A visionary by the name of David Bowie once shared a most profound truth: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return.”
This is the story of the most incredible man I’ve ever met. In a chance encounter, my life was forever changed by meeting this extraordinary gentleman. My best friend and brother, William.
It was 14 years ago. I had just moved to Atlanta for art school and was getting acclimated to a new city and a new life. This was also an opportunity for me to redefine myself and possibly have a life that wouldn’t be plagued with familial trauma, depression, PTSD, and past regrets. At that point, things were going according to plan. I was drawing and writing each day to hone my craft as a storyteller. My dedication to my studies resulted in being a regular fixture on the Headmaster’s List. I even picked up a sales job. Unfortunately, that job came with an incompetent supervisor who we’ll refer to as Willie Loman. So yeah, 2 out of 3 is still winning. But even then I wasn’t prepared for what lied ahead.
One night I was asleep and was experiencing an intense surreal dream. I was immersed in a golden light and message continued to repeat itself: Something special was coming very soon and it was going to change everything forever.
The following week I had traveled to the other side of town to do my sales gig at a store one evening. Upon arriving, the store manager informed me that it had been canceled and he had spoken to Mr. Loman that morning. When I called my supervisor to confirm, I’ll never forget Loman’s response, “Yeah I heard about it this morning. I guess I should’ve told you.”
Needless to say, I put in my notice a week later. In regards to that evening, Loman let me have the night off with pay. I decided to stop by a local community center I had frequented since relocating to Atlanta. While there, three new figures arrived. It was the third individual who caught my attention. Shaggy blond hair, piercing blue eyes, cherubic face, he was the most beautiful person I ever saw in my entire life. I was almost speechless when he introduced himself as William. We immediately hit it off. The two of us chatted nonstop at the center, during dinner when a group of us went afterward to a pizzeria and afterward in the parking lot.
It was little wonder given that we shared more than a few parallels. We were both college students in our early twenties. We were both the products of Southern religious working class families.
Quiet, fun, full of life, with a huge heart, Will’s warm demeanor was the ideal balance for my cerebral, precocious personality.
A chance encounter would lead to the beginning of a beautiful friendship. More than that, a unique and rare rapport in the spirit of say Watson and Holmes, Michael Novotny and Brian Kinney, Xena and Gabrielle, Barry Allen and Iris West. As time went on it became obvious that the new comrade in my life was the gift in question. I realized this because I began to evolve in ways I never imagined possible.
This winter soldier has battle scars in some areas and is broken in others. As a child abuse survivor who has endured lifelong depression, anxiety, and PTSD, my best coping mechanism was to be a machine and bottle and repress emotions and my other “weaknesses.” The downside of this is that you worry when good things happen because as far as you’re concerned, it never ends well. No matter how much of an overachieving golden boy you may be, it means all your accomplishments (numerous and impressive as they may be) won’t undo the trauma you’ve suffered or redeemed you in any significant way.
“That look. 15 years old and you already had that look on your face right there. Already learned to live alone look. It’s strength like that, well, can prohibit other things. Friendship and joy. They become elusive. I’m old I can talk.”
-Reggie, AMC’s The Killing S01E06.
As I spent more time with Will and his other friends, strange things began to occur. For starters, my face was sore as I found myself actually smiling and laughing on a regular basis. I was also able to lower my guard and be in the present and enjoy those moments like grabbing dinner or even seeing Serenity, my all-time favorite film, with Will on opening night.
When people, especially loved ones, treat you like a human being, you tend to view yourself in a different light. Mental ailments like depression and anxiety tend to loosen their grip and become a lot more manageable. Will taught me there is a monumental difference between surviving and living, while I’ve often been forced to do the former, like everyone else, I deserve the latter.
As a Christian, Will witnessed his faith through his actions rather than his words. His faith also reminded me that I don’t have to prove myself to God. God doesn’t make mistakes and I am as God intended me to be.
Other side effects continued to occur. Such as feeling galvanized and completely alive. I also discovered a gnawing pain in my torso where even though I felt alive, I simultaneously felt as if I was dying. It was a pain I actually didn’t mind at all.
