Today at school, these college kids came in to do a writers’ workshop with us. They told us to write a letter to someone who we really wanted or needed to talk to. They assured us that the letter wouldn’t be collected, graded, or judged—it was purely a cathartic, self-searching sort of excercise.
Cara and Chloe and Anne, like a lot of the kids who were there, didn’t take it all that seriously. They wrote their letters to each other—giggling and shaking with laughter, filling the page with inside jokes and good memories and Mean Girls references. And I think they expected me to do the same; the four of us have been good friends for a long time, so there’s certainly no shortage of shared experiences to draw from. I could’ve had fun with it; I could’ve joined in on their happiness. But instead, I chose to write my letter to my dad.
God, you’re such an asshole. You’re really dumb and pathetic and you make stupid dad jokes and even though I should love them, I hate them so much. I am so resentful of every decision you’ve ever made that put us where we are—sometimes, I’m resentful of the fact that you decided to even bring me into this world. I had that I have to spend roughly half my time in white trash hell [my personal name for my dad’s shitty apartment] and I hate that John [my little brother] is going to turn out just like you.
But, seriously—why am I such a bitch to you? Can you tell me why? Because you don’t deserve it. Any of it. You try, really hard, to make me happy, but it isn’t enough. It’s never enough because I’m selfish and stupid and as hard as I try I can’t be a good daughter. Because, let’s face it, I don’t try very hard. I just take and take and take when all you do is give, but you never give enough and I hate you for it sometimes.
I’m torn between wanting to hate you and wanting to thank you and neither ever fully wins out. Because I’m a selfish bitch and you’re a well-meaning loser and together, we make a pretty awful pair.
Then, they told everyone to partner up with someone and to share their letters with their partner. A lot of people freaked out—many had written heartfelt letters to loved ones they had lost, and no one wanted to share their grief with a bunch of high school dimwits. So people from the program offered to partner with anyone who wasn’t comfortable sharing with their peers.
I didn’t particularly want to share my letter. I was happy to keep my love and my hate and my self-loathing to myself. But when his guy from the program asked if anyone else needed a partner. Anne grabbed my hand and shouted, “Sophia does!”
The guy was twentyish, with dark hair and bright eyes and a kind, warm smile. I watched, trying to remain calm and collected, as he read the letter silently. And then he started talking about how much I have to offer the world and how I’m a great person just as I am and stuff and. . . I don’t know. At first, it felt kind of fake to me. I wanted to ask how he could say these things—and with such conviction!—if he had never even met me before.
But instead of interjecting and being my snarky self, for once I just listened. He seemed like he had a lot more to say and boy, I was right.
“My parents—they’re a giant pain in the ass,” he said, and I laughed. “But they love me, of course, and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be where I am today. You wouldn’t be here writing this letter. They’ve given me a lot.”
I nodded. This, at least, I could relate to. My dad worked his ass off for the first few years of my life so that my mom could stay home with my brother and me. If it weren’t for that, I would probably be a very different person.
He asked me some questions about who I lived with and what my general family situation was. I told him my parents are split, that I live with my mom and my stepdad, and that three days a week I live in a shitty neighborhood and a shitty apartment with my dad and brother.
“I was in the same boat as you,” the guy said. And good lord, I could see the compassion in his eyes. There’s no other way to describe it. I realized then that this was how he could say such kind to me without ever having met me: he really believed what he was saying, probably believed it about every person. He and the other people from the program were trying really hard to create a safe space—telling us all how brave we were for sharing our stories, that kind of thing—and it was really amazing.
“My parents divorced when I was young and I remember that my dad just gave all of his affection to my brother. And my dad would still give me presents and stuff. But there was nothing organic about it. It wasn’t like ‘You’re my son and I love you.’ It was more like he was giving me things for the sake of giving me things.”
I nodded, knowing all too well what he meant. It really hit home, and I kind of wondered if he was making it up to relate to me better. But he spoke with so much sincerity and so much kindness that apart from my own personal paranoia, I have no reason to doubt him.
“But I did my part,” he said. “I smiled and thanked him and I did my part as a son, and it wasn’t my fault that he wasn’t holding up his end of it. It didn’t mean he didn’t love me—and it didn’t mean I didn’t love him
“If it’s possible, you have to try and forgive,” he continued. At this point, I was so enamored with his words that I just nodded for him to keep going. “And I know it’s hard to just ‘live and let live.’ Because a lot of the time forgiveness doesn’t work, and it’s really fuckin’ hard. But when you do, it feels so good. It’s not for him, it’s for yourself. It’s for your own peace of mind, knowing that there’s no hard feelings. And I know you’ll be able to forgive him.”
I was practically in tears by the end of it (though I think I did a pretty good job of hiding it). He really believed what he was saying. He really believed that everyone is good and worth it and he really believed forgiveness is the best path. The people from the program kept saying how they weren’t judging us and that this was a safe space for us and they were all so kind and it was just so…ugh. We need more people like this.
And then the guy asked if I needed a hug and I didn’t want to admit it so I said “Yeah, kind of” and he gave me a hug and it was the best hug I’ve ever had. Maybe that sounds stupid but it was. He was just so compassionate and kind and…I don’t know. I was a little overemotional at the time but seriously, I wish everyone in the world could be like these people. I wish I could be like these people.
At the end of the class period, when the bell rang and the workshop let out, the guy came to find me again before I left. He said “Be you” and gave me this giant hug and everything just felt so safe and I thanked him as many times as I could. And I probably can’t thank him enough.