I got an email the other day from a friend who reminded me that friendship is “a boat with room for two in fair weather, but only one in foul.”
That sums it up pretty well.
He said that he’d been keeping up with me via this blog, and that he wanted me to know that he felt bad about the left turn our friendship had taken, the foul weather, as it was. Then he did what he needn’t have; he took responsibility for something that was mostly of my making.
So I wrote him back. This is what I said, with changes to protect the innocent and improvements to make it sound a little better than it actually was:
I’ve been thinking about your email on and off since I received it. It made me feel good for many reasons, not least because you’re a great writer who conveys the right things artfully.
It also made me feel good because of the conflict between us that never resolved. I’ve often written things that are mean, cruel, low-spirited, nasty, inappropriate. Worse, I’ve directed those things, from time to time, at people who didn’t deserve them, or even if they did, they didn’t deserve them in the quantity and quality they got.
You’re one of those recipients, and I apologize for it.
When I quit drinking it set my life on full-unravel. The only thing that had been stitching it together was the unreality quilt of the alcohol. My drinking was certainly minor compared to others, but it served the critical function of diverting my mind and time from severe problems.
There was always only really one problem, and it was the rage and anger of an abused kid. I have always been a good enough, kind enough, generous enough, loving enough, funny enough person to redeem myself at the last moment from the judgement of Horrible Person that my angry acts would have otherwise so richly deserved, but towards the end of the death spiral the Anger dial was essentially turned to eleven. All the kind acts in the world don’t make up for being an incorrigible asshole.
Do you remember Deputy Knox? Of course you do. He was the LA Sheriff’s deputy who ran roughshod on cyclists in PV for years. One time he cuffed and stuffed JK for simply talking back to him about a bogus citation. No one was a nastier or worse person that Knox.
One day he saw a cyclist and waved him down, don’t remember who it was. He said, “I know I’m hard on you guys, but I’m not all bad.” Then he opened the trunk of his cruiser. It was full of brand new soccer balls. “I give these to poor kids who can’t afford ’em. It makes a difference.”
When I heard that story I thought, “That’s wonderful. But you are still a complete asshole. You just try to make up for it by doing a little good on the side. But you still suck.”
Incredibly, unlike Knox, I have left 99% of my anger in the dumpster, but, and here’s the self-caution, with only 1% remaining I’m still the angriest person I know!
In practice I can deal with 1% much better than 100, and so can everyone around me. And there are great tools and strategies for letting the Good Seth be dominant, strategies I would never have hit on or even known I’d needed had I not quit drinking. It has taken years. Years. And I’m not there yet.
Which brings me back to you.
One of the reasons our conflict was so painful is because you inspired me and led me out of the bar. It was on that drive down to San Diego that you told me about your life. I haven’t ever gone through a program, and you once said to me, “I never thought your drinking was all that bad, Seth.”
But … despite your correct analysis, it was bad enough for me, and I used you as a lodestar to make a change. It took a while, but then again, so does the formation of a galaxy.
How ironic that the person who set me on the path to grappling with my inner pain and failing is a person I can no longer talk to! It was more than irony, it was a waste, silly, a loss, all things you can expect when you get into a childish name-calling contest and both combatants are armed with razor adjectives, high-explosive caricatures, and poisonously good memories.
I’m glad to know that things are going well for you and the family.
Me? I’m still in the early stages of late-stage healing. Splitting from my wife is a daily wound because of my feelings and because it has created so much pain for my kids. But guilt, Jack from Illinois told me (not his real name), is oftentimes part of what you end up with when you do something for yourself even when it is the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s a package deal. With the betterment comes, in some respects, a measure of worserment.
There’s no doubt that I’m a better, healthier person now, and on some days, most maybe, I’d even say I’m a happier person. Most importantly, I’m not an angrier one! It’s a lot easier to navigate the slings and arrows when your heart brims with compassion than with rage. And nothing teaches humility like failing at a 32-year marriage. That’s a pedestal you fall off hard, and the shards are numerous, everywhere, way off in corners like behind the fridge where you are never ever going to get at them.
I am trying to recreate relationships with people who still want them, but I’m also accepting those that don’t as the losses which are part of The Price. I’m also making some good decisions about steering clear of people and situations that drag me back into my role as agitator of the South Bay, or whoever I used to be.
In any event I’m less appealing to almost everyone now that I ride around with a backpack, jeans, scraggly beard, and a whiff of the unwashed. I don’t know if it’s a plus or minus, but I’ve seen several local riders twice or thrice and they haven’t recognized me at all.
Let’s call it a plus.
So … hope our paths cross. We can ride as long as you don’t mind slow, but one way or another let’s get together, even if it’s just coffee.
Thanks again for the email. I’d say something branded like “thanks for reaching out,” but it was more than that.
It was friendship.
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