I can’t say that I know how the hell to write this.

It’s been in my head and opened my heart for far too long to not finally write it.

I used to believe in hiding our struggles. To be strong, no could see me break. That my smile had to be steel, my hugs had to always be warm, my love to always be true.

Little did I know that the world was going to teach me those very things are a part of me. But it was okay to let go of the thought that “I had” to be those things.

The world teaches us a lot of things. Some we recognize it in the moment, like when your first crush stops talking to you, or when you consistently stub your toe on that hallway corner. Life hurts.

It’s a good hurt. Not like when you snap your ankle chasing down a fast break during junior year of basketball. No, like that feeling when you finally quit a job you felt captive in, and stepped into the unknown with no guardrail or parachute to keep you safe.

Life teaches you about demons, and that’s why I’m writing this I think. Demons haunted me for far too long in my life to NOT write about them. I was convinced that I should only ever allow a select group of people to know about certain demons from my past, and that telling these stories to the world was just too much.

Screw that.

The world has taught me better than that. It’s teaching me that vulnerability is why my heart beats daily, and why the following moments almost destroyed my soul.

No more.

It’s okay to write finally.

*kid you not, my eyes are thick with tears and typing this isn’t getting any easier.*

My sophomore year of school, I remember changing in a locker room at a local gym. I had just set my bag on the ground when four guys from a different school came in loudly. One stepped around the corner with this fierce despisement in his eyes, and that was the moment I knew something was wrong. Within seconds, they had grabbed my arms, pinned my back to a gym bench, and I felt warm urine wash down my throat as their laughs echoed in the horrid parts of my heart.

They left me there after a few more seconds. Battered and at my lowest. I hold to the belief that no human should ever treat another human as their toilet. It sparks something in me that instantly rages when I see actions similar to this, and I believe it always will.

Later that week, with those thoughts haunting me, I retreated to a back area of our school’s wooded area and hung a small noose on a tree. I began climbing the main trunk to hoist myself up. Halfway there, the thought of leaving my sister, my family, friends…it broke me.

So I stayed. Love came back for me. In that moment, the world taught me that people can treat other people like shit. Literally. But it taught me that being here is a choice worth making.

But that demon stayed with me. It did for a long time. All the way until I was out West and one night, as I said “see you soon” to my buddy and climbed into my car to head back home. He was two cars ahead of me…and I sat there with a scream buried in my throat as a Ford F-150 tore through a red light and smashed his drivers side in like a heel to a soda can.

I slammed my car into park and ran. I grabbed his hand and through screams that I think came from my own mouth felt him leave this place. His blood soaked my hand as I collapsed next to the car. I don’t know where my heart went that night. But I don’t think they have a specific word for that type of heartbreak.

As I sat there with a police officer who slid down and sat as he held my shoulders up strong. This officer kept whispering, “it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.” We both looked up to watch the driver of the F-150 climb drunkenly out and fall to his knees. He yelled. Not in joy or confusion…but in anguish. I believe he knew what he’d done. I truly do. And oh did I want to hate him. I wanted him to be the one who sat dead in his car.

But Love didn’t. And I usually don’t tell anyone why the word “Love” matters so much to me. My buddy’s last name was Love.

Crazy. I know. When I called Mrs. Love that night to tell her that her only surviving son was gone, she wept…and wept…and wept.

And the world taught me that there are moments that define you. That inspire you to live for more. Not just books with beautiful words, but moments that you whisper to a friend, who isn’t here anymore, that you will honor them with your life.

You hold to that promise damn it. You might almost forget that promise once in a while as life takes it’s toll, but that’s why you stay accountable. Because I’d give anything to still have him here. I’d give anything to hike a mountain with him and sit at the top overlooking the Sierras. I’d give anything to be able to give him a call and catch up about life, love, and where our hearts have gone. I’ll have to wait a little longer to catch up, but it’ll be worth it.

