I pride myself on not having regrets.
It happened on a street in New York not far from my sister’s apartment, where the noise of the San Gennaro festival lasts through the night. The idea of anyone sleeping on festival nights is absurd. Only those who have completely used up their bodies by the end of each day, those whose bodies shut down involuntarily due to exhaustion, are unconscious. The choiceless bodies and the bodies of certain deaf people, though even among the deaf, there are those who are kept awake by the festival’s vibrations.
My sister exists, rather fittingly, on the line between Chinatown and Little Italy. Her ancient building is filled with Chinese people. Her German roommate’s window overlooks the festival, the Italian restaurants downstairs. From her window we can see the white, tuxedoed hosts lined up on the sidewalk, warmly accosting passersby with promises of spaghetti and meatballs, a dish at once similar and different from Chinese food. My sister doesn’t have a window. Or if she does, it is too small and dark to be remembered—a forgotten portal to a brick wall. The roommate pays extra for the light in her room.
One November, when I was several months pregnant, I stayed in this apartment with my sister. The Feast was safely behind us. Shaped like a summer squash, I got up often to pee in a bathroom that wasn’t much bigger than I was. My sister slept on the floor so that the fetus and I could sleep on her bed. The bed was high, not as high as a bunk bed but higher than a regular bed; each time I returned from the bathroom, I had to perform a kind of acrobatic move—gently jumping and rolling sideways—to get back on.
We didn’t know it then, but the baby would later be cut out of me. Her shoulder got stuck in the birth canal because she kept looking back. My father called Cedars-Sinai and was able to reach me in my room. I spoke to him briefly on the hospital telephone. “I have a tummy ache,” he said. “I have to go,” I told him. A woman, whose role it was to teach me how to nurse my own child, had arrived. Neither I nor my father knew that the tummy ache was a symptom of his cancer, that soon after the baby turned one, I would carry her in my arms to his funeral.
When my father died, I had no regrets. We had fought and loved ardently. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from him. This gave me a feeling of lightness and a feeling of strength. I was able to face his dying and eventually his death. I pride myself on not having regrets. So however minor it may seem, what happened in New York stands out. This was before my pregnancy, before I was married. As I said, I wasn’t far from my sister’s apartment, though if it was her apartment at the time, I don’t remember. A friend and I were walking nearby, probably in SoHo; it was a fancy neighborhood. We stopped in front of a shop window to admire an Olivetti Valentine typewriter. My friend offered to buy it for me. I said no. It was expensive.
To say yes would have been to cross a line. He was married. I didn’t want there to be any confusion. Neither of us knew that in a few years he would divorce or that in a few years I would marry.
I don’t regret saying no, but I regret not letting him buy me the red typewriter. It was a thing of beauty I couldn’t afford. Something I would never buy for myself, even if I could. An alluring object I would never allow someone else to buy for me. If it were to happen today, I would say no again. That’s the regret. Not what I did but who I am.