02 June 2007

Soul Exposed (Part 1): The Price of Worth

K, let's start from the beginning. Genesis chapter 1:1. Sike. I'm not about to recite the whole bible. So God made Adam and Eve, etc etc etc until my mom had me.

I was the second child. I have an older brother, and when we were kids we'd just fight all the time. My mom describes it thus: "He'd just be playing, minding his own business, and then you'd have to go and mess it up. The terrorizing tornado would come barreling into the room and just... be antagonistic." Yeah, basically I'd just start beating up on my older brother. He'd lay me out flat, and I'd need some time to nurse my wounds, but I'd always come back for more. I think this can be chalked up to a basic need for attention... anyone? anyone? *shakes head* I started young...

Erik Erikson studied human development and divided it into seven stages, each marked by a crisis (which he defined as a turning point, or moment of transition characterized by the ability to move forward or backward in development). The first stage involves the level of trust you have for the world. With needed warmth, cuddling, and attention, a child develops trust. When these conditions are not present, the child becomes suspicious about interacting with others, acquiring a general sense of mistrust toward human relationships. Now, as far as I know, my parents were very loving and caring and gave me the proper attention and warmth as an infant... but this distrust quickly developed in other areas of my life. That's one of the interesting things about Erikson. Once you enter a stage, it never goes away. You deal with it for the rest of your life. So trust continues even when autonomy is introduced, and that continues when initiative comes about, etc etc. Mistrust started early and affected me deeply, as you are about to read...

The first day of kindergarten was such an exuberant day for me, filled with incomprehensible opportunity. Finally I'd get away from the drudgery of my home and do exciting things. I was presented with my teacher, Mrs. J, and 30 new potential friends. So I put myself out there, no inhibition, no judgment, I wanted to be friends with EVERYONE!!

Oh, the cruel, harsh reality of rejection. It breaks and destroys souls. I know it did mine... One of the hardest questions for a parent to endure: "Mom, why doesn't anyone want to play with me? Am I bad? Is something wrong with me?"

I've always always been scrawny, and my attempts at trusting... this need for attention... the drive to feel wanted... left me the perfect target for bullying. I was picked on, made fun of, and even beat up. All the while I did my best... I shared my crayons, helped on the swings, and went out of my way to be the best friend anyone could ever want...

A tiny child with carefree dreams and hopes can only take so much before reaching his breaking point. The bullying became too much, too far... too long. I snapped. I was being chased, called names, and I just stopped. I turned around and laid the nearest kid flat. And then went to the Principal's office.

This was the beginning of my withdrawal from the world. It was cold, harsh, and cruel and not somewhere that fostered the sense of trust Erikson describes. So I would be the same way to the world. My walls began to form, brick by brick. My behavior deteriorated and my parents set up a system with my teacher where everyday when I got home I'd bring either a smiley or frowny face. I had to save the smiles, and when I got ten, I could get a reward. If I got a frown, I was grounded and/or punished. That never stopped me.

I became a tyrant. I became the bully. I became a socially dysfunctional nightmare. I would color on other people's pictures, knock down their block towers, and wreck the games they were playing. I even killed the class goldfish. It the world would not love and want me, I would not love it back. Summer was a lonely time, and there were no neighborhood kids who liked me, so I taught myself how to read instead.

First Grade, Mrs. P. Still no friends. I was so mean to my teacher one day I actually made her cry. I had become a devil... crying for help. But no one heard me screaming. I would throw markers at people and even stab them with pencils. No one wanted to associate with me at all. Except the principal, when I was in his office...

During the summers it was always hardest, because I didn't even have homework to keep me occupied. Luckily, I was blessed with a very active, and vibrant, imagination. I would play outside for hours on end doing make-believe, and having grand adventures. I had a sandbox where I could build entire cities to drive matchbox cars around, have kidnappings, crashes, and all kinds of kid fun. G.I. Joes were by far my favorite toy, and when my younger brother was old enough, we could pass an entire day just playing with them outside, in our basement, or inside the living room couch (which folded out to be a bed).

Second Grade, Mrs. B. Still no friends. The same harassment and hatred flowed from me as I became even less impressed with the world and how much it hated me for reasons beyond my understanding. Stabbing, yelling, pushing, throwing things. One day we were sitting down to read for story-time, and a girl took my seat. I bit her on the arm. Principal's office.

