Back on Sunday I wrote vaguely about my greatest shame, and how it would be a topic of conversation between me and my therapist at some point in the future.
That point was today.
I’ve told the story before, but clinically, never invoking the emotions that I felt during the experience, and so I’ve never really fully told the story to anyone but my wife. It was surprisingly easy to get out once I started. I digressed during the telling of it to tell another, unrelated story from my childhood. While I’m still keeping my shame to myself for now, this part of the story I’ll share with you.
When I was about 17 I took off from home for a couple days to get my head screwed on straight. I wouldn’t call it “running away,” since I had every intention to go back home. I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina at the time and I took an evening drive to Washington, DC, arriving there around three in the morning.
It was something of a different time, and I wasn’t aware that Washington was a town you really shouldn’t be out by yourself at age 17 at three in the morning. But they had installed the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial since my last visit to Washington, and I wanted to see it, so that’s where I found myself.
I wasn’t alone. At that time – they may still be doing this, for all I know – there was a small visitor’s tent set up where the walkway to the Wall intersected with the sidewalk on the street. It was manned, and inside they had a guide to find any name on the Wall, along with solicitations for veterans’ relief funds. I gave a couple dollars, which was a significant part of what I had on me at the time, picked up the guide, and went down to the Wall to pay my respects. I spent maybe thirty minutes at the wall, just taking in what it meant to be face to face with so very many names of those that never made it home.
The walkway ran parallel to the Wall and turned with it, heading back up the hill toward the statue of three soldiers that was opposite the visitor’s tent.
There was a man there, and he was crying.
The part of me that felt like I should at least give the man an ear took over, and I asked him if he was okay, and he told me his story.
He served in Vietnam, lived in Washington state, and had saved for three years to make it out to Washington to find the names of his fallen comrades. He finally made it out and took pictures to have a tangible memory of the place to take home with him.
He set his camera down for a moment at the base of the statue, turned away for a moment … and someone stole his camera.
That was the last straw for this guy. My heart went out to him, and I held him for several minutes while he vented his tears and frustration and what had to be anger onto my shoulder.
When I told this story today in therapy, it brought me to tears, and I couldn’t figure out why spilling my guts about my darkest moments would keep me dry eyed, yet telling this unrelated tale about someone I spent maybe ten minutes with total would make me cry. It was my wife that pointed out the similarities between that situation and mine, and I knew that she was right.
So next session we’re going to touch on the feelings that the story about the veteran brought out and how they relate to my own past, and hopefully start getting to the meat of the matter: the climate that arose in my life after my darkest moments were over.
I know that I’m being vague, and I apologize for that, but some things I may never be 100% ready to discuss in a public forum. Just know that today I took a huge step towards processing the mess my past has gotten me into.