The Cure for Sleep: Regret
Season 1, 009: Our moments of painful awareness
“A story about struggle, class, opportunity (taken and wasted), art, sex and desire. About how to live once you’ve faced down death, and how to love. In laying out her life, Tanya has created a book with the capacity to change yours”
Jenny Landreth, author Swell: A Waterbiography
This month’s advance extract from The Cure For Sleep is about regret: those moments of painful awareness that often come at the end, when it feels too late - as when I arrived so suddenly at what I believed was my last minute of living.
After reading, do share a short true tale of your own - no more than 300 words – on this theme in the comments section. Have you experienced terrible regret as a result of your own actions - or failure to act? Did it change you? How?
Read the Season One stories contributed by readers over on The Cure For Sleep website: bedtime stories | memory games | bonding | choosing | promises | size & shape | time | desire | regret | faith | rebirth
I’M NOT DEAD I’M NOT DEAD I’M NOT DEAD
I bellowed this, over and again, with increasing force (although only my lips moved, I learned later, from the woman holding my hand). And each time I shouted, I came only a little further back, and with the unsteady motion got on a river, as if my voice and words were oars. The Awful Rowing Towards God: book by a poet who’d tried to die several times before she did. Yes. This was that. Where she had gone, I was going. Heavy now with duty, I fought the pull, even as I hoped it would carry me away.
The pain began.
Not the body. This was anguish. Of mind, soul: acute, unsparing. Regret – sharp and precise as a knife slipped inside an oyster shell – broke me open, exposing something raw, ugly and absolutely true.
How disgusting, to have my face brought so close to it, as if being forced to my knees with my neck held near a bowl of my own waste.
All the times and ways I’d turned away from risk and opportunity: moments not even Nye knew about, and absent from my life’s written transcripts. Parties I hadn’t gone to, job offers I didn’t accept, because I was without the right clothes, or shoes, or accent. Skills I never learned because I was too shy, too proud, to join with a group of other beginners. The jealousy that squirted in my stomach whenever reading in the weekend papers about those who had created something, as if their achievements were stolen from the reserves set aside for my own unrealised future (that wish to be a writer which existed only as pages in private diaries). Bitterer still: the sight of women my age walking together, when I’d been without a best female friend a decade, longer; never envying them any babies or small children, only their adult companionship.
These and more. Deep shames, held in some appendix-end of self, all coming back up.
And what passed for my status in the world: how separate it seemed now, like the gall around a wasp larva or the casing of a caddis grub. My degree result – strangely stellar for a working-class girl who’d grown up with so few books – and the scholarship it won me for a master’s. Rapid work promotions. Being asked back to my old school to give a speech. Even the amount I’d read, so that I recorded each title in a little ledger; miser hoarding coin. All this had mattered to me, very much, but felt now like a shell in which my real self lay formless, and recoiling from contact.
Admit it, if only to myself, in whatever new dimension it was that had cast me into such hard light.
How little I’d given. Or gone for.
Living through the words of others, when I might have dared to share my own.
Hiding in an office. Even (yes) my marriage and reluctant pursuit of motherhood.
That crabbed life of mine was ending.
With dishonour on me, who’d wasted it.
author site | book site | twitter | instagram
Unforgotten. By Steve Harrison
It's always there wandering in the backstreets of my mind. In idle moments, fragments of woven memories stitched together from old photographs of 'her' and faded childhood impressions meld and become someone I remember.
My mother was taken on a school day, an ordinary day; a day of algebra, geography and metalwork which shaped the contours of that day until, she became no more. That school day became a desperate, misshapen day, unfocused and unformed.
I knew she was ill.
She led in bed for days. No words. No movement. Only glimpses of her blonde, Diana Dors hair style, now limp and drained of it's shiny vibrancy. She wilted and became cold. I lost her. She was locked away in forbidden territory, hidden under a sad sea of blankets and sheets. The glowing coal fire in her bedroom had no one to warm.
Fourteen years old.
Now crushed and cast adrift into an adult world of, 'be seen but not heard,' 'speak when you are spoken to,' and 'keep away from 'that' door,' my emotional compass was compromised and spun out of control. I needed to get close. Skin to skin. Look into her eyes and see life's spark, get past that 'adult' door closed by 'adult' rules. Emotional intelligence was something from a psychology book. No books in this house.
Unable to process.
My fourteen years had given me an incomplete deck of coping cards. I was not equipped to navigate my way through that powerful theatre of emotions that played out during her last days.
Time, was in a hurry to take her. I had all the time in the world to regret my weakness and forgive myself for not being strong enough to open that 'adult ' door and rescue myself.
They say there are no coincidences. The very same November morning that I received an email notification for Tanya Shadrick’s recent book excerpt, I also experienced one of my life’s greatest regrets.
Just thinking about it generates a cold sweat as I’m made aware of the first wet rivulet inching down my spine; I become the source, a headwaters for streams of sweat and tears. Sorrowful fingers wander the keyboard’s checkerboard landscape and I wonder if there’s sufficient letters to type the words I’m hunting; can I summon them?
My stomach growls, not from hunger, but from that incessant gnawing of knowledge I’ve done something irreparable. In times of distress an immediate loss of appetite ensues as I enter a state feeling less human…something less likeable, less recognisable. A zoetrope of thoughts flashes an incessant reminder of my regret.
The very word, regret, implies an occurrence from which there’s no recovery and that is an agony. I blame my thinking for releasing its leash on insecurities; the tight rein on demons was loosened - their freedom lashed out with words deadlier than any weapon.
What did I do or say, you may wonder? I destroyed something most rare and exquisite, a unicorn manifest as human. Its decent nature shone brilliantly in any light; a gentle creature who stood patiently for me to come closer.
Great tenderness arose from the heart I’d forgotten, coming back to me in great waves, new and fresh. I’d been lifted into that world I’d only glimpsed at from the distance of dreams and faced an opportunity for new beginnings through a narrow portal, just wide enough to enter.
Almost there and I crashed, my words destroying the very thing I held so dear.
I face ultimate regret.