You Can Lead a Horse
Let me provide you with some background context before we begin.
Helping people is my passion. This is not meant to describe helping as a simple task. Of course, I could hold the door open for the old lady at the food store, but I’m looking at something bigger to truly unleash the soul burst.
I recall, recently, when I was asked to name something that I loved doing. I immediately drew a blank. What do I like to do? Do I have some sort of hobby to report? I like painting… Art? That could work. Or maybe a sport? Ha, c’mon I don’t do that sort of thing.
What I finally came to realize is the thing I love to do most is to help others. If I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t be me. Finding out a person’s insurmountable challenge and helping to navigate them through to the other side, this is what I was made for. But I always want to make sure they lead. I’m only there to copilot.
When I was younger, I thought this entailed dragging the horse through the woods to the correct path, pointing out the river with neon flashing lights, as I force fed water down their throats upon reaching the destination.
Now, I’ve come to realize that the process in fact has nothing to do with me. It really is quite the opposite. The journey is theirs alone. Just think of me as the support squad.
Generally, I don’t have to look for these opportunities. Most of them just fall into my lap. When they do, I happily pick them up and get to work. While it is miserable to watch someone fail or suffer, it is also necessary for every person to have these moments.
Times like these are what defines us. Drive us to be better next time. If you never fail, you’ll miss the opportunity to learn something new. And if you’re not learning, you’re not living.
I can be there to give a leg up, but they need to get over the fence on their own accord. If they don’t understand that I’ve led them to the creek for a reason, then the situation is out of my hands.
I have one success story that stands out above the rest. Enter my super-duper best friend, Ronnie Rabbit. There were many times where I had to prepare myself for the worst, but instead I was blessed to witness a revolutionary transformation.
First grade was when we had our first encounter. We didn’t know it then, but we had just begun a lifelong friendship, that would change both of us for the better.
Let’s be real, Ronnie is the older brother I never wanted. And lucky for him, I wasn’t his sister, so he actually listened to me when I gave him advice, well sometimes. While he is officially a year and six months my elder (don’t expect that he’ll remember birthdays), he’s far from the mature one in our pair.
If you ever meet Ronnie, you will never forget him. If you’re a guy, he’ll tell you jokes (sometimes terrible ones) until he gets you to crack a smile. If you’re a gal he’ll probably hit you with his best pick up lines, just for fun, even if you’re three times his age.
Ronnie is chatty, he loves to talk and tell stories. He’s always got one for you. But when it’s time to listen, he knows how. His advice comes from the heart, and if you’re lucky enough to be his friend, you know he’d do anything for you. Lucky for him, we had this in common.
Our lives growing up were completely opposite. I lived in a traditional, uncomplicated (at the time) family. On the other hand, he had the luxury of trying to explain his family story to everyone. His mom had a girlfriend, and his father married the woman he may or may not have cheated on his drug addicted lesbian wife with. Are you with me? Ronnie, the oldest of four and the only boy in the family, had his work cut out for him.
One of the earliest stories we remember, and the one we still laugh about was when some of the girls promised to do Ronnie’s homework if he pulled down his pants in front of the entire class. Well let’s just say he didn’t have to do homework for a while, but he also found himself at the principal’s office trying to explain why he was fully exposed in the back of Mrs. Katchel’s classroom. It certainly wasn’t his last visit to the principal, or the last time he was fully exposed for that matter! HA! Welcome to first grade.
There were a lot of details about Ronnie’s life that he hid from me. I don’t know if he did it on purpose to protect me from it, or if he just didn’t want to dwell on the negative. It was probably a bit of both. I won’t forget the day he showed up crying to my house because his dad found out he was smoking. He made him eat his cigarettes. You read that correctly.
I was the angel that sat on his right shoulder trying to keep him in line. But boy was my job difficult trying to compete against the guy on the left side! Ronnie liked to push the envelope, and I was there to keep him in bounds.
As we grew up together, I was there for it, but I was also the outsider listening in. I got it in pieces and then had to thread it together for myself. This can be dangerous, because you never want to make assumptions about what’s going on inside another person’s home or in their lives. That being said, I knew enough to know it wasn’t good.
From a young age, his survival skills had been initiated. Being completely naïve, I was only able to stand by idly and provide an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean. Both of which were appreciated.
We lived only three and a half blocks away. They were long blocks, but it was an easy walk. Back and forth, Karshick Avenue. This went on for years, until we were old enough to drive, which brought a new dynamic to the mix.
Over the years he moved in and out of town multiple times. He would live with his mom sometimes, his dad sometimes, a random family member sometimes. No matter where he ended up, we never lost touch. Friends came and went, but Ronnie stayed.
The older we got, the more trouble Ronnie found himself in, be it with girls, getting into fights, or experimenting with drugs. I needed to be on high alert. Intuitively seeing the trainwreck before it happened. While it was exhausting, it was important to me, and I never minded.
As we graduated from high school, he was going through one of his darkest times. While I was getting ready to go to college. Ronnie was getting ready to go to rehab for his first stint. He had been binging on cocaine and ecstasy for five days straight, maybe more but he didn’t divulge. He spent two days on the phone with me crying. Finally, he agreed that it was time.