Third Grade, Mrs. W. We moved to a new house. So I got to go to a new school. Another shot at having friends. I could change, take down the walls I was building, and connect. My mom was good friends with the lady across the street, and she had girls my age. So I tried to be friends with them. K.T. was nice enough at home. She'd play in the sandbox and swing and even sometimes play Nintendo. But as soon as we got to school, she became another person entirely. She had her "girls" and to be cool for them, she'd call me "stanko" to my face. Some friend. The walls, the rejection, and the embitterment to this damned world continued. Since no one would play with me on recess, I'd just chase girls and terrorize them by trying to kiss them (so why am I not straight? Dammit!). My teacher tried hard to help me, and encouraged me in my studies... even when I always had the desk in the corner... exiled for my bad behavior. Once, instead of my homework, I wanted to use her computer to play Math Games, and she said no. I got pissed, and the next time I had a turn I erased the system and ripped some of the floppy disks in half. Principal's office.

Fourth Grade, Mrs. L. Probably the teacher I hated the most. My prowess for academics got me out of the classroom when I got accepted into the Challenge (not challenged!) Program for advanced students. I got to go to 6th grade for half a day at the middle school. When we got back, the class would be at recess. I'd walk around the room and steal pencils out of desks. After recess, Mrs. L would read to us. When I wasn't off by myself, I'd "accidentally" drop my pencil, then bend down and tie my neighbor's shoes to their desk. Hilarious. One day I took a bottle of glue and dumped it on the new shoes of the girl next to me. Her foot got stuck! Also hilarious. Another favorite game of mine was pulling people's chairs out when they were about to sit down, so they'd crash to the floor.

I remember one day in particular, I was extremely pissed at my teacher (I'd just gotten in trouble for some antic). In my corner, I was vigorously scribbling on my desktop. Mrs. L called to me, "Hidden, I want to see you up here...NOW!" I stood up angrily, put my hands under my desk, and flung it as hard as I could. It flipped upside down and slid across the floor, spilling its contents everywhere. Can we say Principal's office?

Fifth Grade, Mrs. F. I still didn't really have any friends. One girl kinda reached out to me, but I only saw her on recess. She was a "reject" too, she had a speech impediment. At least I wasn't brutally alone anymore. I still got picked on, and the bullying never ended, even though I'd be as much of a terror as I could. There were just boys bigger and stronger than me, and they made it clear. Even if I hadn't been dysfunctional socially, I don't think I would've gotten anywhere. I knew I was different for hating football and not wanting to play tether ball or basketball. I just didn't like that kind of competition. I already got beat up enough, I didn't need anymore help. One day in particular I remember, a girl named C.M. said something really snide to me. Minutes later, she came over to borrow my scissors. We were making mobiles using hangers and string. I took my hanger and cut her right across her throat. Do I even need to say it?

All this time my parents were devout Mormons, and so every Sunday I went to church like a good little Mormon boy. The church has always been set up as a safe place... a haven for the weary and heavy-laden. This was supposed to be a place of solitude, acceptance, and love. Not even here did I find respite. A boy my age, B.P., from the neighboring town constantly harassed me, calling me "gay" and "queer." He turned all the other boys my age against me. I hated B.P. I could never say anything either, because he had two older brothers in High School, and they would pick on me too. I was scared to death of them... and so I suffered in silence when I was supposed to be growing closer to God. Interestingly enough, B.P. wasn't the first to use the words "gay" and "queer" with me. That was actually the nature of much of the picking on I received throughout childhood. Not to digress from the story, but I'm very very curious to know if this has anything to do with my orientation (subject of Part 2). I mean, if you hear something long enough... if everything thinks it but you... then you start to question... and hell begins. What if they're right? What if I am? Oh God... (I've been interested in doing psychological research in this vein for a while... it happens with parents and their kids... if your dad tells you you're stupid every day, eventually you believe him...). So back to the story: One week, this kid was gone on vacation. A new boy was in our ward that day. He'd just moved in! It was the prefect opportunity. I would win him over before the other kid got back to ruin everything. I immediately introduced myself, pulling down everything I'd built to separate me from the world. A.L. agreed to be my friend. I was elated! Finally the sun was shining a ray through the dark clouds surrounding my stormy life!

Sixth Grade, Team: Mrs. And, Mrs. P, Ms. Ag, and Mr. M. were my teachers. A.L. was on my team at school. I was happy at first. But it turned out he wasn't actually in any of my classes. We were on opposite schedules. I barely saw him at recess. I continued to excel in all my subjects, and get really good grades. But this was Middle School. All four elementary schools combined. Four times as many kids. Four times as much persecution. As the days dragged on, I began to get really, really depressed.

