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I Regret Nothing: A Memoir

Jen Lancaster

  Other Titles by

  New York Times Bestselling Author


  Bitter Is the New Black

  Bright Lights, Big Ass

  Such a Pretty Fat

  Pretty in Plaid

  My Fair Lazy

  If You Were Here

  Jeneration X

  Here I Go Again

  The Tao of Martha

  Twisted Sisters

  New American Library

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,

  New York, New York 10014

  USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

  A Penguin Random House Company

  First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

  Copyright © Altgeld Shrugged, Inc., 2015

  Photos courtesy of Jen Lancaster except as follows: photos on pages 82, 133 (lower right), and 174 courtesy of J. B. Fletcher; photo on page 95 courtesy of Melissa Broder; and photo on page 133 (upper right) courtesy of Chris Scott.

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.



  Lancaster, Jen, 1967–

  I regret nothing/Jen Lancaster.

  p. cm.

  ISBN 978-0-698-16698-1

  I. Title.

  PS3612.A54748I2 2015

  813'.6—dc23 2014042354


  Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences and the words are the author’s alone.




  Title Page
















  13. What’s My Rule?



  16. Sorry I’m Not Sorry







  For Tau Delta Beta, because we were in the shit,

  and for Ed Lover, for providing the backspin

  For of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been!”

  —John Greenleaf Whittier

  The past is a great place and I don’t want to erase it or regret it but I don’t want to be its prisoner either.

  —Mick Jagger

  My biggest regret . . . is that I didn’t hit John Denver in the mouth while I had the chance.

  —Denis Leary



  “Don’t get a tattoo.”

  I glance over at my husband, Fletch, who’s grudgingly agreed to ferry me to the airport at this ungodly hour. We left the house so early that it’s still basically night outside, with only the palest streaks of pink on the eastern horizon. In the dimness of the driver’s seat, his features are barely illuminated by the dashboard lights. Still, even in the dark, I can detect his smirk and I’m aggravated. “How do you figure tattoos are likely with this crew?”

  “Because you’re going on Adult Spring Break.” He says this all matter-of-factly, as though it’s already a fait accompli and the artist will begin inking as soon as I decide between the shoulder tat of Calvin whizzing on a Chevy logo or the rainbow-hued butterfly across my butt cheek.

  I’d choose neither, obviously.

  (Sidebar: I’d especially not choose the butterfly. To keep proportionate with the rest of the real estate back there, that thing would have to be the size of a pigeon, which . . . no.)

  Anyway, I don’t want to lose my patience with him because he’s doing me a favor. Still, I’m offended he feels he has to issue warnings. “If this trip’s considered Adult Spring Break, then I’m pretty sure we’re doing it wrong. Julia had us all read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in anticipation of our trip. No one delves into what critics call ‘a lyrical work of nonfiction’ to get ready for Spring Break.”

  He snorts. “Yeah, you say that now. Talk to me in forty-eight hours.”


  “This is going to be a bona fide grown-up girls’ weekend. We specifically rented a place with a veranda, where we’ll drink modest amounts of excellent wine. Rachel’s husband’s an oenophile and he’s sent along a few of his favorites, which we plan to savor. When was the last time you heard anyone say ‘oenophile’ in reference to Spring Break, Fletch? Hmm? No answer? Didn’t think so.”

  Fletch flips his blinker and glances over his shoulder before merging into the right-hand lane. His silence speaks volumes.

  “Whatever you do, don’t get the tattoo somewhere visible. Nothing reads ‘I make minimum wage’ like neck art. You’re never going to run into an allergist with THUG LIFE stenciled over his Adam’s apple. You don’t meet a lot of investment bankers inked up Henry Rollins–style.”

  For all our years together, sometimes it’s like he’s never even met me. “Why so danger-danger-Will-Robinson here? If you were to say, ‘Avoid eating a bowl of cheese grits larger than your head,’ or ‘Maybe you have enough handbags,’ I’d be all, ‘You’re right. Yeah, gonna be better about that,’ but this is nonsensical! From a logistics standpoint, when do you propose we hit these mythical tattoo shops, anyway? After we tour historical sites? Before our tasting dinner? Between jaunts to antique stores? I haven’t been one tequila sunrise away from Girls Gone Wild in almost two decades. I guarantee none of the women coming plan to party like it’s 1999. Or, considering most of us are mid-forties, 1989.”

  “Mark my words: Trouble’s a-brewing.”

