I remember the sound of his voice as he spoke to me. If I "flow" with the moment instead of trying to fight it, I can remember the instance the words were said and what kind of impact they had on me. I can remember how those particular words felt like a slap in the face. It was a well-deserved slap, but at that moment it felt like he was kicking me while I was on the ground bleeding.
Words do many things, but what I've found most intriguing about them is how some words have the ability to stick with a person. I have to admit that there are some words I wish I could forget. I wish I could pretend that they were never spoken and forever remain as just unspoken thoughts until they fade away completely. I remember too well the sting my oldest brother’s words had on me as I lay in a hospital bed wondering what my fate would be.
As he entered my room, he stopped and looked at me with complete disdain. The only thing he managed to say before abruptly leaving was "the next place you're going to land is on a cold slab in the morgue". No hug! No “I’m so glad you’re alive!" No "what can I do to help you?" Just reality or "straight talk" as he came to call it many years later. The moment was brief, yet it has lasted a lifetime. His words were true, yet a little harsh for a 15 year old to hear, especially one in the process of shutting down emotionally. I remember how his words played over and over again in my head until I couldn't stand it any longer. I had to admit he was right even though that admission was never heard by anyone, but me. The reality of his words scared me. It scared me enough to make me break away...to leave and to only look back when I was far away from those things that caused me pain.
Many years later that same brother once again gave me words that I know will also stay with me the rest of my life. When the truth finally dug its way out of the nasty little grave buried deep within me, when my erratic behavior during my teenage wasteland years all of a sudden made sense to him, how I was perceived immediately changed. All the rebellion and defiance now seemed like a journey that was meant to happen. I was a just another victim and not some half-crazed perpetrator. I no longer was the black sheep. Suddenly, I became a helpless, lost lamb, but in that instance I was finally able to stand strong knowing that the worst had happened. The truth had finally been revealed.
At the point of truly understanding something, when empathy crowds out all logic and a person truly feels someone else's pain, the only words spoken are those of acknowledgement. Sometimes that acknowledgement is no more than a nod of the head or eyes filled with tears. He acknowledged my pain by asking me how I've dealt with it all these years. My life quickly passed before me and I knew in that instance that I hadn't handled it very well, but I was still alive. I had survived the emotional holocaust. He wanted to know because the truth hadn't set him free. It had imprisoned him into realizing that the few minutes he had known my truth were a few minutes too long. Mine had been a lifetime of living with that ugly cesspool called the truth! He couldn't handle my truth, yet there it was staring at him making him want to run away just like I had many years ago.
Pain dulls in time, but the words remain...always! For a moment he was just my brother before retreating back into the psychologist mode where it was safe to view the ugliness of life in an impersonal way. Yet what he didn't know was that the brief intimate moment he had given me of true empathy, of just being my big brother more than made up for the slap in the face he had given me many years earlier.
That same brother amused me by his epiphany about me several years ago. After a period of contemplation, he revealed that he had really expected me to be backpacking across Europe or doing something equally adventurous during my “empty nest” period. I thought about how he perceives me and at that moment I saw myself clearly. The next morning I flew to Alaska just because! It seems I've spent my entire life exploring, searching and running away, yet the only place I've ever called "home" is Maine. I often wonder if all the years I spent in exile were just another self-destructive act in the very long list of self destruction I sometimes call my life.