Last week was your birthday but I tried not to think about it. I didn’t want to pause my day and think about you because I was enjoying my family. But the next day I stood in the shower beneath a steady stream of water and the thought occurred to me that I’d not let myself grieve and I needed to.
I cry a lot. Often I don’t know why I’m crying but there is an invisible pressure, almost like a knot that won’t come undone unless I surrender. Yet, when it comes to crying about you, I am endlessly eluded. Because I’ve forgiven you hundreds of times, and for each moment I choose to lay down my resentment, I find myself in another moment, crying, hating you again.
I didn’t always hate you. It was more like idolatry- your gifts, your talents, your stories, all on a ginormous pedestal of perfection. I didn’t care that you were an addict, that you walked out. I didn’t care that for more than half of my life you were homeless. I used forgiveness as padding for my heart, not allowing you to hurt me.
I knew pain, but not resentment. It was a quiet loneliness, a feeling within that no one could understand me like you, had you given me a chance. I was different than almost everyone else in my family- quiet, contemplative, content to be lost in the pages of a book, or outside, lost in my thoughts. I knew you’d understand me. My mom told how quiet you were, that the happiest she ever saw you was sitting on a porch with your guitar. I knew you loved the ocean, how you often ended up living there. I loved the ocean, too. I loved music. I loved culture. More than anything, I loved to write. You loved to write too. You sent me several letters throughout my childhood and I read through them until they disintegrated.
I grew older. My hope swelled. I wanted you to come for me, to know me as a fourteen-year-old. A fifteen-year-old. I wanted you to read my poetry, hear my stories. I wanted you to hear my voice. But the last time I heard from you I was thirteen. You called to tell me I had a brother. Then you said you were homeless and happy in the woods, and you wanted the entire world to leave you alone. And I still hoped. I still believed that you were not too far gone. I have always believed outrageous things, about love, about possibility. I used to be brave like that.I grew up attending Al-Anon alongside other children of addicts. I learned that you had a disease. I learned it wasn’t my fault. I knew the concepts and one-liners, but I never stopped believing you could just choose to love me. And I could choose to wait for you.
Then you died.
You were 36 years old. You killed yourself living on the streets, numbing your pain with drugs. You killed yourself.I still wasn’t angry. I took the idol I had built and told myself it’d never die. I would live a life worthy of all that you were. I would embrace creativity and freedom. I’d play music. I’d love men on drugs, give myself to them, and swear it didn’t hurt me. I’d give them money, spend the night at crack houses, clean up vomit, do whatever it took to show you that I’d never be offended. I wasn’t angry. I forgave you. Then I waited- hoping, believing- that the theory of my childhood would prove true. Someone would turn from their addiction and choose me.
But it never freaking happened. Instead, I wound up pregnant. Single. Alone. I had to quit school.
And, somehow, I still wasn’t angry at you.
God began piecing together my identity, my heart. He began putting me back together. The symptoms of abandonment resurfaced again and again and I dealt with it methodically. Acknowledgment. Forgiveness. This has been the most frustrating part of my Christian journey, convincing God, convincing my pastor, convincing myself that I’m not angry.
I’ve dug into your past, the truth of what happened. Your parents abandoned you in a house without food and water. You were torn away from your siblings, placed in foster care. You were starved. You were abused. Later you were adopted by a family that meant well but was immediately overwhelmed by your baggage. They sent you back to the orphanage before trying one more time. You started running away when you were twelve. You started inhaling fumes from the lawnmower when you were thirteen. You married my mom when you were nineteen.
I knew you were broken and it was easy to forgive you. I remembered when you tattooed my name and birthday across your back. To me, this was the very essence of love. I blamed you for nothing.
But last week I was sitting in therapy crying because I cry all the time and I never know why. My therapist asked me what I needed and I told her peace beyond the pain. Also, hope. How do I hope anymore? All of my hope, a lifetime of hope, was spent on you.
I don’t know where the heavy pain has come from. Maybe transition? When life shakes, I can no longer lie to myself about how safe everything is. Maybe it’s because I met my brother for the first time and I’ve seen and heard how abandonment affected him. I could forgive you for leaving me, somehow…but not him. It wasn’t okay that you left him.
What is clear to me is my Enneagram test results and how this has affected my life.I am a 9, the Peacemaker.
Enneagram 9, The Peacemaker
Key Motivations: Want to create harmony in their environment,to avoid conflicts and tension, to preserve things as they are,to resist whatever would upset or disturb them.
The minute I tested for a 9, I knew you were a 9. I realized for the first time that as much as I’ve idolized your better qualities, I’ve never been able to look in the mirror and see your flaws.
But they are all over me. This was really why I went to see a therapist. I don’t know how to face pain. I don’t know how to feel anger. I don’t give myself a voice. All I know is how to protect peace, which often results in numbing myself to this beautiful life. I have missed so much life for having locked myself in the bedroom to be quiet. I thought I was being creative, but I have no idea what being honest looks like. I thought I was being contemplative, but I actually don’t know how to be still. Perhaps most telling of all was when she asked me if I’d ever been suicidal.
“Do you want to die?”I said no right away because it’s true, I don’t want to die. Still, I squirmed in my seat. “Sometimes I think the world would be better off without me.”
It hit me like a freight train. I am you. I am more than eloquent words and a quiet soul. I am more than compassion and tenderness.
I am a runner. Like you.
I hate this about myself. And for the first time in my entire life, I realized that I hated you. I cried in the shower the other night because I hated you. I am angry. I don’t even know what to do with this emotion, how out of control and empty it feels. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt the full force of it before. But I have to let myself feel it.
I have to stop telling myself that you running was for my own good. That you made everything better by your poor choices.
Rehab would have been for my own good. A therapist would have been for my own good.
I’m sure it was torturous to know what you’d given up for man-constructed peace, my brother and I. In that way, I have compassion. I’ve felt a sliver of this in the last year, having escaped into my inner-world to avoid pain. I miss my kids. I miss laughter. I miss the quietness of God’s voice. It is torture to run. It is torture to avoid stillness. I actually think we could sit and have a conversation about this had you not checked out of your own life, let yourself die.
I just wanted to tell you that I am angry, finally. I forgave you yesterday and I’ll probably have to do it again tomorrow.
Yet, even though I’m angry, I still find myself grateful… a strange dichotomy. I like being a Peacemaker. I’m grateful you gave me a brother, a little piece of you to know and love.I imagine the three of us would have really enjoyed one another’s company.
But I’m tired of romanticizing it all for comfort. It can’t happen, because you’re gone.All we have left is our own lives, our broken hearts. A million questions. And still, a choice: to be engaged in our lives… to heal…. to feel…. to be present.
To stay. No matter the pain, I will stay.