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nothing’s “thicker than blood”

My body carries with it several reminders of a past life…one that was not nearly as hard, one that was filled with positive experiences and memories that were worth holding onto.  Sometimes in the midst of a persistent battle with anxiety, I’ll find myself reflecting on scars that I acquired as a child.  I find comfort in that.  When you’re completely overwhelmed with fear, it’s hard to remember that there were times in your life when you were free from such mental turmoil.  It feels good to be able to escape to a memory of a time that was far less complicated.  It gives me hope.  I haven’t always been afflicted with this disorder.  I once was a kid without a care or worry in the world.  I was inspired…I embraced life.  Perhaps my future will embody a similar sense of peace and innocence?  I can only continue to pray that it will.

Along with the scars of my past I also carry with me six different tattoos.  I remember the day that I asked my parent’s about getting my first one.  I was 17 years old, and we were at the beach on a family vacation.  I wanted to get my ears pierced, but my father was not having it…no chance.  So jokingly, he said, “why don’t you get a tattoo if you want to do something?”  Of course I immediately ran to my Mom with his offering and shortly after convinced her to allow me to do it, too.  Later that summer, I had the Chinese characters for “strength, love, & prosperity” inked onto my left arm.  Those words carried weight and promise.

But I didn’t stop there.  Later that year after I turned 18 and could make my own decisions, I had three more done.  Inked on my right arm was a tribal looking sun, then a cross with the word “faith” written beneath it on my left shoulder blade, and a fire breathing dragon on the right side of my chest.  It’s interesting, because although they seem to be of completely random selection, they all tell a bit of a story.  The sun was meant to mimic the arm of a Division 1 athlete that I had been following…his figure embodied the dream that I was chasing myself during my senior year of high school.  The cross reinforced my connection with God…at that time in my life, I needed a reminder – in all honesty, I wasn’t always following the teachings of Lord.  And the dragon I had done one afternoon after an argument with my high school girlfriend…that was a sign of the person I turned into when love turned its back on me…my dark side – one susceptible to volatile decision making and addiction.

If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning, you’re aware that after high school I left for California.  And a year and a half later I returned to Pennsylvania with a devastating anxiety disorder that had completely taken over control of my life.  When I got back on my feet, I found myself lost in the whirlwind of freedoms that a second chance was offering me.  I began making decisions that were not characteristic of the person I had always been.  I cheated on the woman that stood by me through thick and thin, and I lied to those who cared for me the most.  I lost track of who I was…

During that experimental time in my life, I spent a lot of time with my friends heading out to clubs and burning the midnight oil.  One of those friends was a guy who had been a best friend to me for many years.  He and I began our relationship one day in 8th grade…and shortly after we were inseparable.  It was only a few weeks later that he was headed on vacation with us as just another member of the family.  We would spend countless days and nights together in the years that followed.  He became a bit of a second son to my Mom and Dad.  And we truly were like brothers…we would do anything for each other.  We experienced many of the ups and downs of life together.  In fact, he was there with me the very night that my anxiety disorder made itself known to me in California.  We lived through it all….together.

So one morning during the summer of 2002, after an evening of drinking and poor decision making with the girl that I was having an affair with in Philadelphia, he and I chose to go have a tattoo done together.  We wanted to get something that would  truly proclaim the strength and depth of our friendship.  I came up with the phrase “thicker than blood”, and he liked it, so it was settled.  The tattoo would sit on our right shoulder blades.  “Blood is thicker than water” but we were “thicker than blood”.

For the next several years that followed our relationship took a strange turn.  I left for North Carolina, I loved and lost, and loved again.  And I grew up.  I got my degree and started my first job.  And then I got engaged and I bought a house.  I was following the script.  He was doing anything but that.  In fact, the person I began to see on visits home was someone that I would often barely recognize.  He had been running with the wrong crowd, and was involved with his own personal addictions.  It was difficult for us to be close.  I was willing to accept the shortcomings his past, but he knew that I wanted to encourage and direct him towards a straighter path and a more fulfilling life, and I believe he resented me for that.  He began to look at me as more of a father figure than a friend.

But in spite of those challenges, we still had our moments.  He was still a good person inside, and when he had his head on straight, he could be a really good friend.  We both seemed to always turn to each other during tough times.  Any time he or I came out of a relationship we found mutual comfort in our friendship.  We’d get together, play a round of golf, talk it out, and then head out for drinks to ease the pain.  And for the next few months, we’d attempt to lose ourselves in the night and in each other…just like old times.

