Stories like this are tricky. Ultimately, they’re subjective. All I can do is lay out the events as I see them, and you have to understand that I’m giving you a single point of view. This is my own admittedly biased experience, and others in this tale could take exception to my interpretation. Be that as it may, this is the event that I feel has done the most to shape me into the writer I am today.
Growing up, my brothers and I hit the daily double of childhood. We were both rural and poor, and from an early age we were taught to distrust authority. Most of our conversations with non-related adults consisted of the following phrases: “I don’t know,” and “they’re not here right now.” The tenants of our family were simple and observed like dogma: support it, defend it, and keep everything in house.
If you weren’t blood, our affairs were none of your damned business, and marrying in didn’t necessarily afford you with a right to know.
As a child, this sort of fierce loyalty appealed to me, and I saw something noble and good in its application. My brothers and I belonged to something greater than ourselves, and we thought it was something worth defending. I no longer feel that way.
While I still believe I can be fiercely loyal, I also have a well-developed sense of social justice. I believe that matters of right versus wrong trump familial bonds every time, regardless of whether those bonds are by blood or choice. I think there are moments in everyone’s life when your soul or humanity or basic goodness, however you want to say it, are tested.
Many times you’re the only one who will know the results of those tests, but you still have to live with the outcomes. It’s your own face staring back at you in the mirror each day, and the choices you make shape the person you become.
About six years ago, I was at the center of a family rift that drew sharp battle lines and reaped bitter results. I strayed from the tenants of my childhood, and I spoke repeatedly and often to people outside the family, some of them in uniform. I had no doubts then, nor do I now, that it was the right thing to do. In truth, it was the only choice to be made. Sometimes the correct path is too clear to be ignored.
Still, the righteous path is seldom the painless one. The fallout from my actions was fierce and immediate, and I think it’s fair to say that, as a result, I lost my shit for a while. My brothers were with me, although silently, and my mother eventually joined us, but it was a tepid, trying-to-have-it-both-ways commitment on her part. To the rest of the family I was a pariah, and though I was bitterly angry at them for their stance on events, I was also deeply hurt to suddenly be shunned and vilified.
I still had my wife and kids, but I felt incredibly alone. For the space of about two years, I was a poor father and a lousy husband. I drifted in a sea of raw emotion and seething anger, and more days than not, I debated the merits of life versus the alternative. I was untethered and adrift, and I have no idea how or why things began to shift, but eventually they did.
As I began to come back to myself, I had a newfound appreciation for friends. I made an effort to cultivate more and placed a priority on maintaining relationships with those I already had. Friends, especially those I wrote with, became my family, and I found that having a family by choice is highly preferable to one obligated by birth.
Another unexpected benefit to being lost in the wilderness for so long is that I gained an appreciation for people in emotional pain. Had I not gone through that period of darkness, I don’t know if I would have been able to sympathize and empathize with people the way I do now. I think I have a better understanding of people and motivations than I did before, and as a result, my writing has improved.
Finally, being abandoned by your family gives you the ultimate permission to be whoever the hell you want to be because, fuck it, why not? This realization, above all else, has reaped the most benefits. Every story I write has a little piece of me in it, and I want to use that opportunity to be as honest and as real as possible.
Stories are about people and relationships, but they’re also about the connection between you and me. If we hang out, I promise to always tell you the truth, even when it hurts. And sometimes I’ll even make you smile.