I was somewhere between the ages of 22 and 24… A kid from Brooklyn, grew up in the street, – fighting, competing for everything – every day – now in the middle of small town, USA, begging for any Army unit to send me to war. My roommate and one of my closest friends (to this day) had a really rough time for the past few years and I’m not sure I ever did anything to help his situation. I was disgustingly selfish and leading an extremely hedonistic life.
I spoke to my friend about this last night, and I think my exact words to her were, “I lost touch with the world for over a year – like real touch with caring for anything at all,” which I will now try to explain.
I’ve always been a self-starter, extremely motivated, just kind of a “let’s go” type of person since I was an infant. I’ll spare you my past if you don’t know it – I’m sure I’ll post it at some point, but I was somewhere between 22 and 24 and I was a Platoon Leader (Lieutenant) in the Army. I was begging every officer I could to get me over to combat. After four years of West Point, being the Captain of every team I’d ever played on, 9-11 happening my senior year, and everything I was made of, I kinda wanted to “get in the game” I guess.
This all resulted in a bunch of lists that I was “placed” on, so said the Colonels and Generals that I brazenly skipped my chain of command, scheduling meetings with because I wanted to help and I wanted to lead – I wanted to “get in the game”. Over a couple of years (actually the time if very sketchy because I was such a mess), I received warning orders to deploy to combat in anywhere from 72 hours to 72 days. The orders came from different units and lists that I was placed on, and somehow things never ended up coming from these lists. Yes, I did end up serving time in combat and that’s another story – this entry is about me in some of my darkest times as a person, which was not combat (as horrific as that was).
I’ve always been extremely self-aware and I KNEW that I was going to die in combat. I would have bet my life on it – in fact, I pretty much did. Always the first batter on my baseball teams, first to show up at school, games, events, first at the free-throw line, you name it – it was me. I KNEW my fate: train a group of men, lead them into combat from the front, helping them be better leaders because there was no chance at me making it back from battle – I was ready to die, to give it all. This whole perspective, (I can look back now and see how skewed it was), which I really came to understand only over the last few years, made me an absolute time bomb, shipwreck, whatever you want to call it – really just a terrible, self-serving hedonist. When you couple the fire and passion that make me who I am with extreme conviction and an idiotic direction or perspective, it’s a dangerous thing. However, I’ve since learned how to channel that fire and passion that make me who I am in a constructive manner – I’ve really benefitted from other people that LOVED me and helped me and I would absolutely be dead if it weren’t for other people and the goodness of their hearts.
I can say this with complete honesty: The years of my life between the ages of about 22-24, I remember very little bits and pieces of… what I do remember, I’ll share some of it…
I remember living with my roommate (we were both from Brooklyn, went to the same high school, and attended West Point together, so yea I guess we were pretty close) and I remember the two of us doing everything we could to get over into combat. I remember his pain from the loss he suffered when his beautiful brother who was about the same age as us, one of the greatest souls I ever met, was killed on 9/11. I felt for him, and I didn’t know how to help him. I remember the helplessness I felt inside and it was exactly like the helplessness I felt with the situation with my little sister, who was addicted to Heroin and I hadn’t had a conversation with her that was worth a damn thing since I left for West Point at 17 years old. I was so just… man, I don’t know, I guess I just felt helpless – I’m trying to find better words and I can’t really say it any other way.
All of these feelings, these thoughts, heavy on my heart and soul and the responsibility of being a leader – which I take very seriously (but I was a completely ignorant idiot at the time) gave me an excuse to just shut down emotionally and become an absolute monster and I went into what I thought of as a “survival mode”. The oddest thing about what I’m describing as “survival mode” is that it wasn’t really true survival (which I promise you I understand intimately), but it was more of a “Holy shit, I have no control over anything I care about in my life and I’m going to die very soon, so how the hell can I have a good time, feel okay, and not waste this beautiful gift of life?”
