Sometimes when you’re so focused on helping someone close to you, you forget to stop for a minute and take it all in and realize just how much they are helping you too. And then, sometimes later – sometimes a few hours or a week, or sometimes a few years or almost a decade or even more – something small happens. Just something little. Like a song on a local bar jukebox radio. And it hits you. You realize there’s a handful of people in your life who thank you for saving them you realize – you owe them a thank you, because they saved you too.

Thank you.

Ashes of Eden by Breaking Benjamin came on tonight at the bar and it reminded me just how much I love Breaking Benjamin. It reminded me, too, of a few people who I’ve realized have looked to me as someone to talk to, who they could trust, and who would see them for their truth. Who they really are – the good and the bad – and always still see who they REALLY are, no strings attached.

And in listening to that song tonight I remembered a time where back in college I helped this kid out. I worked at his father’s store, and his father gave me – a messed up know-it-all college kid – a chance. His family was going through a rough divorce and a move. And his son (“that kid” I mentioned before) was going to be forced to move to a new school district in his senior year of high school and he was devastated and threatening to drop out.

So I did the obvious thing. I let him live with me.

I was barely an adult myself at that time, and only so legally. But I wanted to be a good influence, a role model perhaps even. And he let me be that, and I let him live in my college apartment. I set ground rules – no partying, always do your homework first, always be respectful. Don’t let my idiot friends get you drunk ever. And if I caught you drinking or smoking I’d kick your ass. Even if I was doing those things myself.

Somehow in that timeframe of my life where I was a disaster to myself and everyone around me, I held “this kid” to a higher standard. I wanted better for him than what I had let become of me. You see, even then on some level I knew it wasn’t really my family’s fault I was a mess. Sure, we had issues. Yeah, my dad is a raging alcoholic. But I wasn’t a kid anymore and even back then I had some sense of self-responsibility that whatever happened to me was my own doing. And in that, I wanted to start paying the karmic tab I, on some level, knew I was already racking up, by helping this lost kid find his way through high school and, in some way, I hoped, life.

But what I didn’t realize then and I don’t think he did either, was that he saved me too. When I felt like no one noticed where I was or wasn’t, when my day to day was totally and completely inconsequential, when it felt like the world wouldn’t miss me, I knew I had to get home and be a good example to someone. Anyone. No, not just anyone. Him.

So I did. I went home most nights. I started to stand up for myself (even if I would eventually move away and let that fall apart again, I would eventually remember this). I still partied. I remember my one friend getting him drunk on tequila one night as I, too was drunk and realizing my own double standard – but still wanting better for him. And it made me a better person. I still wasn’t good by any means, then. But I shudder to think how bad I would have been, had someone not been looking up to me.

It fell apart a bit after that. Into my 20s and 30s depression reared it’s ugly head, followed by mania, and back again, in a cycle that defined those two decades that I’ve mostly lost. But eventually I remembered.

And then I moved. To NY. Away from any of the remains of my 20s and 30s that had carried me down. I had always said that I didn’t want to be 40 living there, still, and if nothing else, I am true to my word and honest to a fault.

I was 41 when I moved. It was the first time I really started getting better. Or even good, for the first time ever.

You see, there’s this kid that looks up to me, and I’m flattered. Sometimes I wonder why. I’m a fuck up. I’ve always been. My own father told me I’d never be anything other than mediocre at best, and I’ve spent my entire life living to prove him wrong. And then I realized. He was wrong. He always was. I am anything but mediocre.

I am strong. I am fierce. I am independent. I am responsible – for myself and those around me. I am a dreamer. I believe in magic. And I understand that the ups and downs of life can be mania, but they can also be amazing, too.

I am a role model because two decades ago, the high school boy looked up to me and thought I was cool and a good influcnce. I am a good person because this past year a boy trusted me to put him on a horse he’d ridden one weekend ever to gallop over giant stone walls and not just be okay, but really LIVE. They both saw the good in me, and knew that I could help them and in believing in me, I started to believe in me too. Even when I believed in them, all along.

Sometimes, all that we see in others is a reminder of who we really are inside. We all help each other, if only we’re willing to listen and understand and realize that we’re all in this together.