Chapter 1: A Boy from Delaware 1 A BOY FROM DELAWARE
In the second season of Southern Charm, I brought my friends Shepard Rose and Whitney Sudler-Smith to my home in Ocean View, Delaware. We played golf, they met my parents, and during dinner one evening, Whitney told my mom and dad that he was worried about me.
“He’s wasting his talents, staying up and partying all night,” said Whitney. “He goes out every night. How do we give him a kick to get his life in order?”
I was horrified. I managed to keep it together in front of my parents, but the next morning on the links, I let Whitney have it. I was furious that he would reveal these things to my parents, especially after I asked him not to.
“It’s out of concern and love, man,” replied Whitney. “You’re a bit of a mess right now.”
He wasn’t wrong. I was falling deeper into the “Neverland” world of Charleston, living like a celebrity, and losing any drive I once had. I’d recently been fired from my job as a law clerk for repeatedly coming in late. Hell, I hadn’t even graduated from law school because I was still shy one credit—though no one, not even my family, knew that yet. And I blurted it all out in a moment of frustration and clarity.
“Every day I’m stressed out as fuck,” I finally said to them. “My rent’s fucking sky-high. I’m spending too much money. Half the time I’m embarrassed to tell you guys because I don’t want you to look down on me. You guys are doing great right now. I’m running away from the truth. This is the first time I’m admitting to myself out loud that, yeah, something needs to change because shit’s not going right right now.”
It would be some time still before I used these words to change myself. I had a long journey ahead of me… and it would get much worse before it started to get better. But while I could at least admit that something was wrong with the direction of my life, that’s not why I had exploded at Whitney.
I wasn’t pissed because what he said was inaccurate; I was pissed because there was no good reason why I was failing and miserable. Maybe I had just been a spoiled brat as a kid, indulged by indifferent parents. Maybe I had always been kind of a failure, struggling through grade school and always the last picked for sports. Maybe I just hadn’t ever been taught hard work or discipline, coasting through childhood without consequences.
Whitney and Shep didn’t see that. Instead, they saw my bedroom with my many awards and trophies, both athletic and academic. They saw my parents, tender and good-hearted, whose love and devotion to their children was just as strong that day as it had been when my brother and I were first born. In just twenty-four hours, they had caught a glimpse of the boy I had been, surrounded with love and gifted with so many of the blessings that really mattered in life: family, values, intelligence, and a sense of responsibility.
What happened to this boy? Why did he grow up to be this wayward and lost young man they knew in Charleston? There was no reason, no evidence, that explained the difference between man and child. I had been given every opportunity to realize my potential, and yet I was wasting them all. Why?
It wasn’t a question I was prepared to answer at that moment, but I also wasn’t that interested (yet) in answering it. My little outburst on the golf course was real, if also a bit disingenuous. I believed all these things; I just wasn’t ready to fix any of it.
At the time, I was upset because I didn’t want my parents to worry. I had tried very hard to keep the truth of what was happening in my life concealed from them. I would straighten myself out, I just needed time.
Looking back, I can admit that I was just terrified of my own shame. In fact, I was riddled with shame—and guilt. All the things that Whitney saw in Ocean View, I saw too. I saw the enormous love of my parents and the sacrifices they had made for my brother and me. I saw the accolades and awards that seemed to foreshadow success. I saw the comfort and safety of a home that encouraged me to dream big and reach my potential. I saw the person I was supposed to be. And every day I looked in the mirror at the person I had become. To avoid seeing that person, to save my ego from the debilitating guilt, I had learned ways to hide from myself. I became very good at it, to be honest. But those methods—the partying, the drinking, the staying out late—were also what intensified the guilt in those terrible moments of clarity.
Going home to Delaware forced me to stare at that boy in the mirror. The boy who had been given everything he needed to succeed and realize his dreams. I had left my home in Ocean View to conquer the world on my terms. I had returned exhausted and broke.
So who was that boy? Where did he come from, and how did he grow up?