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I Regret Nothing: A Memoir, Page 2

Jen Lancaster

  So, getting re-inked on this trip? Not going to be an issue.

  In the most serene tone of voice I can muster, I say, “Honey, I’m on the wrong side of forty, I own a home, I buy season tickets for the opera, and one of my dearest friends has her AARP card. My days of going on Spring Break are over. Don’t worry, I’m not doing anything stupid in Savannah.”

  Grudgingly, he replies, “If you say so.”

  Somehow I don’t feel he’s convinced, but I’ll delight in proving him wrong when I come home on Sunday. Given all that I’ve learned about myself/others/life in general in the twenty years since that fateful trip, I’m done making bad decisions. Fortified with the knowledge of my forty-six years, I’d have certainly approached my youth differently, starting with making out with guys from better colleges and ending with not getting a tattoo.

  Am I glad I lived through what I call The Wonder Years, as in I Wonder What the Hell I Was Thinking? Of course, and I’m grateful for having made the kind of game-changing mistakes that led me to my current path. Doesn’t mean I don’t still cringe when I look back at my choices, like The Birkenstock Semester or the time I got into a shouting match with a now ex-friend over my passionate love for Wham! and its clearly heterosexual front man, George Michael.

  (Sidebar: I wanted to apply to law school after graduation, so I used to practice arguing in bars.)

  (Additional sidebar: I clearly wasn’t smart enough for law school as evidenced by my exceptionally shitty taste in music and lack of gaydar.)

  Given the choice, I’m not sure many of my generation would go back and do it all again. Sure, if you told me I could have my twenty-year-old body again, I’d jump at the chance, but if it came with my twenty-year-old mind?

  Not for all the Prada bags in the universe.

  If I may, I’d like to take a moment to praise Mark Zuckerberg’s parents for not procreating sooner. Praise be to all that is holy that Facebook didn’t exist when I was that age and the Internet then was but a Usenet group for Star Trek fans. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have grown up when cameras used actual film because the only thing that stood between infamy and me was the clerk who developed photos at Walgreens.

  Thank God for him.

  In fact, photo developers everywhere are likely the reason my entire generation didn’t devolve into total chaos.

  I often consider the line in the movie The Social Network that goes, “The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark—it’s written in ink.” That’s the message I’d give to the younger generations today, but I doubt they’d listen to some middle-aged lady with opera tickets and snow tires.

  Seems like the youth of America believes that having the sum total of all human existence at their fingertips equates to knowing everything. Truth is, they’re no more or less clueless than we were at that age, only they’ll have the pictures to prove it.

  But my generation figured it out, as did all of those who came before us. Today’s kids will, too, because that’s the natural cycle.

  Someday soon those in their twenties will discover on their own exactly how expensive it is to remove that ironic rasher of bacon or can of PBR inked on their sternum, probably around the time they shop for their first set of snow tires.

  Welcome to the dark side; we have Bridgestone.

  Fletch and I arrive at the United terminal and wait for a hotel shuttle to move so we can park closer to the curb, as it looks like it’s about to pour. My phone chimes and I glance at a text from Julia.

  “Julia and Trenna are on the road,” I say. “They’re driving up from Atlanta.” We all could have flown into Atlanta instead and ridden with them, saving two hundred dollars off our airfare, but we figured direct was the most expedient route. And honestly, spending five hours each way crammed six to a car really did seem a bit too Spring Break-y.

  While we wait to pull into our spot, Fletch notices what the rest of the text says. Julia’s compiled a shopping list of all the liquor for me to pick up while I’m running errands.

  “Fifteen bottles of wine? Fifteen? Plus, she’s bringing the moonshine you were given in Atlanta, but you should still pick up gin, tequila, and vodka?”

  “Organic vodka,” I offer, as if that makes a difference.

  He reaches over to kiss me good-bye, his hand lingering on my shoulder. He looks me straight in the eyes and says, “When you come back with your dead dog’s name inked on your neck, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.”


  The Tao of the Do

  Kathleen, Joanna, Rachel, and I meet up for a leisurely breakfast before our flight since we’re all early-arriving airport nerds. We’re set to land in Savannah around nine thirty, pick up our convertible Mustang, and drive ourselves to the house by ten o’clock. At that point, everyone else will take their hideous self-powered trolley ride, while I peruse the local Whole Foods because nothing makes me happier than seeing how much paper towels and ground beef cost in other sections of the country.

  In the past, I’d have just gone along with the group and grudgingly participated in the stupid bike ride, but I feel like I’m finally at the age where it’s okay to say, “Sorry, that doesn’t work for me.” At my age, I feel like I’m halfway to the finish line and life’s too short to do what I’m sure to hate.

  My friend Gina agrees. She says we’re at the beginning of our second act in life and it’s up to us to make the most of it. While I’m still trying to figure out exactly what my second act looks like, I know now’s the time to take action, to make a bold move, to forge a new path, which is probably why Fletch is so worried that I’ll get inked again.

  This whole second act business feels like it came out of nowhere, though. I mean, wasn’t I in my twenties, like, last week? Maybe it’s that I spent so long in a state of arrested development that I feel like I’ve barely had time to be a grown-up, let alone come to terms with middle age.

