wasted for me — and not always that. Every opportunity that I missed, gave someone else their chance, or gave me something that I wanted even more. Every dollar that I wasted taught me something, or gave me a laugh, or a story to tell: and those laughs and lessons and stories were worth more than the dollars they cost.
Well. Maybe not the cigarettes. That really was a lot of money. A pack a day for almost 17 years, and the average price of those packs was at least $4.00. It’s about $25,000. I don’t have any stories worth that.
But maybe I do: and maybe I have missed opportunities to write them, or to publish them; but every time an agent said no to me, that agent looked at the next query, and liked it more: and someone else got their dreams to come true. If the agent picked my book, then they would have had one less space to take on someone else; the opportunity only missed me. And my turn will come. In the meantime, I’ve become someone I am proud of. I don’t know if that would have happened if I had gone straight into professional writing; a lot of literary people are not people I want to be. Or if I had stayed a janitor, a job I could do in my sleep; maybe that would have been easier, but I was never proud of how well I scraped gum off the bottom of the seats.
Okay. I was a little proud of that.
Time is never wasted, because no matter what, you keep moving forward: and sometimes the path, even when it’s rocky and difficult, leads places you don’t expect. When I was a teenager, I hated high school. Partly because my father moved to California when I was in 8th grade, and without him around, I lacked structure and discipline, and my native laziness and idiocy took over. But mainly, I felt like high school wasn’t for me, wasn’t good for me; it didn’t teach me anything I wanted or needed to know. So I never put any effort into it, and I got back pretty much the same nothing. A few teachers mattered, a few classes; a few friends. Not a whole lot. For the most part I was a failure at high school.
But because my father moved to California, that’s where I went to go to college. And because I was a failure, I went to a community college, because I couldn’t get into the university I wanted to attend, with my nothing grades.
And that’s where I met my wife.
If I had been a success in high school, I never would have met her. And that would be the biggest loss of them all. She also helped me become and stay a teacher, where I got the second advantage of my failure: being a teenaged idiot made me a better teacher, because I understand my teenaged idiots better than most of their teachers do, because their other teachers were not idiots.
If I hadn’t wasted time reading bad books, watching bad TV, and playing bad video games, I wouldn’t have the sense of humor I have now, nor the ability to draw something useful from almost any pile of crud you put in front of me. I can do things that matter to me more efficiently now because I’ve wasted so much time in the past. (I wrote this in about 45 minutes.)
The money I’ve wasted, which has gone to make good stories and funny experiences, for the most part, has paid for other people to do things that might have been great. Not many, because I’ve never had much money to waste; but every little bit helps, and it hasn’t hurt me very much. Except for the cigarettes. That one still hurts.
So you know what I want? I don’t want that money back: I spent it, and even if I didn’t get my money’s worth, somebody else did. I don’t want that time back: regretting the choices I’ve made would mean regretting all the wonderful things that I have now because I’ve taken the particular path that led me here. I don’t want those opportunities back: I want to make new ones, better ones, and while I still want to be better about seizing those opportunities, I know that every one I let slip by makes me stronger and faster and better at grabbing the next one: and there’s always another opportunity.
No, what I want is this: I want to take back all the terrible things I have thought and said about myself, all the times I called myself lazy, or a coward, or a failure. I want to see myself as positively and as optimistically and as admiringly as I see almost everyone else: because humans amaze me, yet somehow, I’ve always thought that I came up short of the mark. I don’t. I surpass all expectations. At least some of the time.
I want to be proud of myself for who I am, and never regret the things that made me, me.
Even the cigarettes.