Requiem for Sean in D Minor
Difficult Decisions and Complex Regrets
This essay was the first distributed directly to email and Substack inboxes, outside of the newsletter format, as discussed in Thought Bananas 20.
I completed this essay as part of an exercise to write about an object within arm’s length. The reviews are that it is intense and emotional.
Warning: this deals with themes of drug abuse, suicide, and death.
I look at my keys and think about my car. It’s a ten-year-old Honda Accord. I bought it six years ago. Financing that car was a sign that I had made it, an official resounding end to the last remnants of a years long dark time in my life.
I think about how ashamed I was the first time I went to buy a car in a dealership. I was going on the advice of a friend who was leasing a Honda for under $200 a month. I didn’t know about credit scores even though I was 25. They laughed me out of the dealership because my score was closer to 400 than 800. I had a huge, red, flashing sign over my head that anyone with money should not trust me. Men are supposed to be good at paperwork and have money. I had failed at both these things. I felt like I couldn’t handle life.
I traced my low credit score back to my last year of college. My grades were in the toilet, it felt like my life was falling apart, and I was constantly breaking promises to myself. Several of the people closest to me were having severe addiction and mental health troubles. These troubles culminated more than once in a trip to the hospital or detox–including one time I had to break down my own bathroom door to stop someone from killing themselves, and convince them to drive two hours with me to their parents’ house, where they would be checked into a mental hospital. I was eager to get out of that house and put that part of my life behind me. At the end of the lease for the last house I lived in, I asked my roommate at the time to take the router our internet service provider had given us to the post office. He never did. The ISP never had my current address, so I never saw their attempts to collect. It destroyed my credit.
I moved into my parents’ house and took the only job I could find, waiting tables at a restaurant where my sister’s friend was the hostess. I swallowed my pride and removed the chip from my shoulder. I stopped thinking about what was owed to me all the time, and stopped expecting life to be easy. I made an attempt to be of service to others, and to be good at my job, and to take care of some of the longstanding problems I had from being around so much chaos the years prior. I became someone my friends could rely on. But this time, I knew about boundaries, I knew about mental health, I knew where I could help someone and where I was being codependent. I got an apartment with some friends.
I learned that my roommate had a friend he thought would benefit from getting to know me. We had similar backgrounds and had both lived in China. We were both “shmoozers” with aspirations of starting a business. His name was Sean, and he was having a rough time, recently getting sober.
I laughed a lot with Sean. He was really funny, and worked really hard, but was always looking for the angle. He never wanted to do things straight up. I remember once driving him to someone’s party at an outdoor restaurant, and he was telling me how he’d paid $150 for the shirt that he was wearing, and that he got it through an exclusive store. He laughed about how I wore flannel and wouldn’t know anything about “drops” and nice clothes and shoes. I will never forget his face when we pulled up to the party, and another guy was wearing the exact same shirt.
I suspected Sean was having trouble staying sober. He was always looking for the angle and never committed 100% to abstinence. He couldn’t hold down a job, although he always found work. Usually as a car salesman. He tried a bunch of different business ideas and shuffled around car dealerships in the south Houston area, always making great money for a short time then skipping out on work for a week or two and getting fired.
I asked Sean for help after I’d spent years rebuilding my credit and had enough money to put a down payment on a car. I picked out the car I wanted online–a four year old Honda Accord. He called the dealership for me to negotiate in advance, then got a written offer emailed to him. I printed it out and took it in. When I showed it to the salesman who greeted me at the front, he was surprised, “wow, I don’t think we’re even making money on this.” He paused and then showed me back to the manager. The finance guy tried to get me to purchase some add-ons, but Sean had given me a list of things to avoid and told me that I really only needed one or two things and why.
I beamed as I drove the car off the lot. I was a proud grown man. I had “a car guy,” in Sean. I had crushed the paperwork. I had enough money to put a down payment on a car and enough credit to finance it. I kept that car spotless for years. It wasn’t the nicest or flashiest car. But it was an outward sign that I could keep my life together, and a car dealership trusted me enough to finance me a car.