  I begin to fume in earnest. “You’re infuriating! Which of us is Ferris Bueller here, making the good kids do bad things? Joanna? You mean, the kindest, most gentle person to ever send a handwritten thank-you note? You know at three out of the last three weddings she’s attended, she and her husband were purposefully seated next to the minister at dinner? Ladies selected to buttress the clergy aren’t ladies who’d willingly give their undies to a geek. I assure you, there’s no Ferris in this group.”

  “You’re mixing your John Hughes metaphors. All I’m saying is every time you and Joanna get together, you’re both eighteen-year-old freshmen again, spilling tr
ash-can punch all over your Keds. Be careful.”

  (Sidebar: I miss my old Keds.)

  As we get closer to O’Hare, the sky lightens, but the pinkness morphs into gray. Looks like something’s about to blow in, but hopefully not until after we’re in the air. Julia has a full day of activities planned for our nine thirty a.m. arrival, starting with a group bike ride, of which I’ve opted out. Supposedly, the bike’s more like a big trolley with a table and everyone pedals and apparently you’re encouraged to bring your own snacks and libations. I told her I refused to be part of a hydra-headed jackass, careening down the streets of Savannah in the sweltering heat, even with the benefit of my own sandwich. (Also, I sort of don’t know how to ride a bike, but that’s not the point.) Instead, I plan to take the convertible I’ve rented to the grocery store to stock up on healthy snacks.

  You know where they don’t worry about providing healthy snacks? Spring Break.

  Then I remember the argument that would win this case if we were in front of a judge. “You realize Joanna holds our medical power of attorney, right?”


  Unfair! The rest of our holiday crew is equally sane and staid, particularly since most of them have kids. I mean, Julia tries so hard to maintain a balance between motherhood and a career that she doesn’t have time to watch television. She’d never even heard of The Bachelor before I told her about it! As for Rachel, she’s Joanna’s cousin and they’re both so beatifically calm it’s uncanny. (I wonder what it’s like to come from families where yelling isn’t the default mode?) I haven’t met Julia’s friend Trenna, but hear she has a master’s degree in theology.

  You know who didn’t have a master’s degree in theology?

  Sid Vicious.

  Kathleen’s the only participant besides me who’s not a mom, but she and her husband are actively trying to adopt. Plus, she’s so organized and savvy that she once mentioned how she’s able to subtract dry-cleaning costs and museum entrance fees from her income taxes.

  You know what doesn’t scream punk rock?

  Itemized deductions.

  “What about my Girls Gone Mild life leads you to believe I’m a body shot shy of debauchery? Is it the pearls? Is it my vintage trophy collection? Is it the knitting? Are they just throwing down way too hard for you at the Three Bags Full yarn store?”

  “You’re like that line from Men in Black,” he says. “Remember the part where Tommy Lee Jones complains about how unpredictable people are?”

  I reply, “Obviously. It’s only one of the five finest films ever made.”

  (Sidebar: I’m not kidding. Will Smith is my spirit animal. From “You Saw My Blinker, Bitch” to I Am Legend, I celebrate his entire body of work.)

  “Remember when Will Smith says something like, ‘How can you say folks will do stupid things? People are smart.’ And Tommy Lee replies, ‘No, a person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.’ You are a person who’s smart. In a group, you’re a panicky, dangerous animal. And that’s my thesis statement.”

  “You know where they don’t say ‘thesis statement’? Spring Break.”

  “Let me ask you this—when was the last time you went away for this long with this many women?”

  It’s . . . been a while. Outside of traveling to book events, I haven’t been much of anywhere in the past few years. From 2009 when our pit bull Maisy was diagnosed with cancer to when we lost her in 2012, Fletch and I spent a total of only one night together away from her. We rearranged our entire lives around that magnificent little girl, from buying our first house within ten miles of the specialty clinic where she was treated to limiting the number of tour cities I’d visit. I even figured out how to make my previous book take place entirely under the roof of my own home so that I’d stay close.

  I wouldn’t change a single action in caring for Maisy and I’d have gladly kept that schedule for many more years. However, as sad as I am to have lost her, there’s something liberating about finally leaving the house without worrying the entire time.

  Come to think of it, it’s been a while since anyone in the group’s cut loose. A couple of the women have special-needs children and they’re busy being advocates on top of their other duties as wives and professionals and moms to all of their children. Between IEPs and therapy sessions, there’s not a ton of time for fun.

  You’d think that as we get older, our lives would become easier because we’ve had the chance to master the learning curve, but that’s not the case. Our issues have grown more rather than less complex, especially when you add in factors like health and aging family members and planning for the future during an economic downturn. A couple of my friends are at the age where they thought they’d be empty nesters, only to find their adult children living back at home with them.

