I could have been present. I could have been healthy. I chose a different path.
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I’m sorry, Mom and Dad, that I didn’t make it through school. I’m sorry I got arrested, did drugs, drank, self-injured and went from one psych-ward to the next. I can’t begin to imagine how hard this was for you, to witness your dear son destroy his life and his body over and over again and feel like you were entirely powerless to make a lick of difference. I waged a war against my demons and I lost and I attempted suicide and I survived, only to go right back to the same behaviors that had led me into the darkness in the first place. My mental illness and my addiction made me selfish. My pain made me selfish. I was constantly thinking about myself and my struggles, never willing or able to consider the needs of others. I put you through hell. I was in the ER and I ripped one of the springs out of my hospital bed and proceeded to carve my face up with the jagged edge. You had to witness the ghoulish aftermath. You had to face a son who hated himself so much that he was willing to use sharp objects to slice and slash himself to pieces. I never got it. I never understood. Because I blamed you and your lack of validation and attention for my chronic emptiness, the emptiness that drove me to burning and cutting the entire surface of my upper body. Now I try to see it from your perspective, without using guilt as an excuse for shallowness of insight, and I see someone I love more than my own self, who it is my duty, no matter how old he gets, to guide along this journey we call life, tortured and broken and suffering and it fills me with a helpless sadness that cannot be verbalized.
I was in a psych hospital three years ago and it was visiting hours and I was talking with my parents. I told my mother I was scared. She asked me why. I said because I believed life was a dream and that there were entities who were trying to wake me up. She said:
“It’s been a nightmare, Timothy. Don’t you want to wake up?”
I was stunned. Instead of attempting to pacify me, to brush off my foolish notions, she openly embraced them. I felt conflicted. One part of me was convinced waking up was the only option. It was the only path to salvation and the surcease of suffering. Another part of me thought that my mother was merely a figment of my vast subconscious imploring me to give up my fool’s quest. Stop fighting and let go, it said. Your dream is dying. The first part believed I had a place in this world. That I could be living a real life while also being trapped in a dreamlike trance. The second part thought that it was all a joke and I was the punchline. I had been had. I wasn’t sure which part was right. But in that moment my mother knew something that I didn’t know. For a moment my mother was tapping into something beyond herself to deliver me a message. And it scared the living daylights out of me.
I’m sorry Susan. I’m sorry I put you through your worst fear. I didn’t mean to end up in a coma for nine days. But I assume full responsibility for what happened before, during and afterwards. I chased away your love. I rendered myself unreachable. I descended into the pit of the human experience. I drank vodka by the liter, I cut myself so deep I was woozy from blood loss, I turned away anyone who tried to intervene. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you had to see me on a breathing tube, hovering between life and death. I saw you in that darkness, Susan. I saw you first. You have always been my biggest advocate. When that kid shoved me in the video store and was waiting outside with his friends to jump me, you got right in his face and you gave it to him like nothing I’ve ever seen. You were breathing fire. And of course you were at my side when I was sick, wiping down all the surfaces in my room after one of the nurses came to work with a bad cold. You’ve read all my stories and have always encouraged me to live my dreams. You made me believe they were not impossible, but very much probable, if I could only pull myself together and commit. I let you down, Susan. We had the well-researched outline for a screenplay ready to be written. We had mapped out every single scene! But then I happened and we scrapped it. I don’t want to drag you down. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you are always so appreciative to see me. This fills me gratitude and it humbles me. I want to be the brother you deserve, one that is independent and fierce and sensitive and creative. The loyal one who will never let you down.
I’m sorry, Tallin. We used to play a lot when you were young and then I just stopped playing. I couldn’t make the time. I was too busy being drunk and playing Neopets. Grammy would always tell you I was sick. I guess I was. But I regret it Tallin. You needed more strong, stable male presences in your life who made you feel safe and loved and that was not me. I know that you are currently struggling with anxiety and I want you to know that it is a hard world out there, a world that can trample on us sensitive fellows, so we have to work extra hard to protect ourselves from the negativity. We have to be conscientious about what we allow in our space, from people to games. Once you are secure in who you are as a person, a lovable, funny, talented person, you can begin to use your sensitivity to form long-lasting relationships. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that the world’s pain is your pain. It’s not. We all have our own load to carry. And try not to be afraid of other people, most of them are a lot like you on the inside, they just have filters so you never see it. Most people aren’t out to get other people. Take care of yourself, be smart and discerning, but don’t start eyeballing the mailman (or woman). They’re just delivering mail. I know you worry a lot. I worry a lot. Papa worries a lot. It’s in the O’Neill genes to feel guilty about the past and worry about the future. Try not to worry too much. Stay in the moment. That’s where all the good stuff’s going on. I love you Tallin, and I’m sorry I let you down.