  Laurie, a dear pal who’s a decade older than me, says that at a certain point in a woman’s life, likely when she transitions from being called “Miss” to “Ma’am,” she becomes invisible. A part of me wants to mourn for my lost youth and gravity-defying rear end, and yet a larger portion wonders exactly what it is I can do with all this newfound freedom during my second act.

  While we’re eating our eggs, the storm hits hard, so we check our phones for flight delays. We don’t receive any messages until we arrive at the gate, which is now empty because our flight’s been canceled. Damn it! Now the two hundred people who were also on our flight are in line at the United service counter, trying to rebook.

  The scene is, in a word, pandemonium.

  You know what’s great about being over forty? Finally having more than twenty-six dollars available on my credit card. In 1993, I barely had enough scratch for Arby’s, much less a plane ticket home in lieu of driving through the snow for three days. But today? Today I have options. Today I happily bypass the line, instead going to the United Club where for the price of a day pass, we’ll find four customer service agents for every passenger, instead of two agents for two hundred passengers. Also? Free cappuccino and all the Biscoff cookies I can cram in my carry-on. Win, win.

  The club’s agent is able to place Rachel on a one p.m. direct flight to Savannah, but can’t do the same for us. Kathleen, Joanna, and I have to take an eleven thirty to Atlanta first, but then we should all arrive in Savannah at the same time. The only casualty from the delay will be the scheduled bike ride, which everyone else agreed to do because they’re polite. (Clearly, I’m the first to discover the “sorry, that doesn’t work for me” mantra.) The general mood is that of relief.

  Sure, we’re a few hours off track, but it’s no problem. Shit happens when you travel, and no one wants to fly in dangerous weather. We’re just going to enjoy one another’s company here on the ground and drink our free cappuccinos.

  This is going to be

  But this is not going to be Spring Break. I can’t stress that enough.

  • • •

  Fourteen hours after arriving at the airport, we land in Savannah.

  Fourteen hours.

  Rather, three of us land in Savannah. We’re now a man down. Rachel’s headed back to Grand Rapids because her one p.m. flight was canceled and United couldn’t get her on another plane until Saturday, which is three days from now.

  (Sidebar: That’s right, United. We in a fight.)

  We’re overcome by the general WTF-ery of the situation and devastated to have lost Rachel, but she has a fine attitude—her anniversary is this weekend and she says that maybe this was the universe’s way of saying she should spend it with her thoughtful, wine-loving husband.

  We could have easily and quickly devolved into three very cranky travelers, or maybe trashed the lounge Axl Rose–style in protest, but Kathleen, Joanna, and I make the best of the situation. We more than compensate for the cost of club entry in gratis snack and drink consumption.

  The minute I learn of our flight snafu, I call the national number for Hertz to tell them we’re delayed. I still very much want the convertible and ask for it to be held. I should have predicted there’d be trouble when the customer service agent has me spell the words “Savannah” and “Georgia,” as he’s never heard of either place before.

  (Sidebar: Did I mention he was in an American call center? I weep for the state of our public education.)

  I also check in with the local Hertz branch at the airport to make sure our car will be waiting. The agent assures me again and again that the Mustang is indeed ours and that no one can touch it because I’ve already paid for it. With a delightfully rich and melodious accent, he says, “Really, ma’am, we do this every day and y’all needn’t be so worried.”

  I’m telling you, the Ma’am-ing is beginning to take over.

  This is why, after fourteen hours that included an O. J. Simpson–worthy sprint through Hartsfield to make a ten-minute connection time, the Yankee in me finally comes out when the slack-jawed, teased-haired, gum-chomping lady-clerk explains she’s “gone ahead and given away your Mustang ’cause someone else wanted it somethin’ awful” but instead has a “real nice new Buick for y’all.”

  As I stand there, silently seething, she adds, “The best part is, it’s not a convertible so it won’t mess up your do!”

  (Sidebar: Hertz, we in a fight now, too.)

  Joanna catches me before I lunge across the desk and she and Kathleen wrestle me to the car that’s housed in a pitch-black parking lot. We stow our gear in the dark, grumbling about the stupid Buick the entire time, and as we’re climbing in, Kathleen can’t see the line of the car’s roof and ends up whacking her head so solidly against the doorjamb that the entire vehicle shakes.

  “Oh, my God, are you okay?” I ask.

  Joanna rushes back to check for blood. She uses her iPhone flashlight app to determine that Kathleen’s not bleeding, but an enormous goose egg has already begun to form.

  “I . . . I don’t think I can spell anymore,” she finally says.

  “Should we find a hospital?” I ask.

  “No, no, I’ll be okay,” she replies stoically, yet I can practically see the little cartoon exclamation points and ampersands circling her head.

  If we were still in college, there’s no way we wouldn’t have sought emergency care immediately. Everything seemed so much more life and death back then, particularly since we weren’t concerned with the cost of health care; none of us was paying for our own insurance. (If we even had it.) Of course, the only other people in the ER would have been testosterone-charged fraternity boys who’d broken their wrists punching walls and the whole place would take on a party atmosphere as we tried to determine which of our friends was there for the dumbest reason. Chances were good that we would come home with a cast and a date.

