Sunday, July 18, 2010

Regrets and Big Bird

I’m not much inclined any more to regret the large movements of my life and the decisions I’ve made to shape them.  This is my life; I love it.  I grieve much, regret little.  But some choices, mostly small ones, do linger and stab.   I lived with my mother’s mother my last semester of high school, or rather she and a gay 25ish gentleman of approximately 6’7” lived with me, after my mom and stepfather moved across the country.  One night I was driving home from a social event through thick fog, with Nana beside me.  Nana said I was going too fast and asked me to slow down.  I said I wasn’t going too fast, and, unless my memory is wrong, I didn’t slow down.  Now I wish I had.  It would have been a small thing to do for her, especially as she may have been right.  I also regret losing touch with the 6’7” gay 25-year old.  Richard, oh Richard, where are you?

In college, before my health tanked, I spent a month studying massage at Kripalu ashram in western Massachusetts.  It was a good month — doing yoga every day, eating great vegetarian food somebody else cooked, sleeping in a large dorm room with perhaps 15 women, learning about the body, massaging and being massaged.  Aside from how drained I felt after standing to give massages, I throve.  The place had its problems, as manifest by the revelation a couple years later that the guru had been sleeping with some of his disciples while preaching abstinence to the unmarried.  But it was also a good place to be quiet and to take care of yourself.  It is the only place I’ve been where it’s socially acceptable, and even encouraged, to be silent in the presence of other people during what might otherwise be social opportunities.  There was a woman in my program who was early middle age, moderately heavy, plain faced, and socially awkward.  She was not very expressive in body or countenance, the kind of person who disappears among confident, garrulous folks; I could easily imagine her appearance socially disadvantaging her.  But something happened for her while we were there.  I didn’t know exactly what, but she said to me and a couple other people that she thought her face had become locked into a joyless expression because she had smiled so little in her life.  She felt people were put off by her face, and she wanted to know if this could change.  If she was happy, as she was starting to feel, would her face soften?  I thought it was possible but I certainly didn’t know.  I only had that one conversation with her, and I didn’t attempt a friendship beyond our program, so I’ll never know what answer she found to her question.  Another small regret.

While I was a graduate student at Northwestern University, a rabbi could be found waiting quietly at a booth in the student center with a sign reading, “Ask the Rabbi.”  I wanted to talk to him, and I never did.  I must have passed him dozens of times, but I was too shy, or didn’t know what to ask, or something.  I could have at least told him I liked seeing him there and asked what kinds of questions he got.  But then I hardly ever saw anybody talking to him.  Maybe once or twice.  And a friend tells me the rabbi doesn’t sit there anymore.

But some regrets can be reversed.  When I was, oh, five or six, I had a floor puzzle of Big Bird.  It was 6 feet long and had pieces larger than my head, some almost as long as my little arm.  I loved my Big Bird puzzle.  I didn’t have a thing for Big Bird specifically—I mean, I liked him just fine—but the extravagance of the puzzle was something marvelous.  One day, my mom decided I was too old for it, and she was tired of it.  Mentioning particularly that it was always all over the floor, she suggested, gently but firmly, that I give it to my first grade teacher.  I did not want to.  I knew I did not want to.  But I did want to please my mom.  And I didn’t want to be ungenerous towards my teacher by withholding the Big Bird puzzle from her, which seemed a serious implication of keeping it for myself.  So I gave it away — and have wished I hadn’t ever since.

For a few years, Larry and I have each been looking sporadically for a replacement on eBay. Unbeknownst to me, my mom, having recently heard the story from me, also started looking.  Some time ago, one came and went for more than I was willing to pay, $80 or something; otherwise, the Big Bird puzzle owners of America seemed to be holding tight to their treasure.  But a few months ago one popped up, and we got it for, if I remember correctly, $3.75 plus shipping.

“Oh, now I’m not going to able to long for it anymore!” I exclaimed as soon as we’d bought it.  Larry cried out in exasperation.  (What a crazy little wife he has.)  But I was indeed thrilled.

When the box had come and Larry had opened it for me, and I finally held those pieces in my hands again, I found to my astonishment that I remembered their exact shapes.  The cutout curves and knobs are perfectly familiar.  It’s like a peephole on my mind.  A few of the shapes feel new and they are uniformly the ones cut to represent a recognizable symbol—a star or arrow.  Clearly those held no interest for me, and even now I feel a touch offended by their representational intrusion on the pleasure of pure form I find in the other pieces.

Once I had it, the puzzle had to be put together, of course; I didn’t search it out just so I could fondle the pieces.  Getting up and down from the floor is not something I do, nor would sitting on the floor be workable for my body.  So I put the first few pieces together by bending over to place them on the floor.  Then I realized this approach was, though pleasurable, not really worth the crash it was going to earn me.   Thereafter I dropped the pieces on the floor in their approximate positions and Larry pressed them into place.  Then we took a picture.

(It’s bigger than it looks.)


  1. LOVED this! Love your musings on small regrets, love that you found another Big Bird puzzle on ebay, love how Larry helped you put it together, and love the photo. Thanks for sharing, Priscilla.

    I had a Snoopy doll as a child that my mom told me I was too old for at one point, and we gave it away. I always missed it. Maybe I'll look for it on ebay. :)

    By the way, I had a friend who spent quite a long time at Kripalu in MA. I can't help but wonder if you were there at the same time.

  2. :-) I love this too. And the photo.

  3. LOVE LOVE LOVE this! The photo is so cool — your body language shows such determination. And your face has that little girl look that's totally adorable. Beautiful post, beautiful Big Bird, beautiful YOU ♥

  4. This piece was so moving. I think it's very brave to look at your past "small" regrets. I find that I cringe and maybe don't look as directly as I could at my small-regret memories as they pop up. I think I will now. I appreciate your Big Bird triumph!


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