The Nicest Thing Anyone Has Ever Said About Me

Ryan Hall
6 min readNov 5, 2017

Our making peace with my past time machine takes us to the first week of February 1994. Up until the first week of February 2009 (what is it about that week in my history) it was the most unstable week of my life.

I was still 16 years old. I’d been driving for a few months, but I didn’t go out much. I didn’t have much of a social life outside school. And even in school, my social circle was but a dot.

I really had one friend to speak of. And looking back on it, I don’t know how we were friends.

Don’t get me wrong, I love him (still do even though I haven’t heard from him in years) like a brother. But I don’t know how we ever became friends. He was the only one who actually gave a damn, I suppose.

Chris was his name. And he was a big part of the drama of this week.

But the drama culminated on February 10, 1994.

I pull up to my house (which I’ve visited before in this series) and knock on the door.

Answering the door is a meek, scared, anxious, and exhausted 16-year-old me. And to be honest, I was surprised to get his call.

“Where’s mom?”

“She’s sleeping. Dad’s out. Lord knows where. Ivy is…I mean, she’s Ivy.”

“Wanna go for a ride?”

We hop in my car and I drive to the abandoned playground at Northington Elementary School. It was just a couple miles or so down the road. And it was perfect for the conversation I wanted to have.

“I’m glad you called.”

“I would’ve gotten that news and called Chris. But we don’t know if he’s gonna make it.”

“What happened?”

“Man…he tried to kill himself. And it’s all my fault.”

“Don’t start this with me already, man. Let’s focus.” Granted, he called me. But I wasn’t feeling any of his woe is me bullshit. He’s probably going to hate before we’re done.

“What is this?”

“You called me, remember? What happened.” I watch ’94 me make a movement across his arms like he was taking a razor blade to them. “What happened? Tell me.”

“You’re gonna make me say it, aren’t you?”

“What happened?”

“He cut up and down because he wanted to bleed out. His family let me be the only non-family to visit him in the psych ward. He’s in there with a guy who has like poke marks all over his arms. That’s drugs, isn’t it?”

“Oh Ryan, and after the news you got that past weekend?”

“Yeah…about dad. I had no idea that was coming.”

We share a brief silence. I don’t know if either one of us wanted to speak, but I finally chose to break the silence.

“Take us back to Saturday.”

“Oh God…”

“I’ve told you before, we need to recall this without reliving it.”

“Easier for you to say.”

“Ryan, focus. What happened?”

“I got up, and Dad was up. He and mom were talking. That was weird, because he was usually sleeping at 7 on a Saturday. His two busiest nights at Tony’s. But I could feel there was something heavy, you know?”

“I get it even more today than you can imagine.”

“I, uh, I had to be up because I took the ACT that morning. Which I was almost late for because of the train on University boulevard. That wore me out. So that night I was about to watch SNL — the guy from Star Trek was hosting. I can’t remember his name. Mom calls me into the living room. She has this — I don’t know — like this sad tone to her voice. She told me that instead of blood sugar like we thought, dad’s mood swings were because he’d been on crack. And that under no circumstances should I tell dad that I know. And that dad would…”

“What would dad do? This is important, man.”

“He’d probably do something. And like a couple nights later, I found something in his chair. It was a note. I couldn’t bring myself to read it, but it looked like he wanted to kill himself.”

My God, just hearing those words coming out of my 16-year-old mouth…like a poison arrow to my soul even now.

“And a couple days after I find out about dad, Chris’ sister Jennifer comes over to go into detail about what happened with him.”

“Now you said earlier that you thought it was your fault that he tried to kill himself.”

“Remember that girl — I forget her name. She was pregnant and had Chris convinced the baby was his even though she was pregnant when they met. His mom overheard him telling me they were having sex. She was listening in. He got yelled at and I hung up. I should have heard what was going on.”

As ’94 me was sharing this, his voice just trails off. He has no force behind it anymore. He has no pride in who he is. This was a common theme for younger me, by the way.

“Ryan, I want you to listen to me. And I want you to listen to me good. You can’t control any of this. None of this — listen to me — none of this is your fault. You can’t control dad. You can’t control Chris. You can only control how you respond to this. You can only control how you rebound. You have no control over anyone but you. And it’s time you see that.”

“But what about — “

“I’m not gonna let you sit there and yeah-but me. You know I’m right.”

16-year-old me just looks back at me with soulless eyes. Almost puppy dog in quality.

“Why are you being so mean?”

“Ryan, I have come to you in so many different times in your life and I can tell you how awesome you are. But until you see it for yourself I would be wasting my voice, my time, and your energy. And you’re enough. You’ve always been and always will be enough. You’re amazing and it’s about time you start to see it. And it’s about time you start to shout it from the mountaintops. Quit underselling yourself.”

“So, you’re saying brute force, right?”

“It’s called enrollment, and you’ll learn all about it.” 16-year-old me laughs.

“Am I still gonna write that book?”

“Books! With an S.”

“Man…when can I start on this?”

“Do it now.”

“We’re in a car and probably about to get run off by cops here any minute.”

“True statement,” I said. “Listen, I’m gonna try something here. I haven’t done this any time I’ve visited you before. Ryan Hall, what would you like to be acknowledged for?”

’94 Ryan looks back me like I’ve grown a second head.

“What?!”

“You heard me.”

“I don’t know. That I’m a good kid.”

“Oh Ryan…you don’t even know the third of it. Ryan, I acknowledge you for your giant, juicy heart. You’re such a smart guy. You’ve got the world by the balls and you can’t see it. As soon as you learn to harness the incredible power of your heart, you can set the world on fire just to watch it burn. And know this, I’m much older now. But I’m watching. And I’m so damn proud of you. And I love you so much.” Man, by the end of that, I got a little choked up.

But 16-year-old me is full on sobbing.

“That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me.”

“Do you believe it?” He meekly nods his head. “Good, now let’s get started building your confidence now instead of at 39. C’mon, let’s take you home…”

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