Lessons on regret

For the longest time, I believed I was immune to regret. I held a steadfast belief that regardless of my mistakes, meritocracy would prevail and I would get the success I deserved. It took me only five months in Metro Manila to know this wasn’t the case.

I am a 16-year-old girl from a South Luzon province known for its strong coffee and associated with one of Rizal’s former lovers. Fueled by the belief that my small town could not handle my ambitions, I applied to various universities—not knowing that this ambition hindered me from facing the harsh reality awaiting me.

Adapting to a solitary lifestyle meant more than managing academics; it involved managing my health. This sounded easy at first, but as time went on and requirements piled up, I realized it was much easier to let myself go. I went from eating three full and nutritious meals a day to maybe, hopefully, a piece of bread for breakfast and Grab delivery for dinner. On top of all of this, I lost a key pillar of my emotional support. My parents, although a call away, were hundreds of kilometers away from me. I couldn’t knock on their door anymore when I needed shoulders to cry on. I had to make do with 10-minute calls in between busy study sessions. It felt so funny to me. It was almost like I had to lose everything before I could have everything I ever wanted.

I was overly ambitious the first few weeks. I had goals set for myself that I thought would be easy for me to achieve. I had a staggering list of student council and school paperwork. Outside of the school, I headed my online magazine. On paper, I had the makings of the perfect student. However, much like Icarus, I flew way too close to the sun and hurled myself down into destruction.

In the first two months of the semester, I had been rejected thrice: two were for leadership positions I was confident I had the capabilities for; the third was as a staffer for the school paper. The last one hurt the most. It felt like they took a piece of me away. If I thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. Weeks later, I lost an election. In the span of these few weeks, I would lose not only my self-confidence but also the people I thought were my friends. I bled from the stab wounds they’ve plunged in my back. Unable to focus on anything, my grades plummeted as well. The unthinkable came when I got my first failing grade. My optimism began to wither. There were times I would break down in public—displays of shame for all to see. I had achieved nothing. I’ve gambled away everything and came back with absolutely nothing.

The second half of the semester was better. I had adjusted to the academic rigor and found fulfillment in my extracurriculars. Everything worked out the way I had hoped. I even gained a few friends along the way. However, I didn’t receive the cathartic feeling I was looking for. I thought if I had achieved even something, I would have the feeling of: Aha! I was right all along, and all my heartbreaks amounted to something. What came over me instead were waves of regret, leaving me empty and numb. In my mind, I prayed that this was another brick I could use to build my empire—a simple roadblock to my destination. However, now I know this was only a feeble attempt to bury feelings of regret because by validating them, I would be entertaining the idea that my struggles were null.

Regret is a funny thing. It doesn’t deliver an immediate blow that leaves you with shattered bones and frightening scars. There isn’t an instantaneous situation that puts you in flight or fight mode, leveling up your senses so that at least you are aware that something big is about to hit you. On the contrary, it gradually seeps into your life. It’s similar to a virus that consumes your mind piece by piece until you become an empty shell of a human being. This blind spot made it hard for me to admit I felt an ounce of regret about moving. To me, it would mean every struggle I had was for nothing. Ultimately, however, it would be foolish for me to go through the rest of my stay here without accepting what I felt.

Yes, I regret everything. I regret how I left my family behind to chase a dream I couldn’t even fully define. I regret the people I’ve hurt and how I made them feel after they’d hurt me. I regret how I’ve lost myself and everything for nothing. But the funny thing about regret is that it’s fluid. As much as I have space in my heart to regret, I also now can appreciate the things I’ve gained. In many ways, these things will never be enough. It isn’t fair retribution. However, I know it is still something. With that, I thank everybody who made the last semester worth it. I thank the people who stayed even though I didn’t. I thank the experiences I’ve gone through after others have shunned me. Ultimately, I also thank myself for making space for the person I have become. Hopefully, in the future, I can grieve in peace for the self I’ve lost.


Skye Cabrera, 16, is a high school student. She has long been an advocate for the written arts, with a particular love for anything intellectual and old. If they are not writing, you can find them fawning over old romantic comedies.