I own realty in regrets. Acres of it. Endless square feet.
And I came here tonight to count them. Each one a single, incandescent bulb that casts a perfect circle of light on the concrete floors. Each one burning through the wet night like one of those candles we used to light at church. Just make a wish, my mother would say. Just make a wish and light the candle, then leave it. She has 'til the wick runs out to make it true.
She was the Virgin Mary, my mother’s sole confidant. The only one we were to trust through our childhood.
There are no Catholic churches here. Just Baptist. Presbyterian. Methodist. They say they welcome anyone, but they are too bright for me, too open, to much exuberance about Jesus the Savior. Where’s the incense that makes your lungs feel heavy and your eyes sleepy? Where are the frowning old women in the front pews, with their black shawls and their rosaries? Where’s the dark grotto with its hundreds of flickering flames?
Sometimes a place like this feels like the closest thing, somewhere half-lit and forgotten. I started on the bottom floor and I’m halfway through the third now. I give each bulb a name, the way I used to name my sister's dolls as a child.
Heather. Elise. Jonathan. Mom. For lying to you. For stealing. For always forgetting. For promising I’d be there.
Detroit. St. Louis. Durham. For losing the job. For drinking alone. For staying too long.
Outside the cars sweep past and leave wet trails behind them. On the sidewalk, people hurry past holding umbrellas or pinching the hoods of their coats around their faces. One man, I recognize him from the shelter, walks with his arms spread wide to the rain, his face upturned. It’s like he’s asking, Who’s up there? It’s like he’s wondering, Can’t you see me? Can’t you see me down here?
But the being invisible isn’t always the worst part. And it’s not the cold that’s the worst thing either. It’s not even the god awful heat. It’s not the way your bones ache from sleeping on cots and benches and the corners of stairwells. It’s not the taste of days-old food or the shame of always taking it from someone who can barely stand to give it.
It’s the regrets that hurt. The regrets that burn like little fires inside you, sending up smoke that clouds your eyes so you can’t see a foot in front of you to tomorrow.
There was a woman at the grocery store today who gave me a dollar from her purse. It was easy to see she’d been crying. I put my hand on her shoulder and told her, c’mon it’s not so bad. But that’s not always the truth and I could tell by her face she knew it. Before I fall asleep, I name another bulb for her.