You can listen to the audio version of “The Let Go” read by Ryan Heller or read the entry below!
I’d rather be left alone. Stay home, shut the door and dissolve in front of the television. Preferably streaming a Hulu or Netflix series as per usual. As per every dip in frequency. As per reflection several years ago, something I wrote back in 2013 – one of the first journal entries written in well over a decade, which would subsequently turn into a blog called “Same Old Song”, which would subsequently turn into almost fifty posts, which would subsequently turn into my first book, which would subsequently lead to these seventeen words today: I’d rather be left alone. Stay home, shut the door and dissolve in front of the television.
Just over three years since I wrote these words in “Same Old Song” :
But I found myself on a couch watching back to back marathon episodes of The Walking Dead. Mad Men. Breaking Bad. Orange is the New Black. The longer the series, the better. Because then I had a purpose again. I am lost in fantasy, avoiding actually doing something with myself. Still waiting for that momentous day when a beam of light shines from the sky and a surge of power coerces through my veins. I receive the call that I am part of a secret lineage of an underground mystical society who live in the fifth dimension.
And then these:
I read what I had written a few months back and had to laugh because I am in the same situation. Which I then had visions of journals past – from middle school – high school – college – post arrest – post break-ups. They all said the same thing. Sure, situations may be different. Circumstances change. But that common thread of me trying to take a risk, figure out who I am, what I want…and actually do something about it…has never, never, never, never, never, never, never changed. Ever.
So I realize this whole consistent pattern since my early years as I bitch about life worries, fears and wanting to find a purpose yet again. It’s the same song. However the bar is clearing out and no one really wants to hear me sing it anymore. In fact, I’m getting pretty fucking tired of the same couple of verses over and over myself.
So what do I do?
I sit and I write and hope that something comes from actually doing it.
Over three years since I wrote those words and I’m about to sing the song again. Hopefully with a different tune, hopefully a little more insight. But such is the ebb and flow, the battle with demons, the holding on to every last shred of myself because I’m too afraid to let go of the scrappy bits. Those worn pieces, frayed hems and Swiss cheese fabric.
My mom brought out my old baby blanket, kept neatly folded in a closet, like pulling magic from a time capsule. That blanket, my very first memorable addiction, was an appendage. It went with me everywhere, crying fits ensued if it was accidentally forgotten. The stars and dot pattern now faded almost completely to solid white, edges tattered with a giant tear down one side. But mom brought out that old blanket and I wrapped it around me like no time passed. A thirty-three year old man wearing his childhood blankie like a second skin. Mom asks if she should get rid of it, I immediately say no. I say I’ll pass it on to my kids.
And so it goes.
The cycle of human experience.
Clinging to even the most broken fragment of familiarity because it is comfort.
Clinging to said fragments only to pass it to our children for them to carry.
Disintegrating in front of the television for hours, days upon days like it is my top-secret mission to watch every season, every episode of fill-in-the-blank. Actually, I’ll fill-in-the-current-blank. Every season, every episode of The Path, You’re The Worst and The Magicians. Staying up till my eyes can barely focus or I wake up an hour later with Netflix asking if I’m still alive.
No, Netflix, I’m not still alive.
Then a laundry list of positive reinforcement enters: I feel disconnected, I’m not doing enough, I’m wasting my life. The cycle of uplifting thoughts that make everything so much better.
That was a bit of sarcasm there.
Of course the difference now is I’m different now. When I wrote those entries three years ago, I stood on different ground. My perspective has since shifted, my need for demons has lessened, the grip of past darkness loosened. Where I may crave isolation, I’ve grown to understand my limits and the consequence from too much detachment.
But the point, the point is letting go.
Letting go of the dark, letting go of the clenched fist inside my core. The point is probably way bigger than I realize, but more is always revealed. And every turn offers new sight. Even if new sight comes by way of approaching old feelings over and over again. And over again. Writing the same words, the same journal entry every year until little by little the shift becomes greater and greater. That good ol’ hindsight insight. When you can suddenly look back and see the change, see the path, which now seems so much clearer, more obvious and purposeful. It never happens the way I want it to, never at the speed I’d like it to. But it happens. It happens in a way that is more magical than I could shape. Because I’m human and my thinking is limited, defined by blind ego and safety nets. Defined by a tangled web of shadow encounters and eggshells.