The demons that began chasing me that night stuck around for a long time. Until an afternoon I went to pick up a friend. He’d been struggling heavily in life. His demons were much stronger than mine. Sexual abuse and neglect layered his shattered soul. The memories kept him awake day and night. He began talking about how the world would be better without him. He didn’t stop talking about that, no matter how hard I fought.

That afternoon, I stepped into the house to find his little 4yr old sister playing Wii downstairs…and as I walked up to check where he was, something entered my spirit. Something sad and something I wish never existed in this world.

I pushed open his door to find the end of a rope near my feet. I looked up. Another scream stuck in my throat. I couldn’t alert the little one downstairs. Not to this. Not ever. No one should ever have to see their 21yr old brother hang. I closed the door, called emergency services, alerted them to what happened, and communicated so they would know where to meet me. No flashing lights or sirens. This was about the future sanity of his sister.

I never want to cut someone down ever again. Every second felt like a lifetime that had ran its course. I carried him down quietly and out the side door, laid him gently in the backseat of his car, and waited with tears dripping onto the seat.

There’s strange things you remember after traumatic experiences, and it didn’t hit me until years later, but the sound of Mario Kart was something I hated for a long time…and I didn’t know why.

Until I realized that she had been playing Mario Kart when I’d walked in. She’d turned and smiled and asked if I wanted to play…and those sounds haunted me.

They echoed in every dark moment for years. I couldn’t tell these stories. I don’t know exactly why. They were the anchors that continued to drown my sadness.

The world taught me that you’ll say goodbye to people too soon. That you’ll feel as if you weren’t enough for them. That you’ll feel as if you could’ve and should’ve done more. That you’ll feel as if your choices and missed texts and busy work schedule were part of the reason they chose to end their story.

But the world also teaches us that “feeling” isn’t true. When they gave me his suicide note. It read, “I’m going now. Stay here and make something better. I’m sorry I can’t be there. I love you all.”

Those words inspired and haunted me at the same damn time.

They moved into my head like an earthquake with no end.

And then the world taught me…that this is a story.

One with bad and good, and the good is so much better. That our story, while soaked with urine, covered in blood, and aching from carrying souls we wanted to stay, is still good. Even when it doesn’t feel like it. Even when everything turns upside down and you doubt. Even when you sit in your car next to the ocean and finally write what you’ve wanted to write for years with tears streaming down your face, this story is good.

One of my favorite quotes talks about how telling our story to the wrong people can be damaging. While that might be true in some cases, I also know this. Stories saved my life, even when I wanted to put a period at the end of mine and close the book. So in this, I’ll write to all.

Stories are the things that feel like giving your Mom a hug and saying how sorry you are for all the times you didn’t treat her with your best. Having your Dad grab your shoulders and keep you standing with his words of encouragement. Surprising your sister with her first skydive for high school graduation. Your puppy waking you up in the morning with loving eyes and an empty belly. Friends that give the best of who they are…and expect little to nothing. Asking the girl you admire if you can take her out. A community of people that speak so much truth into you, that you feel as if you’ve been handed the world…

Because you have been handed the world. It just takes time to see and know for each of us. That’s why we tell stories. Not for empathy, or sadness, or smiles, or laughs, but because every good story is a signal to fear that the time has come for it to leave…and for it to take the demons on it’s way out.

There’s a special place meant for fear, and it’s not here.

Love was meant to be here.

That was what the world taught me. Love was the first and it will be the last.

Love is and will be:

a hug.
a kiss.
your best friends.
your family.
your hopes.
your passions.
your purpose.
a good book.
a few books.
all of the good books.
a day at the beach.
a hike in the Sierras.
a lunch spent in quiet.
nights spent In laughter.
ball games with Dad.
movies with Mom.
Taco Bell with the sisters.
fetch with the pup.
creating your dreams.
being loved and being able to love in return.
crying with a friend.
being held and holding them too.
a run by the ocean.
a night under the stars.
a life spent in light.
and even recognizing that some moments are in the dark.
and everything else that would take me years to type.

Love is.

The world taught me that

I’m grateful.

I’m learning.

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