I stopped talking to Sean as much. He had not been doing well. He had been aggressively dating women on Tinder while living in a halfway house. He asked me if I thought it was a good idea and I told him the truth, “would you want to date a woman who wants to date you right now?” He agreed with me in the moment, but ended up getting a woman pregnant anyway. We weren’t talking much because I wasn’t as interested in finding “the angle” as he was, but I did go to the baby shower for their baby. Sean and a friend were both blitzed on Xanax. To Sean’s credit, he was keeping it together, but his friend was drooling on the couch and barely coherent, and he blew Sean’s cover. My girlfriend and I left quickly. As we drove away, I texted Sean and said to call me if he ever needed help. He said he did and we started meeting up to talk about life and be accountable to one another. It went really well for a month or so, but he started flaking on me. We met two or three more times over the next three months. Each time he talked less about accountability and self improvement, and more about the people who had wronged him or were wronging him, and his plans to get rich. It felt less like a conversation and more like him monologuing.
I confirmed he was not sober after our last meeting. He was particularly inattentive and something weird was happening with his eyes. We met at a cafe where I was a regular. After half an hour I finally told him that, I wasn’t sure why, but I wanted to end the conversation. He said OK, he understood, and left. Immediately, an acquaintance of mine, also sitting at the cafe, walked over and asked me if my friend was OK. I said I didn’t think so, why did he ask. “That kid was high as a kite on meth. It was written all over his face. His pupils were huge and I could tell just from how he was talking.” I texted Sean and he came clean. I told him that I wanted to do whatever I could to help, but that until he could get sober for a few weeks, I wasn’t ready to help. He said he understood.
I searched for Sean a couple years later in late 2021. I had paid off my car. I wanted to say thanks for helping me negotiate it. I wanted to laugh with him about how the battery in the key fob hadn’t worked in a year or two. I wanted to hear how his baby was doing. I was going out and about post-Covid, but I still rarely spoke to people, and my routines for seeing people in person had been irregular for over a year. Looking him up felt like looking anyone else up. He did not return my texts and his calls said the phone was disconnected. I checked on Facebook. All anyone had posted for six months were “miss you buddy,” and “rest in peace.” When it dawned on me, the air left the room, my chest tightened, and I felt nauseous. I scrolled to the first comment, explaining the rest. Sean had died from an overdose nine months earlier.
I felt guilty. I felt sadness. The “healthy thing” to do with someone who is self destructive is set a boundary and be there when they are ready for help. There’s always the chance that something bad could happen, but in the back of my mind I always expect them to come around. Sean had come around and gone back out several times. I thought back to all the people around me suffering in college, and how terrible my life had been, but how those people had been OK in the end. Sean was as not OK as you could be. I would be lying if I didn’t wonder if Sean would still be alive if I hadn’t set that boundary with him. Everyone I’ve asked says that there was nothing I could have done.
I pray for Sean occasionally now. I wonder if I should reach out to his widow and her son. We never talked but that one time, at the party where Sean was on Xanax. I think that because Sean was spending time with me when he was spiraling out of control on crystal meth, she associates me with that. I don’t know if she’d even want to hear from me or what I would even say.
I look at my keys again. I remember how Sean was there for me when I felt like I wasn’t good at being an adult or being a man. He was the “big guns” I brought in to handle the purchase of the car I still drive, the car I dated my wife in, the car that has a carseat for my baby in the back now. Sean’s baby will never be in a car driven by Sean again. I know the feeling of breaking promises to yourself over and over, and not feeling like a man who can handle life. I wonder if that’s how Sean felt towards the end. So, thanks for the car Sean. Thanks for helping me with this big purchase and making me feel like I could handle life. I wish I could have done the same for you.
Just as poignant on the re-read. A beautiful and thought-provoking sentiment, thoughtfully presented. A simple set of keys ...
Charlie 🥺 you did all you could. Thank you for sharing Sean's story with us.