When I was little, I liked to write to myself. I didn’t talk much but always had this gigantic, limitless and wild imagination. I’d sometimes fill pages and pages of notebooks with doodles and made up stories, like someone opened a window into my head and my day dreams were spilled out into the open, rippling onto pages of these notebooks. This was my favorite thing to do ever since I learned how to spell. I used to be very good at this process of saying how I really felt by writing it down because that way, I didn’t have to say how I was feeling out loud, which I can say that I’m still not very good at. There is so something honest and intimate about words being split across paper that I am never truly able to formulate into words. I stopped talking about how I feel a very long time ago, partly because I thought it was weird and stupid to talk emotions and secondly I truly felt as though nobody actually cared to listen. Eventually, I ceased to allow myself to feel very much at all altogether. I became silent.
To feel is to be vulnerable. To be open is even more risky. I debated even writing this for this same fear of being vulnerable. Which brings me to you. What I’m about to say isn’t easy, or fun, or sensitive, so I’m going to come out with it.
I want you to get help.
I am not writing this because I am angry, I am writing this because it’s everything I will never be able to tell you to your face. There are no stories or pictures here. Just me. I still do not know how we became friends, how to explain our friendship to others, or why our friendship spiraled into this huge lifelong bond and random phone calls and emotionally exhausting… thing. You got to me in ways that others couldn’t. There’s a movie called “You Got Mail” where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan become friends without ever meeting one another. In an e-mail, she writes to him “I don’t know if there is anything behind this, it might all be for nothing. We might be nothing. But all of this nothing has meant more to me than so many ‘somethings’. I will stop here. This has been a terrible time for me, and I know it has been for you. Neither of us imagined we would really become best friends, throwing paper balls at each other, teeth full of braces in junior high study hall, laughing on the ground to some YouTube video or playing air drums to Highway To Hell while totally not going the speed limit on a highway at 2 in the morning.
It mattered to me that you spoke about your deepest worries, dreams, accomplishments and failures. It was important to me when I felt like I had no one to talk to, I could vent to you and actually feel like I was being paid attention to. You could look at a person once and communicate with people just by an emotion. I once told you it was unnerving for someone I respected and loved to to be so blindly self absorbed.
While not everyone knows each other to the core, is it possible to get each other in ways that we ourselves are unaware of? Somehow, you did.
The past months have made me think, could you say that you knew me? I would wait up to talk to you on a whim, pick up instantly at your phone calls, come and pick you up just because. It took me too long to realize you wouldn’t do the same for me. Because you were high. That was my fault- for repeatedly trying to make something out of the nothing that you felt for me. You were there when I moved to and from Florida. You reminded me that I need to move to California, with my “Safe Haven” town, small cabin in the woods working on a book and have my dog sleeping soundly on my front porch. I want that for myself. As I write this, all these emotions are coming back at me and it’s making me feel just as voiceless and embarrassed as the day that I spent hours looking at my ceiling fan, counting the times it spun around, and around, and around. Similarly, I am at a loss right now because I genuinely do not know whether or not the real you are your actions in the past year or two. Who are you, really? Are you the kid who goes to hole in the wall bars every weekend, emptying out his pockets just so he can continue a buzz and hear that one song on the jukebox and blackout to fill a void in his life? Or the kid who genuinely cares about people, their stories, who can start up a conversation with a CEO or a homeless person with ease and wants to see every corner of this world?
A pivotal moment for me was when we were standing in the backyard and you confessed to me your addictions while sobbing in my lap. I say the word addictions, not secrets, not hobbies, because that is what they are to their core. this is the part where I stopped writing for a while because I know this could go one of two ways: 1. You could brush off everything I’ve said and am about to say in this letter with a shrug, tear it up and a never think about it again. 2. Get angry and not think that you have a problem. 3. Completely change everything about your life and be the happiest, healthiest version you never knew you could be. Everything.
While I have blacked out and been in more life threatening situations than I can count since graduating in December, I cannot continue to do this to myself and be reckless just so that I can feel something other than–well, nothing.