My parents finally figured me out. They had grown tired of the temper tantrums, and struggling to connect with me, so they had thrown me to the shrinks. I got diagnosed with ADHD. I was smart, my grades proved that, but I misbehaved and paying attention was a huge struggle for me. The fact that my mother still says to me sometimes that "for the first eleven years of my life they had no idea how to understand or relate to me" still hurts. Being a kid was so hard for me. Once I got on medication, I calmed down with my behavior, but that didn't help me get any more friends.

As far as sexuality goes, I'm not sure where I was at this point, much of my past is hazy for me. I know that I had at least two girlfriends during the school year, but beyond that... (Again, sexual development will be addressed in part 2). As I was saying, I was completely enveloped in depression. The world just didn't seem like a place where I could fit, where I could find love, where I could be understood. How could everyone hate me? My discouragement and perilous state was elucidated best in a sixth grade journal prompt during Language Arts. The prompt was: "If you could switch places with someone else for a day, who would it be and why?" Other kids wrote about switching with basketball stars, or pop stars, being president...you know kid dreams. My entry was starkly different. I was breaking inside, and tired of being alone. I wrote two pages about how I would never ever switch places with anyone because I didn't want anyone to ever live in my shoes for even five minutes, let alone a whole day. Why? Because I was clearly worthless, no one wanted me, and I didn't want anyone else to suffer the way I did every day. I turned it in just like that, in all it's bloody glory. I had opened my soul once again, and screamed for help. Suicide was heavy on my mind much of the time (And I wasn't even overtly struggling with being gay yet...).

My teacher read it, of course, and saw it for what it was. I was in trouble underneath the happy, go-lucky presentation I wore to class every day. She went to the Assistant Principal who, of course, called my parents. They were pretty jolted by the entry. I had to continue meeting with the Assistant Principal. I was outwardly pissed, but inwardly craving any attention I could get... positive or negative. I just wanted to be loved.

I guess the medicine helped. Or having my parents realize that they needed to do a better job with me... somehow. Ash and I hung out during the summer, and when I got to Seventh Grade, things weren't so bad. I was now in Junior High, and had Mr. A, Mr. B, Mr O, and Mrs. A. English became the love of my life, and Mrs. A. inspired me to write and read, and I thrived in the world that was not my reality. In Challenge, I met a girl named M.H. and we became friends. I behaved myself relatively well, and it showed. My mom came in for the first conference expecting the normal, "Your kid has behavior problems, and needs help staying on task." Instead she got, "Your kid has wonderful potential and is doing an amazing job at school." She seriously almost fainted. I laughed and smiled, for once. Throughout the year, I got pretty close to my Challenge teacher, Ms. Z. To avoid the drama of the cafeteria and social life where none of us really fit; Ash, Mel, and I ate lunch in her office everyday.

Eight Grade, Team Gumby: Mrs. G, Mr. S, Ms. Gill, Mr. K, and Mr. R. Awesomest teachers I've ever had. English remained by far my favorite class, and I just happened to have it with Mel. In Challenge, we got even closer. The rest of the class started a unit called "Mini-Society" where you create a country, government, money, etc. My brother had done that when he was in the Program, so I already knew about it, and I wasn't really interested. Neither was M.H. The internet was coming out at this time, and M.H. and I would mail back forth, writing a story about looking for each other in the forest. We asked Ms. Z if we could do an independent study writing project, and she agreed. We would write and write and write. During classes, out of class, weekends. The project was supposed to last three weeks. Well, we got so into it, we drug it out into a three-month project. Then we still had to rush to get the ending done, before the school year ended. When all was said and done, we had a book printed one-sided on computer paper, and it was 256 pages, 11 chapters. Rock. That summer we wrote a sequel, and got ready for High School.

My mom, as great as she is, and much as I love her now, at the time really perpetuated my despair and self-loathing increased. A journal entry from April 15, 1996 says:
"Okay so my mom went to this meeting at the High School for a Charter School I said I was interested in. My mom was asking questions like 'Duh, yeah, how many high school kids do you know that play with G.I. Joes harh harh?' As if it's my fault I have ADD. Then she went on about me not being self-motivated and sociable and not ready for that type of environment. I mean come on! Does she think I'm stupid or something? She just didn't want to hurt my feelings but I know exactly what she was saying, she thinks I'm a little immature baby. It makes me hurt inside to have her trying to shield the truth by playing dumb with me.

"And to make matters worse, she said that I had just gotten adjusted to my new meds and she didn't want to take me away from my 'new reputation.' New reputation indeed!

