Loretta Young and a boy named Tom.

LoYoColor1I have always been a firm believer in the idea that people, whether living or dead, come in to your life for a reason. Whether things end well or badly, there is always an opportunity to learn and to grow. I knew from the first line of Tom’s first e-mail that he was truly special. He had a gift with words and a truly amazing way of laying it all out there without sounding harsh. His words boiled down to just a plain, “This is what I saw in the mirror this morning,” but the way in which he strung them together was absolutely poetic. I remember reading it over and over, trying to come up with a way to respond that didn’t make me sound, well, like I normally do. I didn’t want to come off as fangirl + caffeine.

We wrote quite a few near essays back and forth, discussing a vast array of topics. We talked about childhood, about the future, about past mistakes. He was open about everything, which made me feel comfortable divulging him with things I rarely, if ever, tell anyone else.

The thing is, he wasn’t like me at all. His handsome face contained an array of piercings. He painted his nails black. While some who I would show his picture to went straight into critique mode, I saw those things, but didn’t care about them. It hurt me to know that the people I trusted would tell me he was “not my type.” What does that mean, anyway? Were they saying that he was too “wild” for a girl like me? And honestly, though we talked about our dreams of future relationships, ours was never romantic. There was never a pressure, in those messages, for either of us to put on a show, or to flirt. We were just people. We were existing and venting.

He was honest. He was open. And that sparked something in me. At the same time that this was beginning, a familiar face kept going through my various social media feeds. Loretta Young. I hated her. I would legitimately yell at the screen for her to go away (because I’m 100% totally sane). Why did I hate her? I felt like she was a hypocrite. She put on this holier-than-thou air, even though she had given birth, out of wedlock, to a daughter she would later call “a walking mortal sin.”

Sidenote: I have been known to get irrationally angry about stupid things that don’t apply to my life, in any way. Obviously. Working on it.

I don’t know when it hit me, really, this need to stop being such a judgmental bitch. Everything moves so quickly, in my memory, that it’s almost impossible to tell what event happened when. I remember the December e-mail to Tom, saying his honesty and beautiful soul had inspired me to change who I was. I had always been the one to look down my nose, even though I was completely unaware of it. I was constantly having thoughts like, “Well, at least I’m not so-and-so…” Somewhere, with the folks looking down on Tom for his appearance, all the while I know what a remarkable human he was, I knew I had to stop. I had to stop making judgment calls on what I would have done, in any given situation.

And then, because for some cosmic reason that is still not totally known to me Loretta just KEPT APPEARING, I bought her book. And I had the emotional meltdown of the last 3 years.There were so many things I had never taken into account. She was a kind soul who, I think, just wanted to be loved unconditionally. And the feeling I got from all of this hurt like hell. For 20 years, I had done my level best to talk crap about her, at every turn. I hadn’t even given her a chance.

The act of change is a hard one. The act of forgiving oneself is damn near impossible. The regret eats at you until you finally have to come to terms with who you are and who you will be. I learned how to forgive myself, from Loretta.

Today, this story is very important to tell. Tom suffered from bipolar disorder, and would sometimes go weeks without sending a message. Though I would have a bit of worry, in the back of my mind, that message would always come through, eventually. Today, the message was my worst fear. Today, I read Tom’s obituary.

I keep going over and over in my brain what I could have changed, how I would have pushed harder, not been so afraid of being annoying… and then Loretta and a boy named Tom remind me that it’s not always able to be fixed, and it’s not always your fault. Mourn the loss and thank God for what has been gained.

Tom Howell-Cintron 1980-2015

Tom Howell-Cintron


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