I remember taking out a $11,000.00 “PPL” as I called it (Personal Party Loan), which I spent in a month one of those Summers. I remember not remembering A LOT. I remember how I hurt people so close to me – I had a girlfriend at the time that I truly loved – she was a great human being and she will always have a place in my heart, but I hurt her deeply and I will never hurt anyone like that again. I remember my family, my friends, my past coaches, all types of people who actually CARED about ME – all trying to get me to just look in a mirror and see what I was doing… I remember laughing – just laughing at all of them – deriding them – thinking I knew it all and they were crazy. My poor roommate, who had been through so much – he had to put up with more than I could ever put up with from a roommate/best friend. He tried so damn hard to tell me that he loved me and that I was making terrible decisions and being a complete asshole, but I WAS RIGHT and I KNEW everything, so I just kept the blinders on and kept “living” as I thought of it.
I could go into gritty, grimy details about the things I did, and I know that’s probably interesting to people. It’s something I’d definitely want to hear as a reader, but I’ll spare you guys/girls. If you have any questions, want more info, whatever – just send me an email. I’ll happily reply. I’m not afraid to share who I was back then because it really made me who I am today. Yes, I did terrible things and hurt people I loved, and the list can go on forever, but I’m here today and I’m telling you that YOU are okay, no matter what you’ve done, are doing, or are going to do… Everything is repairable through love – love from other people – love I strive to share and have with other people now.
In my experience, there were two key elements that saved me and brought me back to “reality” or some type of CARE about life: 1) Other people who loved me, 2) Me asking for and/or accepting love and help from other people. If you know some of the horrific things I did, and how many extremely close near death experiences I had between the ages of 22 and 24, then you’re probably thinking, “well you must have changed after… (insert terrible mistake and near death experience here),” but that didn’t change me – none of it. You know what did?
A girl sent me an email – she sent me an email – probably the thousandth cry I had gotten from someone trying to help me because somewhere in their heart, they cared for OTHER PEOPLE (and I was one of those other people they cared for). So, back to the email – (I wish I knew who sent me the email – please let me know if this ever makes it to you, you beautiful person) – I get this email from a girl that says, “You need to listen to this song – look at the lyrics below, go buy this song because it’s you and it hurts to see you the way you are – I love you”.
The lyrics were from the song “Breathe (2 AM)” by Anna Nalick, and the exact two lines she wrote out made me cry. Hard. I cried like I had never cried before – I wasn’t crying for myself anymore – I was crying at the fact that all of these people actually LOVED me and I never accepted it. I can go on with reasons why I might not have never accepted the love from other people, but the two lines that changed my life, my perspective at the time – In an email from a girl I don’t remember and will never forget were:
“Here in town, you can tell he’s been down for a while…
But, My god it’s so beautiful, when the boy smiles…”
The whole song is very emotional and heavy and I still love it so much to this day for countless reasons…
I read those lyrics and I was taken back to the exact feeling when I was five years old, first day of Kindergarten, standing in the P.S. 222 schoolyard, looking into my mommy’s eyes, welled up with tears, because she loved me so much and knew how hard it was for me to go into that school and leave her for a day. I understood, emotionally as a very young child – I knew what she felt and I knew why she felt it – she LOVED me. The nameless girl (I honestly don’t have a clue or a memory of who you are) shared a love for other people… From my mother, who birthed me, took care of me, still does, always will, all the way to some girl that for the life of me, I cannot remember – They both cared about other people. And I am forever grateful that they cared about me at some point – cared enough to LOVE me and tell me.
I guess I’ve been rambling and I think the point I’m trying to get to is that we MUST care about each other – we MUST keep fighting to get through, share, and communicate our love – NOT ONLY our love for those that are not doing so well, but also those that we perceive as doing fine in our lives (because at some time, we all fall down). I was saved by an email from someone that was extremely honest and it was just an email… like I said, probably one attempt of thousands from people… I felt a torrent of emotions, and ended up getting back on the road to caring about life, myself, and ultimately caring about OTHER PEOPLE. We need each other. I know that you are there for me and I know that you love me. I want to take this time to tell you that you’re not alone, and I LOVE YOU. Yes, YOU. YOU. I LOVE YOU.