My hands were shaking, half from the cold and half from nerves. The wind blew out the small flame a few times, but I managed to light my cigarette on the fourth try. The light from the flame danced across my mom’s face, and I saw a mixture of confusion and sadness.
I blew out the smoke from the first cigarette my mom had ever seen me smoke and started the hardest conversation I’ve ever had.
I’ve never been good at asking for help, letting people in. There’s a part of me that is filled with pride and wants to do things on my own. This causes its share of problems and certainly plays some role in not having shared my struggles with many people.
But there’s another part of me, perhaps a larger part, that is scared to death of what people will think of me. That when I let people in, tell them I’m struggling, it will change their entire view of me. That whatever I say will somehow become their burden, or they might blame themselves for not seeing it, for not doing something to make me happier, for not fixing me. That they’ll treat me different and worry about me all the time. I justify my isolation by believing that I’m saving people from having to worry about me. But when I’m not hiding from the truth, I think it might come down to fear.
“If I were a monster, would you wince when you looked at me?
If I were a freak, would you stare?
If I were a leper, would you say unclean?”
And so it went, exactly like my worst fears.
“Is it something your father and I did?”
“Did we make you feel like you couldn’t talk to us?”
“How could I not have noticed?”
“Why would you keep this from us?”
I listened to her strained voice and watched tears fall from eyes filled with pain. I watched her heart break as I told her about days and nights. Days spent feeling so alone and so hopeless. Nights spent in the company of the vices I turned to instead of people. Days wanting to escape; nights spent sincerely thinking of how.
I talked and listened and talked some more.
No, its not your fault.
No, you are the best parents I could ever ask for.
Because I deserve an Oscar for Best Actor.
Because hiding things is a natural reaction, to hide our pain away and think that no one will understand.
And maybe they won’t understand. Maybe they’ll think I’m weird, I’m crazy, I’m vying for attention. Maybe they’ll blame themselves. Maybe it’s easier to hide my struggles, because maybe that conversation will hurt.
But maybe it’s worth it.
Because there is someone who cares. The people who love me deserve a chance to try to understand. And even if understanding doesn’t happen at the start, it’s still a possibility. It was several months until I got the chance to revisit that conversation with my mom, and although I’m sure she still has questions for me, being able to talk openly with people who love me about the ways I’m hurting is a good thing.
“When I am a monster
You never wince.
When you look at me,
When I am a freak, you never stare.
When I am a leper,
You never say unclean.
And when I am lost,
You come and get me free”
And right there, on the word “free,” is the absolute best part of the song. All the tension and emotion from the past few minutes of the song come together in a seemingly inevitable, but undeniably beautiful explosion of sound.
So perhaps the tension was there to lead to that moment. Perhaps through our pain and struggles, we can find strength. The strength to recognize that although we often try to do it on our own, we simply don’t need to. The courage to have conversations that let people in and to accept help. To know the initial reaction might not be the one we want, but to have the conversations anyway. To let go of the fear. To talk.
We don’t have to hide. We don’t have to be afraid. To talk, to share, to ask for help.
Please, don’t be afraid.
Spring 2012 Intern
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