  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

  We all have a million different demands on our days, like Kathleen, who’s starting a new business while pursuing adoption. Each of us is busy going in ten directions at once. We realize that it’s easy to get so weighed down by the minutiae of the day that we forget to take time to recharge our batteries. All of us need a hard reset to come back to our lives refreshed and that’s what we believe this trip will do.

  Not long ago, I went to lunch with some of my other girlfriends. Each of us had some small mid-forties malady that day, like a stiff back or a sore knee. As we went around the table comparing notes on our favorite brand of ibuprofen, we had to laugh at how far we’ve all come from whatever our version of Sex and the City was back in the day.

  “How sad is it we’re talking about NSAIDS and not hookups?” Gina had laughed.

  I’m lost in thought when Fletch prompts me. “Well? Do you remember? Let me give you a hint—‘I licky boom-boom down.’”

  “Huh?” The nonsensical words seem familiar but it takes me a second to connect the dots. He’s referring to how the song “Informer” played nonstop for the whole spring semester of 1993.

  (Sidebar: I actually still giggle about the Canadian reggae band’s entendre-ridden album title—12 Inches of Snow. Get it? Snow was the guy who sang it and he was saying he had twelve—oh, fine. Forget it. Only funny to me.)

  “That song was everywhere in Clearwater that year. I loved how all the kids in the bars wanted to sing along, but no one could get any of the words right. Kind of like how the only lyrics of The End of the World as We Know It anyone nails is the ‘Leo-nard Bern-stein!’ part.”

  Fletch continues with his smug nodding.

  I ask, “Wait, is this what you mean? Is your point that the last time I went away with this many girls was in 1993?”

  “Spring Break, baby.”

  I exhale loudly. “You’re not going to let this theme die, are you?”

  “Let’s discuss what happened while you were in Florida.”

  Demonstrating more patience than I feel, I reply, “Um . . . I slept eight to a room, I got a great tan, and I hooked up with a guy from some really random college, like Southeast Missouri State University. FYI, I’m still bitter that Purdue’s break was always so early in March. We were back in class long before MTV’s coverage began. I never got to meet Ed Lover. I feel I was gypped. By the way, making out on the beach is overrated. I was rinsing off sand for days. I mean it. DAYS.”

  “What else happened?”

  Exasperated, I look over at him. “Why don’t you simply tell me what you’re driving at and save us both the aggravation?”

  “You’ll figure it out.”

  I scan my other memories of that trip. Let’s see, my friend Penny lost one of her K-Swiss sneakers at a gas station and demanded we drive back to Tennessee to see if we could find it. Our collective response to that was, “Tenne-see you in Hell!” Also, the guy from SMSU wanted to hang out with me the whole week and I kept trying to ditch him, exclaiming, “One-night stand means one night!
” Come to think of it, we packed a lot in those five days that accidentally turned into eight.

  Oh, wait, I get it.

  I ask, “Is it The Storm of the Century? It took us two extra days to make it home. Total nightmare.”


  “And what? And I should have taken a cab to the airport this morning?”

  “You’re so close. Keep trying.”

  “I give up.”

  He crows, “You got a tattoo. You went on Spring Break and you came home with a tattoo.”

  That? That’s only significant in that in 1993, collegiate women who weren’t art majors didn’t get tattoos. I was so proud of myself for being an iconoclast.

  I was a trendsetter.

  I was a tastemaker.

  I was very pleased with myself.

  Turns out, I was the drop that preceded the deluge, because within a year, everyone was inked up, their bodies turned into so many canvases, covered from head to toe like Maori warriors. Suddenly, my silly little above-the-ankle sorority letters weren’t quite so evocative. Rather, they looked like something I’d done myself with a ballpoint pen.

  In prison.

  In my thirties, I was still vaguely amused by my tattoo, laughing about my tangible reminder to not make rash decisions. But in my forties, I realized the thrill was gone the day I crossed my legs in front of my banker when discussing a business line of credit, leaving nothing but Greek-alphabet-shaped regret in its place.

  I consulted a plastic surgeon about having that tattoo lasered off and discovered that a session runs about $250. I’d need somewhere between eight and ten sessions to make the whole thing finally disappear like so many Southeast Missouri State University hookups.

  Let’s do the math—the ink that cost me twenty-five dollars to put on could now run up to three thousand to take off.

  This is why I wasn’t an economics major.

  Tattoo removal has become a huge growth industry in the past few years. Makes sense. Kurt Cobain’s been dead for two decades, Snow’s now writing hold-music jingles for Yahoo, and a healthy portion of Generation X desperately wishes they could finally wear arm-band-revealing short sleeves to the company Cubs outing without some wiseass commenting, “Hey, what tribe were you in, Skip?”