The promise of a new year is the promise of a clean slate. New opportunities to shine brighter, to let go of more baggage, to be that better person.
Well, one and a half hours into 2015, I had already taken that clean slate and metaphorically wiped my butt on it, Instagrammed it, and tweeted, ‘Screw you, New Year. I intend to be as much of an idiot this year as I was last year.’
You see, at 1:30 a.m. on January 1st, I wrote the most intimate, wildly inappropriate graphic text message I have ever crafted, so terrible I shall never reveal the exact words, not to anyone. I sent it and then, for the first time, looked at the recipient. (Cover your face with your hands because you know where this is going.) Yup. I failed to send it to the intended person.
Happy New Year.
I’m an idiot.
The message was intended for a man I feel extremely close to. We had been texting earlier that evening. For him, the message was crude but appropriate.
But it was not the kind of message you’d want read at Senate hearings, and I sometimes worry my life will be analyzed on CSPAN, possibly a Tuesday night special report hosted by angry senators with little hope of re-election unless they make me their last-ditch attack on behalf of public morality. In my imagination, I find myself apologizing into a dozen accusatory microphones.
“Mr. Manning, we need to know the exact wording of that text message.”
“I am so sorry, esteemed senators, but I fail to see the relevance–”
“We’ll decide what’s relevant,” says a snarling senator (R-Texas) facing charges from the Ethics committee.
(She is hoping to draw attention away from those charges by making a name with my inquiry.)
Near tears, I say, “I can‘t tell you the exact wording. If you just let me explain, Senators, I can tell you why I don’t have a copy of the message.”
“Mr. Manning, this outrageous claim…”
They never let me explain.
The reason I don’t have this message anymore because when I reread my lengthy paragraph of human depravity in hair-tingling panic, the first thing I did was to instantly delete the message from my phone, hoping this action would cancel delivery. Of course it didn’t, but I wanted to believe, so desperately, that there was a way to undo this.
See, I had sent the message not to one person, but two. My two sisters.
I want to believe that a dozen of my close friends would have replied to an accidental text like that with something amusing like, “Kiss your mother with that mouth?” But this was the filthiest thing I had every written and as a guy who writes about men engaged in graphic sex, I think that’s saying something. I honestly believe that even a good-humored friend who accidentally received this message would eye me with naked disgust and say, “Seriously? You wrote this?”
Nobody would laugh.
I certainly wasn’t laughing.
Sure, it was an accident both sisters received this text. Accidents happen. I think they would forgive me, despite how enormously distasteful and disrespectful this message. But worse, worse by far, was how I believed they would forever look at me. See me. I’m not sure I’m a knight in shining armor to either one of them. But this message would tarnish any remaining silver in our relationship. I knew it.
My sisters have seen the worst of me. I have yelled at them unfairly, needled them, criticized them, and suffered them to endure my icy, damning silence. And yet, for all our childhood grievances and adult fights, they love me. We have colored with crayons together. Invented games together. Attended high school together, sharing classes. Over the years, we celebrated three dozen Christmases together, and more birthdays than that.
I wept with these women at my father’s funeral.
As an adult sibling, I am prickly to their very belief systems, and they are not exactly supportive of gays. But we still find ways to play together, to laugh together, to miss our Dad together, to celebrate this gift that we’re all a family. For whatever shortcomings we all tolerate in each other, there somehow remains a certain purity and light in our sibling love. When I call my younger sister, Eileen, we often replay stolen lines from Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive.
Brusquely, she answers, saying, “Talk to me.”
I say, “I didn’t kill my wife!”
With a slight Tommy Lee Jones twang, she says, “I don’t care.”
Our good stories together outweigh our bad.
I need that unadulterated sister love.
Less than two minutes after clicking send, in blind panic, I did as thousands of other freaked-out individuals like me have done in the past, frantically googling, “UNSEND TEXT MESSAGE.”
Every link sadly proclaimed the same message: sorry, buddy.
I typed them a follow-up text explaining DO NOT READ THE PREVIOUS MESSAGE, which was silly because they would not read this latest message until they had finished the one immediately above it.
