I think that maybe those who like to throw around the phrase “I live life without regrets” in all actuality have them in abundance. In the words of Marilynn Robinson, “There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn’t really expect to find it, either.” Agreed, as I’ve had my fair share.

As a child I had a propensity for getting myself into things with great ease. I never enjoyed such ease in getting myself out of them. For instance, I once climbed into a cotton trailer.

Her deep chasm surrounded by high fences were used to collect the fluffy white harvest of the ubiquitous bolls that flourished in the dark soil of the Arkansas Delta of my youth. But on the day at the forefront of my memory, she taunted me with her repeated challenge, “Climb.” A challenge I wholeheartedly accepted. With no one present to counter the temptation of her siren call, I surrendered to her ruse. She offered the pretense of adventure without revealing the recompense such an invitation exacted.

Emerging myself into her welcoming delights, I was aided by protruding ledges, serving as an accessible ladder to even someone short in stature and long in naiveté. I climbed with reckless abandon. With every stretch of my foot and reach of my hand, my heart pounded with excitement at the thought of ascending her pinnacle. The thin ledge that beckoned me to throw myself over into the abyss moved closer to my grasp with every upward pull of my skinny arms and up lunge of my scrawny legs. The ground below me retreated in my sight and the goal before grew large as I anticipated the glory of its heights. Like The Little Engine that could, I did. Finally I arrived, sliding my frail body over the top and dangling dangerously until I could no longer will myself to hold on any longer. I let go. I fell. Landing with a thud, the metallic skin of my seductress rang with glee. She had me in her grasp. What greeted me with delight just a few moments earlier, now mocked me with disdain. I was trapped.

I wandered about in the depths of her belly, exploring every inch of her length and and breadth. She offered no words of comfort, no instruction of purpose, only a meandering vacancy and haunting silence as I walked aimlessly within the parameters of her prison. Unlike the available easygoing accessibility of her facade, once inside her snare there was nothing so hospitable, convenient, or obtainable as to guide my release. I was reduced to tears after only a few minutes as the hopelessness of my circumstance enveloped me. What seemed so exciting was now only terrifying.

Through the chain links of my mistress’s dungeon, I would watch a cat stroll by, another random farm feline refusing to consider my plight, or even acknowledge my pain. I envied the cat and the liberty with which it was free to saunter, yet I remained confined, clinging to the walls of my poor choices.

Delta Cotton fields: Photo courtesy of Amy Riston

There are moments in solitude when illusions of the future began to find a home in the loneliness of one’s mind, not the utopia you imagined, but the dystopia you now experience. You began to embrace the inevitability that life will not change, that situations will not improve. You submit to the fear and even embrace it as comforting rationalization. “There is nothing I can do” dances through the wrinkles of your mind and time passes. You forget the thrill of living, trading it for the monotony of existence. You forget what it means to have expectations and now only trade in realities. Meaningless but oft repeated phrases now populate your lips, “this is as good as it gets”, “I suppose things could be worse?” “Thank God it’s Friday.” You began to repeat these words, whispered into the ear of your lover. She long ago convinced you that promised pleasures are to only be found in her tortures. You learn to live on the receiving end of her sadomasochistic perversions, responding with “Thank you mistress”, as courtesy is the foundation of civility. If we don’t have civility we only have chaos and anarchy. We can’t have that! You walk the empty path that has neither purpose, goal, or boundary, only restriction, limitation, and impediment.

Then you begin to scream.

Not as one who is happy, but one that is mad. A madness devoid of hope. Yelling beyond the edifice of your cell because it is something to do, because it won’t accomplish a damn thing. Screaming becomes the equivalent of hurting yourself in a catharsis of pain, echoing Reznor and Cash,

“I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real”

She was only amused by my lyrics, misinterpreting it as a sick sonnet of my affection. I scream “Help me!” Relentlessly.

Eventually someone did rescue me. My Sister in law at the time, heard my pleas and delivered me from my self inflicted flagellation. She opened the door, accessible only on the outside of the trailer at the opposite end of where I had climbed into the pit. I escaped.

As the relief of liberation engulfed me upon exiting the alluring bastille, I swore I heard her laugh with confidence, “You’ll be back.” She wasn’t wrong.

Delta Landscape by Amy Riston

As I reflect and embellish my childhood ramblings, I’m reminded that regrets in my life often center on two defining institutions of human existence, religion and relationships. I suspect this is true for most people as what often seems inviting turns out to disenchanting. Religion and relationships contain their own unique entrapments and liberations, sometimes simultaneously. It’s a real life game of chutes and ladders, with all of us often losing, but sometimes winning. But perhaps the disappointments at the ends of misguided adventures is part of the price of admission to this life? Serving as a cosmic balance to keep us perpendicular on the high wire of existence.

We climb, we fall, we are imprisoned and liberated, and occasionally even without regret.

Musical pairing Johnny Cash’s rendition of The Cotton Song

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