The idea for this series came to me last week whilst writing about how social anxiety has affected my life. How my inability to share myself with others prevented me from saying the things I really wanted to say. So, last night, I tore a sheet of paper into 100 pieces and upon each one wrote a name. These names were partners, teachers, acquaintances, ex-work colleagues, family members, old friends and random strangers who made a significant impact on my life.
Each day this week I will draw one of these names at random and then write them a letter.
The only rules for this challenge being:
1) The person will remain anonymous.
2) The letter should include unsaid things I always held back.
3) It shall be written as a sixty minute stream of consciousness. (i.e. no painful seven hour editing sessions, so please excuse any grammar and/or spelling mistakes)
So with all that in mind…[shakes beanie, shakes beanie again, once more for good measure, plunges hand into sea of scrunched up piece of paper, selects, reads name]…okay. Let us begin.
1 September 2012.
If I were being honest, there are three names I considered not including within the beanie. My reasoning being that if any of these names were pulled out it would raise questions over the whole ‘chance’ aspect of this challenge.
Which, less than a paragraph in, is a lie.
The reason I didn’t want to include these three names is because I was scared of being forced to write a letter to them. Partly because I can’t forgive myself, partly because it’s too painful and partly because I really don’t know how to say all that I want to say. You, my dear ———-, are one of these three.
Even though you’ll never read these words I am lying here shaking with fear (literally), at the prospect of writing to you – which is utterly ludicrous because I used to write to you all the time! You were my oh-god-is-the-post-here-yet letter writing buddy. Inverness, Caldicot, Mull, Melbourne…you wrote to them all, and every time you did, this bloody great smile crept over my face and all I wanted to do was tear the letter open and devour it.
I miss that smile. I do. In a way I’m glad you’ll never read this because I’m ashamed of who I’ve become. The boy you knew had so much promise, so much hope and passion. He was convinced, even though he was crap at it, that he’d become a writer, a film-maker, a photographer. That if he just pushed himself hard enough he’d be able to get past all the shit he kept hidden and become someone people would have been proud to be friends with.
The shit I kept hidden. Fuck. Where do I begin with that?
You sent me an email once whilst I was sitting in the adjoining room. A simple little email that spoke volumes about how utterly useless I was. You asked me to tell you something that you didn’t know about me, that no-one knew about me.
I wanted to tell you I was a virgin, but was scared of the embarrassment over being a twenty one year old sexually clueless male. I thought about telling you about my depression and anxiety, but was scared you’d look at me differently. I considered telling you about my sister but didn’t know how to word it.
Every part of me wanted to respond to that email with something – anything – that would challenge me to open up in the ways I so desperately wanted to. But I never did. I just let it slide, like I always did when people tried to get to know me. Perpetually scared of anyone getting to know the real me in case they realised I was a fraud.
That all my talk of strength, courage and determination were just the ramblings of a sad pathetic loser who couldn’t accept his fate in life. So determined to prove his self-fulfilling prophecy of deserving to live his life alone that he pushed everyone who seemed to care about him away.
However much I want to I don’t think I can answer your email now. I’ve shared so much of my life over the last five years, disclosed so many of my secrets to the entire world, that I can’t think of anything that no-one knows about me. Even my most with-held secret was shared on a public forum yesterday! Maybe it’s a good thing that everything’s out there, maybe not. All I know for certain is that I wish I’d been able to share these things twelve years ago. If I had, maybe I wouldn’t be writing this now, perhaps we’d have moved on from letter writing to emails, tweets and blog comments?
Anyway, even though we haven’t spoken in years, I still think of you frequently.
I think of sitting in the hostel smoking room until the early hours, keeping you company with wine, cigarettes and Jenga tournaments. Do you remember the mini-cruise we took to Mull? I found a photo of you from that day last week; playing on the swings in your bright yellow raincoat with a fantastic smile on your face. In fact, playgrounds feature quite frequently in my memories of you. I seem to recall there was one in Fredericton with incredibly bouncy animal things and, of course, a brief sojourn on the swings in the grounds of Caldicot Castle.
Then there were the midnight wake up calls. When I nearly tipped you out of the bunk-bed in Fort William followed by, more amusingly, the fire I built at four in the morning when we were camping in the hostel on South Uist. Why didn’t I tell you to fuck off? That I’d only got up for a piss and if you wanted a fire you should have bloody well made one yourself? But, I’ve always been too much of a gentleman for that sort of thing, haven’t I?
But truth be told there are two memories I have of you that burn brighter than all.
The first was Canada. Not a specific incident, but all of it. After months of looking forward to seeing you, there you were, standing on my hostel doorstep looking as beautiful as you always did. It felt so good to be around you again, to have long conversations about nothing in particular and everything that was important all at the same time. This followed by our Canada Day camping weekend, which I still think of every July 1, where I was attacked by a vicious blood sucking leech and shared some of my writing with you for the first time. Finally, those fleeting moments at the tail end of my trip.
One of my biggest regrets in life is not getting on that train. I often wish I’d turned around and spent a few more days with you. Even if it meant earning the scorn of my parents by phoning them to tell them I was a bit stuck. I am sorry I left so abruptly, it’s something I’ve never forgiven myself for.
The second memory was in Caldicot. Not exactly the most thrilling town in the world, I’ll grant you, but for the last twelve years I’ve been trying to work out whether or not you saw what was on my monitor when you appeared in my room that night? One minute I’m being all male and checking out, shall we say adult entertainment, and the next you’re standing right behind me. I came this close to opening up to you that night. This close to telling you about all the things I’d withheld. By then I believed you wouldn’t have cared, that you would have accepted me regardless. It doesn’t matter now, but know that even though I didn’t tell you things, it’s not because I didn’t trust you or consider you a friend.
I did, I really did. It’s just, as with everyone, I could never find the words to explain anything. They would get caught in my throat or muddled in my brain and rather than cough them out or unscramble them, I just remained silent.
I’m skipping around it, I know, because even now, all these years later I’m still too anxious to say it, even though I’m sure you always suspected. My GOD! How can I be so nervous? I’m on the other side of the world. I haven’t seen you for over a decade. I haven’t heard from you in four years. And yet I still can’t speak the words I always wanted to say.
———-, I… [Addy’s note: I’ve been stuck here for nearly twelve minutes staring at a flashing cursor unable to type the words. My heart is pounding. My limbs are shaking. My mouth is dry. This is what my anxiety does to me. I need a smoke, stat!] … ———-, the reason I was so scared to reply to your email was because I’d already started to fall for you. That’s why I built you the fire at four in the morning, why I was so nervous sleeping in the same tent as you on Canada Day, why I disappeared to the cinema when we were in Oban. Partly because of my fear of losing you, partly because of my naivety, anxiety and weakness, I could just never find the words to tell you.
You taught me so much; how we should never stop expanding our horizons, the deliciousness of cameo menthols, that you can be on a fairground attraction too long, how we should embrace our inner-child from time to time, both the importance and beauty of silence.
Although we were not friends for long, your friendship meant the world to me; you meant the world to me. I’ve lived in hope for a long time that I’ll get the chance to see you again, to be given the opportunity to tell you in person just what your friendship meant to me. You were the first real friend I ever had, and I’ll never forget you for that.
Wherever you are, whomever you’re with, whatever you’re doing, I truly hope you’ve found happiness.
You sincerely deserve it.
All my love and hugs,