"Obviously, she has no idea how much I am made fun of, mocked, picked on, or any of the other things going on at school; if this is a new reputation and life, well then I'm just downright sick and tired of it. She sees me getting the grades, and having good relationships with my teachers so she thinks everything is just fine. Well, for crying out loud, it's not!

"After that I said I wanted to go because I wanted to be with friends. She said back that she thinks wanting to be with my friends is a pretty poor reason to go. If she says that, then she has no idea how much they mean to me or how little real friends I have. She must have no idea that they look out for me, support me, help me, and motivate me. I look up to my friends and respect them for who they are inside, not outside; and for the way their personality really is, not for the way I think it should be or how I want it to be, or how someone thinks they should be in order to do a certain thing. I respect the qualities in them. I have a question I don't understand and I ask my parents and they don't tell me the answer or how to get the answer. I do get that from my friends."
M.H. and I both joined the Marching Band (I played Clarinet since 5th grade) and that served as a type of niche for me where people didn't completely reject me (although there were still plenty in band who hated on me). High School went by soooo fast. M.H. got me interested in acting, and we joined the drama program. I continued to have phenomenal grades and was in all the classes with the uber-smart, uber-popular kids. None of them really wanted to be friends with me. My younger brother, as young as 7th grade, was running with the popular crowd and secretly I was jealous. I never had that kind of acceptance and love (disclaimer: popularity in school does not actually qualify as being loved, but I thought it did then). My Junior and Senior years I was part of the Eastland Performing Arts Program, which was a satellite program hosted by our school for 16 schools in the area. So I had my core classes in the morning, and then in the afternoon I took acting and technical theater classes. They also had musical theater, but I was scared to perpetuate the thoughts many people still entertained that I was gay.

As people came into my life that didn't reject me, they wanted to get close to me; but they found the more they dug, the more they were faced with impassable walls. They couldn't get to know ME. There was a girl A.Z., who was trying to date me, but we struggled constantly to make our relationship work.
April 10th, 2001: "I started thinking about feelings and what A.Z. said to me. She WORDED it different, but in essence she called me a cold-hearted bastard to my face. That hurts. Feelings. 'How can you not feel anything?' She asked. Oh trust me. I DO. I just don't show it. I can't. I DON'T KNOW HOW. I CAN'T! I CAN'T! If I could, I would. She just doesn't understand! All my life I've taken shit from people. ALL MY LIFE! At first I was wrecked, then I started fighting back. As if that could do anything. No. I couldn't cope. I couldn't handle it. I almost fucking killed myself. That sucks. No one should EVER be pushed to that point. It sucks and it's wrong!

"I started putting up walls. It was my only defense. The only solution. I started shutting people out, and keeping myself in. Now those walls are in place. I've spent over 10 years cementing and securing those walls in place to keep out people so they can't fucking hurt me anymore. But maybe I built the walls too high, too thick. Maybe i've cut myself off too much. Cuz I've started keeping out my friends. Best friends. What have I done? I built walls to keep out my enemies. NOT the people I LOVE. It wasn't supposed to be this way. What the hell have I done? Oh my God! I've never known any other way to cope other than separating myself. Staying apart. Ignoring my hurt. The pain. The sorrow.

"I've built walls. These walls are strong. They protect me from my enemies. I hide behind these walls because I know of no other way to endure the pain and suffering. This is my home. My essence. My being. Cold, hard, and unfeeling on the outside, because what's on the inside is too important, sacred, cherished by me, and it's already abused, and it can no longer happen, so I keep it safe behind my walls. Once in a while, when no one is looking, I peek over my walls to see what's going on. Then if it's safe, I let my walls down, and emerge from my artificial shell...like now. But as someone as someone comes along, or anything happens, I retreat and return to my sanctuary, because I know nothing else, I know no other way. I don't mean to separate and isolate myself, but I have no choice. I tried to express myself. let everything run free, and all I got was to be the butt of the joke. The loser. So I made my own world, my own stronghold, where I can no longer be abused. It's a secret and not many have ever set foot inside. A few have, but none have seen it all, and no one ever will. No matter how close we get. Some parts were absued until they died, and now they are buried six feet under. I'm not cold, I'm not heartless. Just wounded. And still healing. But if you'd like, I'll try and start opening my door more often, and allowing you inside to see what's going on in here. It will be very hard for me, and will take some time to act out, but I'll try my damndest."
After A.Z. called me out, I started working at undoing the last 10 years of work to let my friends back in. I'm STILL working on it. It's way harder to destroy than to build. All I ever wanted was to be loved... and the world seemed to not be able to give that to me. My disconnection and confusion on relating were only compounded by my sexual development, the subject of part 2...

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