What you choose to do with this information is up to you. I know that your friends are your friends, but I also know some of them will say, “you’re fine man, it’s whatever.” Because they’re undoubtedly going through the same thing as you and they can’t see what’s right and wrong. You’re better than this empty wasteland of drinking and being hungover and depressed and anxious who runs from his problems. (Because you do.) You are kind, smart, and have more compassion and authenticity in your finger than most men I know at this age. And none of these things can be found at the bottom of a bottle. If you aren’t going to get help for your me, your friends who told you that you might have a problem, or your family, do it for your damn self. Don’t look at what everyone else is doing. You said time and time again that you want out of Pittsburgh and I am typing my fingers off to tell you this, if you continue to do what you are doing now, you will forever be stuck here. There’s a running joke in my senior class about people who are still stuck in the Chartiers Valley “Let’s go get drunk and obliterate ourselves and lose all our money in Carnegie” mindset. They may be fun, maybe even good at heart, but please don’t be like them. You were not raised to be a loser. Remember that winners do what losers don’t want to do. Take that passion you have for playing music, for football, even the passion you had for your dreams of becoming a male nurse and turn it into something amazing. (What you choose to create is up to you.) Even at its leisure, going at the pace you are will strip everything about you that matters. Your drive, your character, your focus, your inspiration. It would be a true shame to see you become of them. I’m not scolding, not judging because I have lived it, I need you to really take some time and listen to what I’m telling you. You have no idea how special you are and quite frankly it pisses me off. You think you know everything and you don’t. You think you are invincible to the point of self-endangerment. This world is a gift, full of lights glistening through a glass stained window and watching the dust in the air dance right before your eyes. I pray that you see it from clear, sober eyes and moderation, because you deserve to.
One of the biggest motivators for me to stop and do better is this: Because I can. And so can you.
You might be questioning why I’m being so persistent about this, about you, why I’m taking time to write this and give a shit about you. There were a good few weeks where I asked myself the same thing—Why I constantly care for those who do not possess the emotional capacity to do the same for me, why I will always choose to care and be gentle and kind. I don’t have a clear answer for this other than it is the human I was engineered to be. I will always care, always forgive, always listen, always love with all I have, always see the glimmer of good inside someone even if it all might be worth nothing in the end. I am okay with this.
I have decided with much pain, doubt, but hope in my heart that I would rather live as though there is a God rather than live like there is not and soon come to find that I had lived my entire life not believing that there is something bigger than myself. I wish the same for you–to believe that you were fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving, real, giving God. I have continued my life countless times when I wanted to do the opposite, I have been safe in situations where I should not be alive. I have stood on canyons, watched wild horses run on a foggy Carolina beach. I felt love by a fireside and smelled the fresh air after the rain in the summer, heard the sound of my favorite song being sung by over a thousand people at a concert in the middle of winter and felt vibrations throughout my entire body. I’ve known grace and forgiveness, I’ve been humbled and accepted. That isn’t luck, life, magic, coincidence, or bullshit. That’s connection. That’s connection with God.
You can disagree, but I needed for you to hear about that kind of faith.
This is what I want for you.
I know so far I’ve discussed the big things in your life that you don’t care for—Change, God, and the two of us. I only have few more things left to say.
Promise me: You will at least try to get help. I am serious. At least you’ll be a whole person if I do. Our choices make us all the while we think we’re making them. Life isn’t done surprising you yet. And no matter what you told me in the car, you do have the spirit in you for redemption, hope, and control of alcohol. I like to believe that we leave behind pieces of ourselves wherever we go. That our actions cause a never ending ripple of effect to everyone we meet. Growing up, I told myself I wanted to be remembered for what I did. I get that people may remember the good, or the bad, and may not even remember me at all. Nevertheless, I believe in legacies. So I ask you, with a familiar pang in my chest as my heart beats in tune with the rain pounding over my head. What will your legacies be? What is going to make you jump out of bed in the morning, make you fall asleep with joy in your heart?
I told you that I’m notorious for quoting movies to match any mood and making playlists to cheer up friends, but what you don’t know is I also like to leave directions. You can decide to follow them or not.
From Morgantown, WV, take I-68 East to Exit 15 (Coopers Rock Road). At top of exit ramp make a right and follow road into Coopers Rock State Forest.
This is a place where I spent countless hikes, camping trips, and great times on an old pontoon boat with my family growing up. I want you to go, sit on one of the rocks and I don’t want you to leave until you forgive yourself. While you’re there, listen to the song “Three Year Old.”by Eric Church. If that view isn’t better than any high you have felt before, then I guess I’ll die a liar. There are still so many more lessons to learn, mistakes to make, air to breathe, songs to discover, friends to grow with and love to be felt. I never felt smaller than I did sitting on those rocks, and life never seemed more simple.
Look down at your hands. They are etched with stories, marked with years of mistakes, triumphs and projects. The hands you once put in my hands t are good, useful hands. I’ve held them, so I know. Do good with those hands. Despite what you might currently believe about yourself, you still have good in you. Use it.
Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.
Those Friday Night Lights still shine for you, you know.