About a year and a half ago, he found himself engaged.  He asked me to be the best man in his wedding, and of course I said I would.  But I wasn’t sure that he was making a good decision with his bride-to-be…in fact, I was certain he wasn’t. And one night, after he blew off a get-together at my place, out of anger I told him how I felt.  I didn’t approach it the right way, but I was being honest in my attempt to look out for his best interest.  Shortly after, he told me he no longer wanted me to be there by his side at the wedding, and mentioned that he felt I probably shouldn’t even bother to attend at all.

Heartache was apparently not limited to the actions women in my life…my best friend had now offered up his own share.  I felt completely alienated.  And then about 6 months later, I received his call.  His fiance had done him wrong…very wrong.  I was “right all along”.  He “should have listened” to me.  I accepted his apology, and I made my best effort at giving him a second chance.  But that summer he again made an important commitment to me and then completely blew it off.  I found myself repeatedly taking a backseat to his destructive personal life.  So I decided to let him go.  It was obvious by his actions that he did not value our friendship.

When my girlfriend left me this Winter, I found myself feeling very in need of companionship and understanding.  I had been putting all of my efforts into her for months, and as a result had been sacrificing a lot of my time with friends.  I didn’t have many available that I could turn to at the time.  And no one ever seemed to fill that void like my old best friend…

And then I heard from him.  He made an effort to reach out to me because he had recently learned of what had happened with my relationship.  Shortly after our initial conversation, we got together at my place.  I was very grateful – it appeared that he was really coming through this time.  Perhaps he had realized his mistakes of the past…this seemed real.  We began to spend a lot of time together again, “thicker than blood.”

A couple of weeks after we reunited, I decided to have a couple people over at my place to watch the UNC and Duke basketball game.  Everyone was having a good time, but my buddy was quickly getting a bit out of control.  He had not only been drinking too much, but he had been abusing other substances as well.  I didn’t agree with that at all, nor would I ever knowingly tolerate it in my place.  But when I confronted him, he was honest about it, so I kept my cool and just asked him politely to tone it down and not let it happen again.  He seemed to understand…

Later that evening he made the comment that he would be driving home that night.  I told him that I was not going to let him leave, and he objected.  And then I said “c’mon man you haven’t done anything else for me tonight, please at least do me this.”  Almost immediately, he jumped out of the chair where he was sitting, and proceeded to lash out at me in a fit of rage.  In seconds, he was attempting to fight me.  My friend had to escort him out, but he found a way to return and then attempted to start another verbal and physical altercation.  It was unbelievable.  I was at a loss for words.

Unfortunately it didn’t stop there.  He texted me for the next several hours completely tearing me apart, threatening me, and telling me he’d “see me in afterlife”.  There were repeated calls to my cell phone…I never answered.  In the morning, I listened to six of his voicemails, each one more disturbing than the previous.  He sounded possessed.  It was as if the devil himself was on the other end of the phone, and that is no exaggeration.  I hope that he found whatever he indulged in that night to be worthwhile…because he lost his only real “brother” as a result of his actions.

His malicious behavior that evening was the last thing that I could handle.  I was already beginning to suffocate under a mountain of stress and anxiety as a result of my girlfriend leaving, and this was just one more thing serving to push me over the edge.  Even though I didn’t believe a word of what he said, I found myself internalizing it a bit.  It shook me up.  My psyche was already fragile.  And the negative energy that he left with me was very detrimental to my well being.

I won’t ever accept him as a part of my life again…that door is closed.  I did however do my best to make my peace with the situation.  After connecting with the Lord, I decided in time to forgive him for his actions and pray for his well being.  That was not easy, but it was the right thing to do.  And I’ve felt better about everything since letting go of my anger and resentment towards him.

I’ve learned now that there is nothing “thicker than blood.”  In the face of adversity, nothing stands firmer than family.  So cherish them, tell them you love them, and acknowledge how much you appreciate their support.  Because as seemingly lifelong friendships disappear in time, your blood will always remain loyal and strong.  Good friends will stand tall and provide strength and guidance to you when you need it most.  If you are fortunate to have people like that in your life, keep them close to your heart.  I’ve found that they are few and far between.

My tattoos help to tell a story…a story that isn’t always easy to share.  And while I won’t always be proud of all of the ink that graces my skin, I am thankful for a few things…I will always adorn the cross and my faith, I can still remember to pray for “strength, love, and prosperity” and I can look down at my sixth and final tattoo resting just above my heart and be reminded that “for those who I love I will sacrifice”.

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