  “Are you sure, Kathleen?” I ask.

  “I think so.”

  “Then spell Buick for me.”


  “Shit! We have to go to the ER!” Joanna exclaims.

  Joanna has too many positive qualities to name and she perpetually amazes me with her abilities, like when she replaced a leaking U-joint on her powder room’s sink. However, she is to spelling what I am to math. At Purdue, we used to help each other compensate for our weaknesses. I’d proof her papers and she’d explain my geoscience homework. That’s why we became so close so fast—she excelled in areas where I lagged and vice versa. Alone, we were fine, but together we were invincible.

  I ask, “Are you good, Kat? Do we need to seek medical advice or are you fine being the walking wounded?”

  “Get us the hell away from this airport,” she replied, digging in her carry-on for aspirin.

  “Hey, Joanna, can you grab my phone and ask Siri directions to the house?” I request.

  “I can navigate,” she insists. Joanna firmly believes there’s nothing she can’t do better herself, even though there was a slight problem on her second go-round with a U-joint and her husband confiscated her wrench. (She has a second one hidden in the ceiling tiles of her basement, though. Shh, don’t tell.) Joanna puts the address in Google Maps and tells me to take a left to exit out of the parking lot.

  “You don’t have to do that—you can just ask Siri,” I explain, trying to familiarize myself with the unfamiliar car.

  (Sidebar: The Buick is actually really nice. We not in a fight.)

  Joanna is resolute. “No one can read maps anymore. It’s a lost art and I plan to bring it back.”

  “Maybe you could bring cartography back after we get to the house, when I’m not having a brain bleed back here,” Kathleen suggests.

  “I can read a map better than Siri,” Joanna insists.

  I say, “I’m willing to wager that’s not true.”

  “Please, I’m highly competent. Oh, wait, you were supposed to turn back there,” Joanna says, as we whiz past the exit on the right.

  “I thought you said we should turn left.”

  “I must have had the map upside down,” she admits.

  “Siri, get directions to EAST JONES STREET,” I shout in the direction of my phone.

  Joanna clutches the device to her chest. “No, Siri, don’t listen to her! We’re doing this ourselves, like the pioneers did!”

  “Siri, what does it mean when I can’t feel my molars? And how important is a functioning frontal lobe?” Kathleen asks. “Also, Siri, are there two sets of headlights over there, or do I have double vision?”

  “Whoops, wait, turn here right now!” Joanna exclaims, and I barely have time to cut across two lanes of traffic to make it. “Now veer right and stay on this road.”

  “For how long?”

  “Um . . . this long.” She holds her thumb and forefinger an inch apart to demonstrate the distance on the map.

  “Is that an hour? A minute? A mile?”

  “Do you guys hear sleigh bells? I hear sleigh bells,” Kathleen says.

  “You, lie down,” I call over my shoulder. I turn to Joanna. “And you, either tell me how far in actual distance or please ask Siri.”

  “You’re going to want to . . . exit back there!”

  I have to swerve again and I’m really glad there are no other cars on the road. “You’re not making your case, Joanna. You can’t give me turns in retrospect. Now you have to let me know how long we’re on this portion of the road or I’m pulling over.”

  She squints at her screen. “You’re going to travel on this road for . . . three times longer than you were on the last road.”

  “And how the fuck long is that?” I’ve been trying to curtail my use of f-bombs because once I arrived in Ma’amsylvania, swearing lost its charm. Well-groomed sorority girl spouting profanity? Totes adorbs. Middle-aged woman do
ing the same? Next stop, the Springer show.

  However, swearing in this case is wholly necessary.

  “This much.” She holds up her thumb and forefinger again, as though she’s about to pinch someone.

  “Do you want me to solve for X? Is that what you’re telling me? These aren’t directions, Joanna. This is Euclidian geometry!”

  From the backseat Kathleen is quietly singing to herself. “Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling, oooh.”

  Joanna slips on her reading glasses and examines the phone some more. “In exactly one and one-tenths mile, you will turn right. How’s that for accurate?”

  “That’s perfect,” I admit. “Thank you. Kat, how we doing back there?”


  I assure her, “Don’t worry, we’ll be at the house soon.”

  I make the turn and only then do I read the name of the street we’re merging onto. “Joanna, are you aware you’re having us take Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard? Now, I don’t know how to say this without sounding like an a-hole, but, um, traditionally this very good man’s name is not always attached to very good neighborhoods.”

  “But it’s a shortcut,” she insists.

  “Ring-ting-tingly!” Kathleen offers.

  I grit my teeth. “Then I’m sure in no way will we regret this route.”

  However, Joanna’s right on this one and it’s the most expedient way to get where we’re going.

  “I told you so,” she offers, a bit too smugly for one who not sixty seconds ago sent us the wrong way down a one-way street.

  “And we didn’t mess up our dos,” Kathleen adds.

  We arrive at the house minutes later. I wish Fletch could see this place so he’d understand how Not Spring Break this stunning wedding cake of a home is. Our new digs are a Victorian town house in the middle of a picturesque neighborhood where the trees are all draped with moss.