Let go of yourself to open yourself to greatness.
A few days ago Chris took me to an indoor sports center. As we walked toward the building he asked if I was excited. My response was less than filled with enthusiasm. Not excited, I told him. I’m hesitant but interested to see what’ll happen. Or something like that. He asked why I wasn’t excited. I said because my heart was racing and a mild wave of anxiety was creeping in. Too many people, I was out of my comfort zone, felt out of control.
But within seconds we were inside, and within a half hour I found myself behind Chris on an American Ninja Warrior-style course high above the concrete floor. People walked beneath us, played arcade games, looked up at others already battling the course.
An employee strapped me in a safety harness then wished me best of luck. Chris told me to watch him so I could see how to maneuver. He made it look easy. Meanwhile I tried to hide the panic in my eyes, acting nonchalant while I saw kids swinging from ropes like it was nothing. A young girl began screaming, dangling mid-air between two ropes, unable to pull herself across the course. She looked like a frightened kitten caught between two wires, limbs outstretched, holding on to whatever she could for dear life. Hysteria grew to hyperventilating as the mother tried encouraging her daughter. She finally threw in the towel and asked an employee to help her child down.
Cut to almost three decades ago. My father is below me while I stand on a playground fire truck, my little four or five year-old heart ready to explode. Jump, he calls to me. It’s OK, son, I’ll catch you. Adult me can now see I was only a few feet off the ground, but kid me sees a thirty-foot drop to a bloody death below. Dad encourages me to take a leap of faith into his arms, a smile plastered across his face. I inch toward the edge of the fire truck and look down, it’s red rusted top now juxtaposed with the sandbox beneath. Dad’s words are faint, floating somewhere around my ears while shoes hang over the ledge. You can do it, son. You can do it.
Cut back to the obstacle course. Me on a wooden platform about to step onto the first challenge. In front of me, a narrow strip of wood held by rope on either side like a swing. A twenty-foot drop below. Maybe three-hundred foot, I’m not entirely sure. I am supposed to step on the first swing then balance my way to the next then the next and so on. There were ten swings to walk across before joining Chris on the other side. Chris with his phone already out to film my glorious fumble.
I grabbed the left rope and placed one foot on the wooden base. It immediately shot outward and I couldn’t grab the other rope. Chris yelled words of encouragement across the way. I was able to get hold of the first swing and plant both feet on the plank. Suddenly I swung above ground in full panic, arms grasping for the next rope to pull toward me. “I can’t do this,” I called to Chris. “I’m done.” Air barely made way into my lungs, as every muscle was tight in fear.
I watched a kid on another leg of the course swing across wood beams mid-air like a mini-monkey, she was maybe twelve-years-old. I could barely get one foot on the board without freaking out and then monkey girl reminded me of that little boy on the fire truck. I threw out the option to quit. No way was I stepping down when a dozen kids were working the same obstacle course. Fear can be a great motivator or a great undertaker, it’s up to me how I want to face it. With faith or with fear. Fear met with fear breeds only more fear, while fear met with faith brings unlimited possibility. It unlocks doors within us, removes weight and shifts perspective.
Fear met with faith brings light.
So I accept the idea I’ll get back on that first swing and probably die. But either way I have to push forward.
And I do.
Like a gasping, shrieking, flailing moron, I somehow made my way across each swing to the other side.
“See? You got it,” Chris said. “Now try this one.”
I was ready to bow out after the first course, leave on a high. But there were at least twenty other aerial obstacles winding around the facility and I could tell we were just getting started. It’s one thing to briefly challenge fear, another to persevere and stare it in the eye, unflinching, until those roots begin to wilt. It’s a continued exercise like working a muscle, not something I can do once then run back to comfort. Not a check box I can X with hopes of crawling back on the couch.
A little boy asked if I could move out of his way.
Yes, little boy. The big little boy will step aside.
So I did. Then watched him clip his harness on the wire and dive into the next course. I turned to Chris and rolled my eyes. Let’s keep going.
Chris guided me through the next few obstacles until something shifted. I took off on my own, navigating courses without guidance. My leaps became more confident, risks became more frequent. Sweat drenched and out of breath, I saw Chris smiling behind me. He told me I looked like a pro. I kind of felt like a pro. Or at least up to par with the twelve-year-olds.
