The Haunting Regret Can Become Gratitude

The Haunting Regret Can Become Gratitude

By J. L. Thurston

Twelve years ago, I was haunted by regret. It was like a shadow that followed me everywhere. It directed all my waking thoughts and gripped every dream for many nights until I was doing anything I could to distract myself from the feeling. I partied, I over-ate, I escaped deep inside of books, I obsessed over mythical worlds. I was seeking a rabbit hole to fall down. One deep enough that my regret would remain behind.

I was filled with regret for a choice I had to make. I’m glad to say it wasn’t because I cheated on my man, or had an abortion, or killed someone with my car. I didn’t do anything like that. I regretted dropping out of college. And I don’t think that is something a lot of people are remorseful about. At least, no one I knew ever whined about that kind of thing.

I had plenty of semi-valid reasons why I quit. It was insanely expensive, I would never find success in the field I chose, and I was only wasting my time. But really, I quit because I was in love with a man and I knew our long-distance relationship would break us.

The college was the American Musical and Dramatic Academy of Los Angeles (AMDA). I’ve always been a writer, but for most of my youth I dreamed of being an actress. I was in two musicals a year since the age of eight. I practiced acting in front of mirrors, acquired scripts, and studied actors on-screen. Most of my friends hated it because I became quite the movie critic in the process.

A beautiful depiction of regret by Romola Richards

A beautiful depiction of regret by Romola Richards

When I learned that there was a two-year college in L.A. that was focused specifically on the art of performing, I could not be stopped. I drooled over brochures, stared at their website for hours, dreamed of the possibilities this institution could bring. I knew I was going to be an actress. There was no doubt.

Potential students don’t just apply for AMDA. They must audition. Admission scouts come to every major city and stay for one day to oversee auditions. My audition was done in a hotel. I was so nervous the night before that my nose bled.

Hundreds of wannabe students gathered. Actors are a volatile bunch, and under stress, there were tears, laughs, arguments, the works. It was fascinating.

When I was called forward, I entered a conference room and stood in the middle of an empty floor. A table with ten judges watched me with faces that said, “Don’t get your hopes up, kid.” But I was seventeen and more confident than I’ve ever been since and I grinned at them and thought, Watch this.

I performed two monologues. I did a humor piece from Pensacola and a dark excerpt from Baby in the Basement. I felt great doing what I loved. I didn’t stumble a single word, my body moved with fluidity as though the judges weren’t there at all. I was completely absorbed.

Interviews followed the monologues. I was taken to another room where more school officials sat at tables and had one-on-ones with students. I was nearly bouncing with energy. I don’t remember what was said except at the very end she asked me why I wanted to act.

I said, “I don’t just want to act, I know that I’m going to be an actress.”

I thought that was weird, but her hands flew to her chest. She was touched. A few months later, I got a phone call. I was accepted with a grant.

Soon I was off to Los Angeles. But I had to leave my boyfriend behind. He flew me there, only leaving my side when school started. I remember saying goodbye to him at the gate. His arms around me. I tried to savor his scent, his touch, the sound of his voice. I memorized it, a small part of me knowing that this could be the very last time. I still remember it all.

The entirety of my year at AMDA was overshadowed with an extensive loneliness. I’d never been more stressed, more excited, more depressed, or more joyful. It’s a miracle I didn’t explode.

We spoke to each other on the phone every day. We fought every day. It came to the point that I knew I had to choose.

Him or my dream.

Every adult who’d ever spoke to me had a voice in my head screaming, Don’t choose a man over your dreams!

But my heart has a big voice.

I left school with nothing but memories that would soon hang over me like an eternal rain cloud. For years after AMDA, I struggled to accept my decision. I had turned my back on a city that I loved, people that I had formed a beautiful bond with, and a dream I had nurtured throughout my childhood. Surrounded by the Midwest and all that entails, I saw beauty in nothing, and no matter what I took into my body I never felt fulfilled.

My class

My class

Time made it better. The man I left AMDA for is now my husband and we have a home, a daughter, a son, and a fat orange cat. I am finally enjoying my day job and finding an abundance of time to write and read. It’s been years since I felt regret for leaving AMDA.

But the other night, after having a really unfortunate handful of days and two huge disappointments, I had an AMDA dream again. It was the first time in a very long time. And I couldn’t help but think about what I’d left behind, and what I gained by doing so.

Regret is a twisting, thorny, brutal emotion. I regret feeling regret for all that time. I regret the energy I wasted on what could have been. I regret the financial strain my one year at AMDA brought me. I regret loving it so much that in times of hardship my mind finds escape in those memories. I regret feeling torn in half so often.

But without that regret, I’d probably never truly appreciate everything wonderful I now have because of a choice I made twelve years ago. And in many ways, I am grateful for it all.

National Novel Writing Month is for the Faint of Heart

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