Even now, my father tells me there is no point in regretting things. “If you’ve done something bad,” he says, “what can you do about it now? You can’t undo it, so learn from whatever you did and move on. There’s no use dwelling, is there?” It’s good advice, but Dad never made it clear how far this philosophy should extend, like whether it should include things like murder, bestiality or joining the Young Liberals.
Either way, it didn’t work: I’ve grown up to become an expert dweller and professional regretter. Most of my regrets are about offending people. I don’t mind grossing people out (everyone is so uptight nowadays, you’d think they’d never seen their own anus), but making people legitimately upset or causing emotional distress when they don’t deserve it? Well that’s an entirely different thing altogether.
What’s especially repugnant is if I’ve upset people while trying to get attention. In Grade 9, my party trick—besides showing people my retractable belly button—was to act like a complete retard. (I say “complete retard”, because that’s what I would have called people with mental disabilities then.) “AHM RE-TAAAAR-HEHD,” I’d groan, my face contorted like I’d been punched, my hands frozen into Stephen Hawking’s chicken wing shapes. Everyone thought it was pretty funny, especially when I drooled.
In the middle of all this, Fiona, an athletic girl I’d always liked, sidled over to me. “My brother is retarded you know, Ben.” She said it quietly enough to be kind, but loud enough for everyone to hear. No one gasped. Instead, there was just a sudden absence of noise as everyone turned away in horror. Quietly, my drool his the cement. With my cheeks still screwed up and half my tongue hanging out, I stared at Fiona, too burning with mortification to even apologise properly.
Fast forward 15 years later, and I’m still making hideous illness/disability/death-related faux pas, except now, they are via wonderfully public forums like Twitter where thousands of people can see you being a douche and retweet them like a virus! The worst thing about Twitter is that you cannot delete things. Even if you trash what you said, several people would have already loaded it into their timelines, and it simply stays there like an incriminating turd in a backpackers’ shared toilet facility. IT DOES NOT GO AWAY.
My offending tweet was about Lord Christopher Monckton, a conservative Brit and one of the world’s most aggressive climate change deniers. A smarmy, condescending bully of Disney villain proportions, Monckton was in Australia to continue his tour of anti-environmental rage. Listening to him speak on radio or television induced fits of rage in me that made me want to grab of a fistfuls of my own pubes and rip them out, roaring like the Nutri-Grain iron man.
Incidentally, Monckton is also—on a purely objective level—quite an ugly man. But he’s best known for his trademark, strangely bulgy eyes that look like they’re going to pop right out of his face. And so, in my anti-Monckton fury, I tweeted about how every time I saw Mockton, I was also reminded of this particular image of a character from Total Recall, whose face was about to explode, his eyes bulging past the point of no return. I linked to the image, thinking it was pretty funny.
Before long, people started tweeting back saying that what Mockton had was an incurable thyroid condition called Grave’s Disease, which was serious and often debilitating. That’s why his eyes were like that, they said, and HAD I NO SHAME. I felt the blood drain out of me and immediately issued an apology. I’m not going to pretend Monckton would have even seen or cared about any of this, but saying sorry was important to me. I might have disagreed with his politics/views/general existence, but I wanted to think I was better than pulling cheap shots. And sure, that doesn’t explain why I continue to tweet unspeakable things involving Alan Jones, amyl nitrate and young male football players—but hey, as my Dad says, life’s too short to regret every single thing.