My life exploded when I was 17. I had just gotten out of an adolescent psych hospital where my mother had committed me after she decided I was too much trouble to deal with. I wasn’t on drugs, I wasn’t promiscuous, I wasn’t doing badly in school, I wasn’t violent, I wasn’t even really much of a back talker (I was too afraid of my mother for that). I was just a teenager, and therefore a handful. A handful my mother, an alcoholic with untreated mental illness, was unequipped to handle. When it was time for me to get out, she wouldn’t let me come back home. Instead, she made me go live with my stepfather, the man who had sexually abused me as a child. Six weeks later, he kicked me out over the Thanksgiving holiday.
My boyfriend’s family came to my rescue and let me come to live with them. I’m not sure what I would have done if they hadn’t. There was a place called Covenant House in Houston for runaway teens, but I can only imagine what sort of environment that place must have been. I just wanted to finish high school and go to college. Their kindness and generosity allowed me to do that.
I was still a teenager, though, and one who had been essentially raised by wolves: I was selfish, and while I had good manners, I lacked the knowledge of how to really treat other people with consideration, since I had never been. I’m sure I was incredibly rude and ungrateful on more than one occasion over the next two years that I stayed with them. And while I’m sure that I thanked them for letting me stay there at first, I doubt they received the thanks that they all deserved over the time that I spent with them.
This has weighed heavily on me in recent years. My life would undoubtedly look quite different now if they had not taken me in and allowed me to finish school and start a path in college, even if I never finished it. After my boyfriend and I broke up (under circumstances that embarrass me to this day), I maintained sporadic contact with them for a few years, and after that dropped off their radar. In retrospect, this was incredibly rude of me. On the one hand, it makes sense for an ex-girlfriend to fade into the background. On the other hand, these were people who took me into their home at a time when my life was in deep crisis and could have taken a grave turn for the worse. I should have maintained some kind of contact with at least his parents.
I didn’t, though, and it bothers me. A few years ago, before I got on Facebook and reconnected with just about everyone from my past, I searched the internet for my ex in hopes that I would find an email address or some other way to contact him so that I could express my thanks and let he and his family know how I was doing. I found an email address, and sent a letter along with some photos. I never got a reply, or a bounce notification, so I was never sure if the letter got stuck in a spam folder, or if the letter was received and was deemed upsetting, or what.
Fast forward about three years, to being connected on Facebook to old friends, including the ex’s current wife (which makes me happy: I suspect he always had a crush on her). I had been thinking about my lack of contact, and gratitude, over the years again. My curiosity was also piqued again as to whether or not that letter ever made it to its destination. So I asked her to ask him if it did, and she said yes: he just wasn’t sure what, if anything, to do about it.
I’m not sure what to make of that. There’s obviously no desire for communication there, or he would have at least written back to say “I got your letter, thanks for writing.” I also don’t know if he passed my expression of thanks on to his parents, which is important to me. And there’s my sticking point. Do I write again to see if that information got to its final destination? I don’t want to upset anyone, but I also want to make sure that people know that I appreciate what they did for me.
This raises some questions. What’s the real purpose of my wanting to get in touch? Is it really for the mere expression of gratitude? If so, then that’s just for them. Or is to make myself feel better? If so, then that’s for me. In light of knowing my original letter reached my ex, it’s important for me to ask myself these questions. If I’m really thinking of other people, maybe I should just let things be. Or should I at least ask to see if I should speak or write directly to his parents? After so much time, maybe they’ve forgotten all about me and any contact would just be confusing, or unwanted. This is my trouble. I can only know by trying, and then it’s too late if I’ve done something upsetting, which I don’t want to do.
Hence the title of my post: am I doing this for them, or am I doing it for me? It’s not the job of other people with whom I have had no contact for nearly 20 years to provide me with absolution. Only I can do that. Still, it would make me feel better knowing for sure that his parents know how I feel. I don’t know why it bothers me so much.
So that’s what’s on my brain these days. I’m going to wait and think on things some more before doing anything, if I do anything at all. Really, I just want people to know that I care about them and think about them and that I haven’t forgotten what they did for me, and that I’m sorry for anything that I might have done wrong. But only if doing so won’t be doing something wrong itself.