As I waited for the next challenge, a kid – maybe eight or nine – struggled to climb over a barrel suspended in air. Body glued to one side, arm wrapped around the other. He pulled himself on top of the barrel then balanced his way to the platform where I stood. The smile on his face was lit from ear to ear.
“You did awesome!” I told him.
“I was really scared. It’s really hard. But I haven’t lost my balance once.” He caught his breath, wiped his forehead, a little face stared up at me. I smiled.
“I was really scared, too,” I said. “But you can’t give up.”
“I know. I wanna do that one next.” He pointed to the rock wall I just climbed across. “Can you help me with my clip?”
I unlatched his safety hook and fastened it to the next course. He thanked me with a huge grin then pasted himself onto the steep climbing wall.
Kids can be fearless. What changes as we get older? We acquire more baggage to hold on to? Realize our mortality? More experience and time for fears to develop? I miss the freedom of blind faith – or maybe naive abandon. The freedom to jump from a waterfall ledge without worry of what’s below.
Although I don’t know if I was ever that kid.
I think there was something in me that always felt a need to hold back or hold on. Letting go is something that does not come naturally.
Cut to Ms. Evans’s first grade class at Pembroke Lakes Elementary. I open the brand new crayon box my mom bought then dump them in a plastic pencil case. Little hands hold the empty cardboard crayon box over the trash, unable to discard it because something feels like a piece of my mom is tied to that box. Throwing it away means throwing her away. So I keep it. I keep it hidden.
Cut to freshman year of high school. Me as the lead role in the school play walking off stage after having just made up a line to leave my fellow cast members fending for themselves.
The line: I would love to meet your daughter, but first… May I please use your restroom?
A look of bewilderment on the other actors’ faces.
Performing in front of my peers made me anxious, nauseous and ready to pass out. While the cast improvises in front of the entire junior class, I hold my head over a trashcan backstage surrounded by our principal and crew. In my mind it was that scene from Carrie just after pigs blood is poured. Everyone making fun, pointing – they’re all gonna laugh at you.
The big difference being no one plotted to take me down. And there was no pigs blood, of course. Or fiery death. It was just fifteen-year-old Ryan unable to face his fear. Fear of being the gay kid on stage ready for his firing squad.
I heard the entire junior class chanting my name to return on stage, everyone knows what is happening. But it’s over. There is no going back.
I left and didn’t reprise my role for days.
Cut to pink and yellow lights. Blue and green lights. Cut to lights reflected from a disco ball. Back to the indoor sports center, Chris and I were now on the roller skating rink. A dark room with swirling colors and a mix of disco music, early 90’s, Michael Jackson and rap. Bright orange skates laced up, Chris alongside me, people weaving in and out of each other. I watched them glide round the rink, skate to the beat of music, twirl round. I watched Chris take off ahead and move like he’s been doing it for years. I watched these people laugh, watched some fall and look defeated, watched others hold the wall for dear life. This incredible mix of people who would otherwise never migrate in the same flock, I watched them skate round in a circle of energy while sharing an experience of few words. Connected to each other in a united cyclone of motion.
But I couldn’t glide.
Couldn’t get the steady roll of eight wheels beneath my feet.
Couldn’t make the turns without slowing down.
I stumbled a few times.
Tried skating to the music but found myself fumbling.
I was ready to leave.
Chris came up behind me and took hold of my waist, my body propelled by his. A rush of cool wind thrust against my face, against my scrambled mind and eased the brain knots for just a moment. He let go and I rode on momentum, skating with the flock for the first time. Feeling woven into music, the motion, the energy.
Yellow and red light drifted across my cheeks, the music suddenly louder and more crisp. Like my ears had cleared, like my eyes had opened.
I noticed an openness in my core I rarely feel. Like that clenched fist in my chest released and I could float. The worry of doing it right, the fear of fill-in-the-blank, was gone.
And for however long it lasted, for however long that fist revealed its tender palm, I connected. Connected to experience, to the freedom of an open mind. Connected to myself because I was completely unaware of myself, unaware of myself because my head silenced for my heart.
I could simply skate and let the energy of the present moment take me.
Soaked in color, surrounded by a blur of gliding bodies and invisible thread, I let go.
I think I let go.
My cardigan blew like a cape behind me, arms outstretched like wings.
In that moment I was a bird in flight.