When he finally decided to leave, he was skin and bones. His body was failing him, and I knew if he didn’t get help soon, the next time I would see him would be in a casket. As we sat on a wooden bench outside of his grandmother’s house in the middle of the night, he tried to convince me that drugs weren’t as important to him as our friendship. He even made sure to butter me up. I know because I wrote it down, quoting him as saying one of the ‘nicest things’ in my journal. “When people say you can’t trust anyone but yourself, I feel bad for them because they don’t have a friend like you.”
Trust. That night, the concept was put to the test. He promised me he’d get straight, and I believed him because that’s what friends do. He went with good intentions, but less than a week later he ran away from the rehab center. Immediately, he started using again. Only this time, he went even harder, and I wasn’t home to catch him as he fell.
The distance between us grew during this time. I felt betrayed. He was lying about using and began trying to convince me that my boyfriend at the time was cheating on me. While I thought this was a drug-induced delusion, it later turned out to be very possible.
Every time we would talk, he would offer another apology, and I was done. To protect myself I had to distance from him. Watching him kill himself, was killing me.
Less than a year later, I received a frantic call. Ronnie had tried to steal money and drugs from his crack dealer, and his neck was on the line. He needed to get out of New York immediately. Staying was imminent death, either from the drugs or his boss.
His family shipped him up to live with some family in Michigan. After that, I didn’t hear from him for a while. Later, I found out that his uncle literally locked him in a room as he went through the process of detoxing.
It’s funny because as much as he was a staple in my journal entries before that point, once he went to Michigan, I stopped writing about him so much. Maybe it’s because he was finally safe. I didn’t have to worry anymore. Scratch that, I did still worry about him. I DO still worry about him! He knows how to find trouble, but let’s say he keeps it in bounds on his own these days, so I can worry less.
After coming through on the other side, Ronnie was ready to start his life again. He enlisted in the National Guard and tried to get back on track. I remember getting letters from him while he was in boot camp. He was freezing his ass off in a tent in the middle of the wilderness, but he made sure to keep me close.
It turned out that the National Guard wasn’t for him. After a year and a half of drilling, he ended his time with an honorable discharge landing himself back in NY for a short time. Having him home again was great, but I knew he couldn’t stay. There was way too much baggage in this state, and soon he would hit the road desperately searching for direction. Briefly, he ended up back in Michigan, but shortly after, Mother Nature stepped in, helping him navigate his next move.
It was August of 2005 when tropical depression twelve, later known as Hurricane Katrina, began forming over the islands of the southeastern Bahamas. The storm intensified to a category 5 as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico, before weakening to a category 3 just as it smashed into the southern United States. Over 50 levees and floodwalls were breached in New Orleans, and 80% of the city was inundated. Nearby, St. Bernard Parish was in ruins. More than 95% of the area was submerged under 8 to 14 feet of water.
As the communities tried to pick up the pieces, Ronnie was watching from way up North. He heard the call, and soon found his way down south to help rebuild.
Ronnie had met the stepdad of one of his friends on a recent trip to NY. He was from New Orleans, where he worked as a local pastor and gave Ronnie a head’s up on the situation in and around the Louisiana city. The area was decimated, and they needed anyone and everyone they could get.
Growing up Ronnie had learned early to work with his hands. Alongside his dad, he learned everything there was to know about the electrical trade. Although he didn’t have any formal training, he knew his way around wires and his mind was sharp. If you gave him a tangled pile of aluminum and copper, he’d give you light.
Being new to the area, with no friends or family nearby, the pastor was kind enough to offer Ronnie a place to stay. Granted it was an ice shack that couldn’t have measured more than 40 square feet, but Ronnie wasn’t picky. He had work to do.
The days wore on, and little by little as St. Bernard Parish was rebuilt, so was Ronnie’s new life. He went from sleeping in a shack, to owning multiple homes. Every time I spoke to him, he was reaching a new threshold. A few steps backwards here and there, but lunges forward.
I’ll never forget that goofy grin on Ron’s face when I went down to visit him. It made me so happy to see him beaming with pride as he showed me around his new home. The one that he personally pieced together from start to finish, as the town rose from the receding waters.
Now let me just grab Ronnie’s resume here, I think he sent it to me somewhere…
Yes, that’s right. My super-duper best friend now holds a master electrician’s license, a certification in industrial electrical, an elevator mechanic’s license (half of which he was able to test out of, the first in his area to ever do that!), a 6-pack captain’s license, and he’s a kick ass dad to boot!
My man is on fire.
Recently, Ronnie said something to me that I found even more impressive than the many certifications on his resume. It was how he spoke about his commitment to make positive changes, and how he’s striving to be a better man. He told me his new motto is “to be the man you want your daughter to marry.”
There are a handful of people that I saw through their addiction recovery, and many more that I had to watch helplessly lose the battle. Thankful is an understatement. When I think of the fact that Ronnie is still with me and that we can reflect together on the journey that led him to be the man he is today it makes my heart full.
I’ve never looked to earn the title of hero. I don’t help people to get credit.
For anyone who I’ve given a boost, watching them move into the role as their own hero, that’s what gives my life meaning.
Knowing that I could play a part in anyone’s success story, that is the gift.
That walk to the creek is a beautiful thing, and even more profound when they turn back and thank you as you take a drink together.