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Regrets, I Have A Few

Regrets, I Have A Few
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Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/HBO

BY LORRAINE DUFFY MERKL

“I was bullied. Sixth grade. And I always turned the other cheek, thinking that was the more mature thing to do. Some thirty years later, it still haunts me that I didn’t beat the s**t out of that kid,” says, “Ed” (Adam Scott) who is the husband of Reese Witherspoon’s character “Madeline” on the HBO series Big Little Lies.

I try not to dwell on the past, but Ed, I feel ya.

Along the way, there have been, of course, slights, rebuffs, and more comments hurled in my direction than I can count. The ones I was able to let go of the easiest were those that I addressed head on with a retort (aka I gave as good as I got), and then perhaps dropped the person all together to guarantee the incident would not occur again. Like Ed, the ones that still haunt me are those where I did the cheek thing.

For non-premium channel subscribers, what triggers Ed’s reminiscence is an incident at his first-grade daughter’s school. A boy named Ziggy is accused by his classmate Ivy of choking her. He denies the attack, but as there were no witnesses, it becomes he said/she said; until the moms get involved and it evolves into a cause célèbre, replete with using their children as excuses to make power plays and act on grudges.

Ziggy’s mom is “Jane” (Shailene Woodley), who is new to the upscale Monterey community, as well as down on her luck, single and working as a freelance bookkeeper. Ivy’s mother, “Renata” (Laura Dern) is part of the hamlet’s inner circle and a business titan, who brings her boardroom bravado to morning drop off. Jane doesn’t have a chance against her, until Renata’s nemesis Madeline takes the side of the newcomer. Let the mommy wars begin.

The whole show is a trigger for me. Although I have not been the mother of young children in over a decade, when I recall the Renatas and Madelines of my past, I so often regret not knocking a few over the playground fence.

But I can’t lay all my shoulda-coulda-woulda anxieties on parenthood. My other trigger is an E! workplace-based reality show called So Cosmo set at Cosmopolitan Magazine. This is actually a series my 19-year-old daughter Meg watches, because she’s expressed interest in working in the publishing industry after college. I really have to keep myself in check (aka my mouth shut), so that this nice, mother/daughter, light-viewing experience doesn’t turn negative.

I have been freelance for twenty years, but with every episode I’m reminded of what it’s like to be backstabbed on the job. There’s the senior editor so consumed with jealousy over a young coordinator, who he perceives as overconfident, that he has her disinvited to a vendor’s gala; the catty clique whose desks colleagues walk by at their own risk, because they comment on everything from people’s shoes to how long co-workers take at the copier; and the gadfly, who keeps everyone from doing their work by sharing her career fears ad nauseam. Familiar characters all.

Yes, I know: Let it go. Focus instead on why I chose to smile, glance at my watch and say, “Hey, look at the time,” before extricating myself from the situation.

In momland, I did not want Meg or her older brother Luke to be known as the kids being raised by the combative, petty, neurotic, who used birthday party invites as bargaining chips.

At work, I refused to add grist to the rumor mill by having a WWF-worthy smackdown screaming match with a colleague, leading to the word “unprofessional” being forever linked to my name.

Last but not least, in general, there were those boundary-less souls who were just plain scary, and interacting with them under favorable conditions, let alone adversarial ones, was not in my (or anyone’s) best interest.

So, I will start embracing my decisions to remain silent, and walk away. I kept my dignity, and because of that, I am not writing this from jail, where I’d still be serving time on multiple assault charges.

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Lorraine Duffy Merkl
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels BACK TO WORK SHE GOES and FAT CHICK, for which a movie version is in the works.