UNITED STATES—Regrets, I’ve had a few, but not too few to mention.
In fact, regret has been a dynamic force for change and improvement. I will even go so far as to say that it is one of the secret secrets of success: of course you must put shoes on regret and walk forward with the knowledge so painfully acquired.
One of my big regrets was not being there to help Jim Wylie, my boss, in his hour of need. You see, he was taken ill in the later half of 1991. The slave driver eternally on the job was suddenly out of commission, and the world of Wylie properties turned upside down. To be accurate, he was a kind of velvet slave driver; that is, the chief onus was on himself, the great drive and can-do spirit, and the rest of us got caught up in it purely by osmosis.
There was a romantic slant to his illness: Wylie had broken up with a woman who had been at his side for many years. She was mature and faithful, which is to say she was virtuous and not hot. Wylie had met a younger, cuter woman. I think she had kids too. Let’s call her Emmanuele─and in the mingling and mangling of habits that occurs in a relationship, Wylie started going out and burning the midnight oil, keeping up with this young cute savvy hip-hopper, eating Doritos and drinking run-cokes. By nature, Jim was health conscious, an early riser, a moderate drinker, an aficionado of olive oil.
Being a player (something old Wylie may deny) he naturally maintained health and stamina to keep being a player. But Emmanuele pushed him over the edge.
An ambulance picked him up from his digs in Redondo Beach. He had collapsed. Emmanuele called 911. This shook up our world and had seismic consequences. What had been viewed is infallible as steel had been shown mortal. He was in a hospital in Long Beach and needed blood. Missing the phone message to come down to Long Beach and attend to issues bedside while our leader was incapacitated─that spawned my regret. Meanwhile, that duty fell by default to the person who managed the Estrella Ave. house, now turned into a 12-step house. That manager was better about answering his pager.
Feeling I hadn’t come through for Wylie took root and blossomed into a full-fledged regret. Meanwhile the diagnosis came out: the drinking and late socializing had exacerbated Jim’s ulcer and led to internal bleeding. That one day when he was in the hospital,however, nobody knew what to expect.
It seems an overreaction now, but we were really braced for the worst. Stanley Thorpe invited me to dinner at the Pantry and talked about Jim, always in awe of his ability to exploit limits and circumstances that would have hindered anyone else and manage to create amazing deals. He eulogized Jim and also reflected about his life, getting stationed at Fort Ord during the Korean War, the beautiful central coast where I grew up, his stint in the state of California as an assayer, he got married, has a family, got divorced, got into real estate, trust deeds.
I was a kind of vigil, a time for reflection imposed by force majeure in the rat-race. Our eulogies were premature. Jim bounced right back and out of the hospital in less than 32 hours. The one trace of his hospitalization, which had scared the bejeesus out of Cheryl Cooke and me in the office, was a light cough. Also, he had a little less swagger and a paler face.
The upshot of this regret over not being there for Wylie, was the resolve to be more attentive. Heaven knows how many more calls for help I’ve answered straightway, after missing this message from Wylie. And now I’m at the place in life where I realize a byproduct now has been not to fret so much about those missed opportunities that seem to be the end of the world. They’re not. There’s something new around the corner.
Grady Miller is a humorist. His latest collection of stories is “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood,” available on Kindle.