One of the things I’ve read and heard from others so far about Boy @ The Window since April has been about catharsis. As in, “this book must’ve been cathartic for you.” I’ve said in response, “Yeah, it sure has.” But that’s not been the whole truth. In more than a few respects, Boy @ The Window has opened up a Pandora’s box of wounds I’d kept locked for years and years.
This might surprise some folks, especially the ones who attended Mount Vernon public schools, Humanities and specifically Mount Vernon High School with me. But there is a dark side to being me. Beneath my well wishes, good graces and generic smile has also been a person with deep regret, repressed anger, smoldering rage over what by far were the worst years of my life. All of which has translated into a person whose worst days since are days of blame — almost always of and for myself. I can forgive almost anyone or anything — my late idiot ex-stepfather, my father Jimme and his years of alcoholism, friends or superiors who’ve attempted to take advantage of me.
Yet there’s one person I’ve found very hard to forgive — myself. I hold myself to such high standards that it would be impossible for anyone other than Jesus to meet. And God knows I’m not perfect. But in looking at my past, my growing up years in Boy @ The Window, I’ve found that so much of my life’s force and energy has gone into redeeming myself for having to live through those terrible, terrible years. Even though I’ve been at a place in my life in which I’ve pretty much known myself, my passions, my calling, my abilities and limitations, for the better part of twenty years. Until recently, though, I hadn’t given myself any breaks from my past. Putting it under lock and key obviously didn’t work, and airing it for the world to read — while beneficial — had brought with it a truck-load of emotions that I had yet to work through.
As I wrote at the end of Boy @ The Window:
I can say without a doubt that Humanities did make a difference in my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without those six bittersweet and indifferent years. It makes any setback I might suffer today seem small and laughable by comparison. There are things I wish would’ve happened, things that would’ve made it easier to enjoy life and savor glorious moments even now. I wish Humanities had been as serious about developing me as a writer as it was about accelerated math and science classes. I regret not asking Phyllis out for a date. I lament not revealing more about the tragedies of my family life or my keen sense of humor to the few classmates and teachers I had some bond with, however weak. I wish I had trusted my instincts and never worn that kufi to Holmes or Davis. I know I should’ve stayed with football or tried out for basketball. And I wish I had the opportunity as a twelve-year-old to kiss Wendy one time. Admittedly, there’s a part of me that wishes I could kiss her now.
I imagine that if I had done all of these things, I would’ve been even more bruised up (especially in the case of Wendy), but at least I could’ve said I tried. Instead of looking back at my past and picking it apart like a forensic vulture.
But my deepest regret, and one that I hadn’t forgiven myself for, at least until recently, was for not calling the cops on my then stepfather after he beat up Mom on Memorial Day, Monday, May 31, ’82. Between my near-photographic memory and my training as an academic historian, it’s been hard to look at my past without reliving it.
I hadn’t figured out that I hadn’t forgiven myself until a few weeks ago. I realized that I hadn’t let go of the worst of my past. Now, letting go doesn’t mean that you forget your past, bury it or repress it emotionally. For me, it simply means not reliving the moment as if it happened last week instead of thirty-one years ago. To treat the moment as a memory, an important reminder that I am not Superman, that I couldn’t have saved my Mom from domestic violence anymore than I could’ve saved myself from poverty as a twelve-year-old.
You know, when I was younger, I thought that I didn’t have any regrets, any resentment or any dark side from growing up the way I did. We all tend to believe that pushing forward to a brighter future will take care of our past. That’s simply not true. We need to live in the present in order to achieve that brighter future. That means working through our pasts, and then letting it go. I should know.