After sitting in terror and sadness and general freaked-outedness, I decided I may as well go to bed. I mean, relationship damage done. What else could I do? I sat in silence and thought about my older and younger sister.
I missed seeing them at Christmas this year.
I mean, I missed mom and my brother and new sister-in-law, extended family, and all my Chicago friends…that sucked also, but this is a story about missing your sisters, an older sister who I idolized in my youth, and a younger, so close to me in age, we are referenced as ‘Irish twins.’
Because of work-related project deadlines and a business trip between Christmas and New Years, this year, I did not take holiday vacation days. I chose not to drive to Illinois. I could have, I guess, but I felt exhausted by a frantic autumn and the prospect of four days’ vacation–at home–for two consecutive weekends felt like a Christmas gift I could not ignore.
I mostly did not regret that decision, not until Christmas Eve when I spoke on the phone with each of my beloved family members. It really hurt to hear them laughing in the background, imagining the house smells and last-minute gift wrapping chaos. When the phone was passed to Andrea, I opened the Christmas gift she had ensured arrived the day prior, a gift made for each sibling: a gorgeous replicas of our parents’ wedding album. We discussed our favorite photos, the Hollywood photo, the one where they are most happy, the one on the church steps, the one where our brother looks most like our father. I pretended not to cry and hoped she could not hear me.
Sitting in my New Year’s middle-of-the-night funk, after my colossal texting fuck-up, I decided to go to bed, and wondered if I would sleep at all.
Then a final, ridiculous idea dawned on me: call them.
Maybe they hadn’t seen the message yet?
After all, it was 1:30 in the morning when I sent it.
I called my older sister, Andrea, and woke her up. I didn’t care. This was worth it.
I explained the circumstances. Eileen had sent a post-midnight message of “HaPpY nEw YeArS” to both Andrea and myself, which made it to the top of the text messages pile. When I opened my message window, the phone defaulted to show me the newest message, so while I thought I was typing to someone else, I was actually typing to them.
With a sad and anxious voice, I explained how I feared the message I sent would change the way she looked at me, and not for the better. I said it would make me really heartbroken. I begged her not to read it. I told her it would mean everything to me.
In a soft, alert voice, she said, “Of course. Of course. I won’t read it. I promise.”
Of course she would show me that respect and love. Why did I even not consider this option, the phone call, until after fifteen minutes had passed? Of course she would show me the love I needed.
Moments later, I called my younger sister who answered her phone snorting, laughing, speaking before I could. She said, “Mom and I were just watching–”
Clearly, she hadn’t seen the text message.
I interrupted her and said, “Eileen, I need to talk to you. This is important to me.”
Instantly, the hilarity left her voice and she switched to cautious. “What’s wrong?”
For a second time, I explained the situation and let her know how much it would mean to me if she deleted before reading. I pleaded with her.
She assured me she had not read it and in her cheery voice said she was actually glad I asked this favor, because she got a new cell phone the day prior and she needed practice on deleting messages. Hell, I don’t even think she was mildly curious as to the message contents. After her assurances, she asked me a question or two about iPhones and their interfaces.
We wished each other happy new year, and hung up.
I went to bed.
I slept soundly, so soundly.
The next morning I awoke at 6:00 a.m. to find a message from Andrea who wrote to say ‘mission accomplished.’ She explained she wasn’t sure if it would be physically possible to find and delete the message without reading it, but she managed it.
Eileen texted me by 7:30 a.m. to say, “Deleted without reading. Both messages. And I learned a new feature! I love this new smartphone!”
Maybe I don’t need a ‘clean slate’ come New Years. The 2014 version of me seems to have a great deal of love and trust in his life. Maybe I just need to reevaluate “my existing slate” and show better appreciation to the people who have loved me all my life. Maybe the only real ‘clean slate’ is accepting who you are, the life you have, and trying to polish what’s already there.
I told a good friend this miraculous tale, my idiocy, and my sisters’ love.
He said, “Yeah, but how do you know they didn’t lie and just read it anyway?”
I know because I heard the promise in their tone as much as their words. And because they love me.
In the darkest hour, on the first day of 2015, they both promised, and then kept, their first New Years’ resolution.