This isn’t to say there haven’t been storms or trials but for the first time ever, I strongly believed, no I knew, that no matter what happened or what hardship may arise, ultimately things would work out for the best.
But with great highs often come a few lows. One of the drawbacks was that Will and I are a lot alike, so much so that I would’ve been him in another life. A life that wasn’t scarred with abuse, pain, sorrow, and regret. When the proverbial grass is greener, you start to think less of yourself. You start to view yourself as a failure and damaged goods.
But fate has a way of teaching you the lessons you need if you’re astute and willing to learn.
As an author, I know only too well that a storyteller can often have the best insight on the human condition. After all, in order to tell our stories, bards must have an intimate understanding of the forces that drive us. Within most of us, there is a struggle, an arc, a journey that is ruled by an internal conflict. Often the key to said conflict can stare back at us the entire time. Which brings me to one birthday where I received The Dark Knight DVD as a gift.
Throughout the film, Bruce Wayne was seeking a white knight for Gotham. Someone pure of heart who could inspire the masses to be something better (not unlike what Superman does for Metropolis and the rest of the world). With his darkness fueling him as the grim vigilante, Bruce knew he couldn’t be that champion but he hoped someone could do for Gotham in the light of day that he did under the cloak of night.
Bruce finally thought he found that counterpart in Harvey Dent. Beautiful, charismatic and righteous, Dent proved to be a viable candidate. He was a man who seemed to have the fortitude to stand up to Gotham’s underworld without being corrupted himself. After all, you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain. And in having Dent redeem Gotham, Wayne would ultimately redeem himself.
Enter the Joker, a man who simply wants to see the world burn and waged a war on Gotham’s soul. While Batman was incorruptible even in dire straits, sadly the same couldn’t be said for Dent. In order to save the work he and Dent had begun, Batman took the blame for Dent’s murder and allowed himself to become a fugitive.
The irony is that even though he probably never realized it, what lied within Batman was indeed the pure of soul champion he had been searching for, the white knight he thought he found in Dent. For only a man pure of heart would sacrifice himself without hesitation for the greater good. Only a man pure of heart would burden himself with the sins of others. In spite of all of his darkness and brooding, Bruce was the best of them. He always had been. And for that matter so was I. In spite of all my baggage, I was still trying to grow and be the best possible version of myself. Pressure crushes but it also forms diamonds as Bruce and I proved.
That “Come To Jesus” moment changed my reality. Filled with new purpose and wanting to pay it forward, it wasn’t long before I followed my calling as both an equal rights activist and a speculative fiction author.
It finally hit home how far I had come two years ago when I finally severed ties with a toxic parent. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made but a necessary one. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with myself:
“I am a good person. I am a damn good man. One of the best. I have so much to offer. I deserve to be loved and respected. Anyone who refuses to do this, I don’t need in my life. I can’t change the past but it doesn’t mean I have to be a victim going forward. Whatever happens now, I’m taking the wheel. I’m only answering to two people: myself and God. You can steal my wings but this nerd seraph is still going to fly.”
Because of Will, my heart became open to letting other people into my life. Building my own family. Family who keeps me honest, drives me crazy, and keeps me sane. Family who makes me a better man. They say blood is thicker than water But family is thicker than blood. Sometimes they’re bio relatives, sometimes they’re a best friend you make through a chance meeting.
David Bowie was absolutely right. The greatest thing I ever learned is to love myself and others and be loved in return, by others and by myself. And for a child abuse survivor who has suffered depression most of his life, that’s a miracle in and of itself.
Not all of God’s angels are in heaven. Some are human and here on earth. You may have a Will in your life. Maybe yours is a parent, a child, a sibling, a significant other, a BFF. Never take them for granted even for a second and let them know how much they’re appreciated. They’re the rarest of treasures.
This is the story of the most incredible man I’ve ever met. In a chance encounter, my life was forever changed by meeting this extraordinary gentleman and I’m a better person for it. My best friend and brother and all the other Wills in my life, eternal gratitude.