I’m sorry I let you down, Russ. You were always there for me, even when I wasn’t. I wouldn’t return calls or texts for weeks on end and then I would finally climb out of the hole and text you and we would pick up like nothing ever happened. You are the most patient and forgiving human being I have ever known. You are also the kindest. Just learn to let the anger out drip, drip, drip before the dam bursts. I always tell whoever will listen about our weekly meet ups because I can’t believe they actually take place, and I’m always thinking they could come to a halt at any moment. Since I assume everyone thinks like me I assume you have some ulterior motive for coming to see me as regularly as you do. It can’t possibly be because you legitimately enjoy my company. No, it’s a pity thing. A pity thing that’s been going on for five years now. I let you down, Russ, because I refused to meet Jane for the longest time, even walking back home after hearing she was in the basement. I let you down because I wrote nasty things about your dearly departed father on Facebook. I let you down because I showed up drunk at your bachelor party and had to have Caroline come pick me up. I let you down, Russ, and I’m not worthy of a friend like you. You brighten my life and your friendship forces me to see myself in a different light. It forces me to view myself as I imagine someone looking at me with compassion and non-judgment might. You are one of the best things in my life and I’ll never take you for granted again.
I want to say I’m sorry to all my teachers, classmates, coworkers, friends and relatives who ever invested their time and love in me and received nothing but frustration and heartache in return. When the going got tough the tough retreated within himself and projected this strange false front of hysterical, clownish egomania that was at odds with his principles and beliefs. I never wanted any of this for myself, and I didn’t want it for you. My fear of being the disappointment led me on a manic mission to dismantle all external expectations until everyone was satisfied with my mere survival. I know I wasted your time and your tears. I know I was ugly and disrespectful and cold and aloof. I know I could sow seeds of toxic gossip and turn people against one another. I know I would cancel commitments at the last second. I know I was unreliable, untrustworthy and dangerously unpredictable. I let you all down. I could blame it on the anxiety and the depression and the Borderline and the addiction, but those things were challenges that I could have overcome if I made better choices, if I chose to handle them more skillfully instead of clinging to the victim narrative.
I’m sorry I let you down, God. You gave life to my parents, who gave life to me and my whole life has been a quest to find you. Along the way I did sinful things, evil things, and I took your name in vain. I blamed you for everything. You were the only presence big enough to absorb all of my grievances, all of my woes. I spit at you. Flipped you the bird. Cursed you. Looked for ways to harm you by harming myself. Dared you to show yourself to me. I took your silence for absence. Other people were not you. Only you could be you. Only the voice thundering in my head or the bright cloud of mist hovering over my bed could be you. See, I knew you. Or, at least, what I wanted you to be. But I let you down. As a child I looked up to you in wonder, sincere and curious. Then I hated you. Then I was convinced you didn’t exist and this brought me peace. Then I believed in you again and this brought me immense pain. Then I doubted you all over again. I doubted what you were and what you meant. Hate doesn’t come easy to me and I know folks who participated in the Holocaust. But I hated you, God. I hated you with the very core of my being. I would put a cigarette out on my chest and then look up and say, “We’re all one. Did you feel that, you sonofabitch?” You failed to intervene when we needed you the most. You sent no salvation. The Light got Victor Frankl and the Dark got atomic bombs. But I never really understood you. I can try to look at myself from your perspective, but it’s impossible. You are beyond all knowing. If I were to hazard a guess, I think you would see, in this moment and excluding all others, a person who has not reached full maturity, a person who has suffered greatly, owing partly to choice and partly to circumstance, a person who is trying to receive the light while struggling to integrate the dark, a person who persists in a state of hypnotic confusion, a person who deserves all the love he refuses to accept but which he deserves a hundred times over, a person who is so sad and so angry that he won’t see reason until his wounds are healed, a person who cares for animals more deeply than most people care about anything, a person who legitimizes my reality through the profound earnestness of his search, a person who has given up on his dreams without understanding that it is dreams that birthed his soul and without dreams he simply is not. Have faith in your dreams again. I do not demand you have faith in me, that is between you and your conscience, but I ask for it. Please, child, let me into your heart once more.
I let you all down, and I’m sorry. This was supposed to go another way. I was meant for other things. I was meant to be a better person than this. I had all the talent in the world and I squandered it. I exhausted spirits and I broke hearts. It was never my intention. I have lived a little life and it has encouraged my misanthropic tendencies but, in truth, I have nothing against people. I generally like people. I should have treated them with more kindness and consideration when I was around them. I hope I’ll get another chance. I know I will. And I won’t let you down again.