【Short Story】Museum of Regrets

I lived a quiet, peaceful life. It all started in elementary school. Perhaps my path was determined even earlier than that, but my memory does not go back that far, so I’ll have to begin from the first grade. There was a bully on the playground. He wasn’t in my class, thankfully, but he was a nuisance to everyone during recess. He’d stand atop the play structure and make it so that anybody who wanted to use the slide or monkey bars would have to deal with him. It was unfortunate, but nobody stood up to him. The teachers could not be bothered to do anything about him either, even despite parents complaining. Perhaps they didn’t believe the parents, or maybe they thought the claims were exaggerated. It’s hard to tell. It was a different time back then, before schools had to bow to the absolute authority of parents. Anyway, as long as we stayed away from him, it was usually fine. I say usually, because he wouldn’t stay up there all the time of course. If nobody was coming up, he’d get bored and leave to find someone to pick on. I was never bullied by him personally, but one day, my friend was the victim, and all I did was watch on as the bully shoved him. I should have stood up for my friend. I’m not sure why I didn’t. It wasn’t like I had to fight the bully or anything. I could have just tried to break things up, but I did nothing. Now, of course, you could just blame that on me being a dumb kid, but like I said, that was where it all started.

In middle school, it was me who got bullied. Nobody stood up for me, and I didn’t expect them to. They would take me and throw me outside the school building right before classes began so that I’d be locked out. They’d make fun of me and take my lunch. But I didn’t react. I didn’t fight back. I figured that if I did not give them any reaction, they would leave me alone eventually. And they did, but at what cost? I should have tried to protect my dignity. I should have tried to fight back—maybe give them a punch or two—but I did nothing. In general, I tried to stay as down-low as possible. I didn’t want to cause trouble to anyone, or give myself trouble.

High school was a lot more peaceful. I had a small group of friends, though I would not say we were closely knit. We mainly hung out together at lunch because there was nobody else to hang out with. It was better than being alone, so it was sort of just an obligatory friendship for all of us. I kept my head down, did my work in school, went home, and played video games the rest of the day. It wasn’t bad, but at the same time, other people were beginning their lives. Athletes doing their best to master a sport. Artists developing their skills. Other people were taking school seriously, aiming for scholarships, taking AP classes and planning their entire academic future. Meanwhile, I just wanted to pass with as little effort as possible. Even when it came time to graduate, I didn’t ask anyone out to prom. I didn’t bother taking any chances with girls. In hindsight, high school was the perfect time to develop my social skills, but I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even really get much from the friends I was hanging out with. Like I said, it was obligatory more than anything else. I didn’t see than any other time outside of lunch hour, and even then we weren’t exactly social with each other. But that was okay by me. I didn’t need a date to prom. I’ll find the one for me eventually, right?

My parents pressured me to go to university, so I ended up going. I didn’t really feel determined to go, but I didn’t want to let down my family either. Because of that, I decided to take something that I thought would be safe and easy and majored in business. I wasn’t really invested in the idea of becoming a business man to begin with, but the classes were somehow even more boring than I expected. I couldn’t care less about societal stakeholders or marketing. I just wanted a simple desk job. In the end, it was the math that got me. For some reason, we had to learn calculus. It was bad enough at first, but I’ll never forget the how difficult the chain rule was. But in the end, that was on me. I should have studied more, or asked for help. Maybe if I really tried, I could have understood. Maybe if I really tried, my accounting homework wouldn’t have all been turned in late. It just felt like too much effort. I didn’t want to go to university and major in this in the first place. But again, it was all my fault. I should have argued with my parents about this and tried going to a community college instead. I should have tried to take control of my own destiny. I can say this now that I’ve had so much time to look back on it, but back then, I still had not yet realized the result of my compounding mistakes.

In the end, I dropped out of university, and I was shackled by a mountain of debt. There wasn’t much I could do except work a minimum wage job—call center work from home. Of course, by home, I mean my parents’ basement. I didn’t have much of a life at this point, and working the night shift and not seeing coworkers really didn’t give me a chance to try to turn anything around. 

Years passed, and I finally paid off my debt. I was still working close to minimum wage at ungodly hours, and my parents were starting to get sick of me. That said, they weren’t sick of me simply for living with them for so long. It was a rough economy and they understood that. It was more along the lines of them not feeling proud of me. What had I done with my life? I didn’t do anything special, and I failed when I did try. I looked at what my old high school classmates were up to online, and that was when, for the first time in my life, it truly hit me. One was on his way to becoming a doctor. Another was a parent with a loving husband. There was someone who had started their own business, and someone who had been working their way up the corporate ladder from the very bottom. Everyone was doing something. They were accomplishing something with their lives. What was I doing? I was living a shitty life, but deep down, I believed that someday my life would truly begin. Someday, I’d get the recognition I deserve. Someday.

But that day never came. I kept working low-level jobs, putting in minimal effort while at the same time expecting some kind of break—some kind of opportunity to fall into my lap. I moved out of my parent’s house, but whenever I came home from work, I never felt ready to start a hobby or work on self-improvement, not realizing that there’s never a “perfect time.” I found a girlfriend, but she quickly broke up with me when I wasn’t putting in enough time for her. She tried to tell me, but I always argued back. I never blamed myself and tried to change. In my early life, I had not been assertive enough, but now it was too much. If only I had practiced social skills earlier on, I would have learned the right level of agreeability for different situations. Now that I escaped debt hell, I’d waste my excess money on gambling and booze, when I could have been putting it into good use by investing in something that would give me long-term satisfaction. By the time I was in my mid-forties, I realized. It was too late. I had wasted all my time. There was no way I could turn things around now. The life I lived was the real deal. I spent the whole thing taking no risks—never going out of my way for anything—and I got what I paid for. Instead of taking control of my life, I let life take control of me. Even when I was taken here, I wasn’t able to resist…

Anyway, thanks for listening to my story. All I can do now is think back on what I could have—and should have done, but perhaps you’ll be able to take something from it. Or maybe you’re just here to get some amusement. I’m not really sure, but it looks like my time is up. Once again, thank you.


The red light emanating from the terminal faded, and the speakers went silent. Despite how many people were walking around, the chrome floor remained perfectly clean. Other voices could faintly be heard in the distance. It was quite the large room, but it was very plain, except for the walls which had various wires and tubes running along them. These tubes connected to the bottom of a cone-shaped pedestal, upon which was a cylindrical glass container. It was difficult to tell, but the inside the glass container seemed to be filled with a liquid. Inside the liquid, a snaky mass of flesh and bone with an especially wrinkly lump of meat on the top was suspended. Many wires were connected to that lump. This was only one of many displays. Many other cylindrical exhibits were in the room as well, each with their own terminals in front allowing you to interact with them, and each with their own story to tell. 

Welcome to the museum of regrets.