19: We Need to Go Deeper

“You’re a freak, you know that? You’ve always been a freak. Everyone says so. They always have.” – Candice Kelmeckis, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Confession: I’m fucked up.

Now, I’ve said this already, and I realize that. But I’m starting to realize I’m even more damaged than I first thought. And I’m not talking about Ramona, or Emma, or Claire or Stacy. I’m talking about the reasons why I would have felt such a compelling fucking need for any of them to be in my life in the first place. I’m talking about people I’ve denied so rabidly that they haven’t gotten names.

Two people in my life have ever truly confronted the way I see myself, on a fundamental level. As you could probably guess by now, one was Ramona, and the other was Roxanne. This particular topic starts with the latter, so let’s backtrack a couple of months. On my last vacation, I went out to visit Roxanne, and ended up trying acid for the first time. (Depending on your outlook, she’s either a terrible influence or the best influence. Based on everything else, I’m still skewing toward the latter regardless.) Now, I trust her completely, and so I was sure that if anyone would make for a great first time it would be her. And for the most part, I was right. (I often am.) For hours, everything looked like HDR, and we’re now apparently the kinds of friends that jokingly call each other “bitch” as a term of endearment. (She started it.) But we also got into some pretty weighty subjects, one of which was why this one offhand scolding meant so much to me. (To recap: “Don’t ever talk about yourself like that again – that’s a warning!”) I sort of followed that thread for a while, and realized that this was the first time in my adult life that anyone explicitly told me that I was a person. That I meant something. Not that I was awesome, or that they personally liked me, or even that I was good in a general sense, although she would (and does) say these things too. Rather, that none of that determined my value as a human being in the first place – and, for that matter, that I had value as a human being in the first place.

I also realized that this hits me so much in the first place because it’s the direct opposite of what I’m accustomed to people telling me. I’ve mentioned this as vague background before, because it never seemed especially relevant, but you might say that I grew up being bullied as fuck. To give you an idea, on a daily basis, mix and match any of the following: just about every emasculating or homophobic insult you could think of; potshots at how I looked; liberal use of the word “retard” from, among others, one guy who couldn’t actually spell the word and another who graduated specifically because I later tutored him for an English final. This isn’t even getting into all the things people said about nervous tics (how could someone like me possibly end up with those, am I right?), or my being a fucking nerd in a general sense, or about my even finding people attractive. (Yuki got in on those ones, too, holier-than-me as she was at the time – and don’t even get me started on evangelicals and “purity” as a concept. That aside, as much as “nice guy” types generally throw out a lot of outrageous bullshit, when they say that there’s a different standard if you’re pretty or popular, they’re not wrong.) Repeat this, basically continuously, for ten years. I couldn’t even tell you most of the particularly screwy incidents, because they all blur together at this point. Though, one of the more *ahem* interesting ones was a rumor someone started that I was being molested, and more than once people told me I should kill myself. (Side note: So did Ramona. I’ve left this detail out for the last three years because, as I said, I never wanted to paint anyone but me as the villain in these stories, but you know what? Fuck it.) There was even a time when one of them made jokes about how “one day, he’s going to come in and shoot up the place,” immediately after doing something less memorable. Because was I dealing not only with the caliber of people that would find this funny, but with ones who had no concept of irony. But for all of the abuse I managed to encounter, I’m still here. It got better, right?

Funny story: it isn’t actually that simple.

I spent that literal decade building up a series of walls and dissociating from all the things that were happening. Even now, I barely talk about any of them. I’ve probably also said this before, but a lot of people look at childhood trauma in a particular way: that if you’ve made it to adulthood, none of the journey there matters anymore. Again, because “it gets better.” And if it got better, then presumably, you got better. As you can guess, I stand here as a sort of counterexample. I played the tank for years on end (even with stats better suited to a mage or a bard), because of course showing any form of weakness would have only made things worse. I made it out through outright defiance. And I’ve made it here through outright denial. (To her credit, Stacy did try to get me talking. And I did actually open up to her a bit – albeit mostly just about Emma.) But there’s always been something fragile about that outlook. After all, it really only took one girl, some recreational drugs, and about two or three conversations total to expose that. And since then – now that I can actually see what’s behind my ego – so am I.

Ego is a shield. And it’s a damn good one, admittedly, especially as I’ve started to level up as a whole. I’m in noticeably better shape – and people do notice, which has been the most difficult point for me to wrap my head around. (Still, we take those. As an aside, I’ve picked up a cardio routine voluntarily for the first time since high school. Admittedly, by “cardio” I mean video games, but by “video games” I mean DDR. 10/10 would recommend.) I sound fucking spectacular. (That one’s not new.) I actually (sort of) know how to talk to people now, and I have friends, plural – enough of them, even, that when people like Jasmine come out to the occasional event they mistake me for being popular. (Ha.) And those things feel great.

But ego is not self-worth. And, for that matter, I don’t know what self-worth is.

And that explains a lot of things. It’s why I adore people like Roxanne – people who have made me feel like a person. (Emma comes to mind, as does Caitlin.) It’s still a short list, and even some of the people I’ve told you about aren’t on it. And Roxanne is one of only two people who’s actually called me one to my face. (The other being River.) It’s yet another level to the anxiety I get anytime Ramona’s around. (It turns out that she actually sets this off twice. Once is because I have issues with being shunned, as you’re aware. The other is because I have issues with bullies.) It explains all sorts of habits I’ve had over the years. Now, I called Yuki an origin story once, and in a specific sense that’s still true. She’s where most of my fears about being cut off by people came from, and pretty much every depressive state I’ve gotten into since as someone has vanished from my life somehow echoes the way I felt with her. (And with Rachel, and Emma, and Faith… The cycle has a way of building upon itself. Getting to that last one later, btw.) But much like how Ramona keeps exposing new holes in my viewpoints, this has layers.

Ultimately this is what’s behind my interpersonal impostor syndrome – that nagging feeling that I used to have that I can be awesome at surface level, but once people see below it, they’d disappear. If I really thought of myself as a person, I wouldn’t have this problem. But it’s also behind a lot of things I’d assumed were just in my nature. The fact that I mostly gravitate (in any context) toward women? Most of my abusers (because let’s call them what they fucking are) were male. The fact that I also gravitate toward fucking nerds? You can’t give someone shit for their weird fandoms if you’re part of their weird fandoms. Screwy definition of “friends”? Barely had any. Body image issues? Let’s loop back to “potshots at how I looked.” And that’s not even getting into the rampant egotism, which was preservation as much as anything else. Like I said, it’s a shield; people were going to talk about me like I was beneath them anyway, but I damn sure wasn’t going to give them a reason. I can’t stand the idea of having visible flaws, failure pisses me off irrationally, and I used to avoid the very concept of vulnerability like the plague. To show anything less than my best to concede that something was wrong with me (ironically, to people who caused a lot of what’s wrong with me). Even my efforts to fix my issues have been to get rid of them as much as they’ve been to live the life of someone functional. To make sure that no one like Ramona would ever be right about me again, and that none of the events I’ve described to you (except now a lot of the ones with Roxanne) would ever happen again – and that even if it did, I wouldn’t care about it so fucking much. It’s mostly been about killing a version of myself that I hate (hence, “my inner Shinji Ikari”); I can’t exactly be working toward building a version of myself that I could love, because I don’t even know what that would mean.

I’ve been saying for years that I’m more villain than victim. But much like some of the stories I’ve told you so far, what if both are true? I’ve been quite a mess, and I’ve managed to screw with large swaths of my personal life over the years because of it, but it still has its causes. At this point I’ve more or less run out of character traits (aside from consistent snark, a bit of a flair for the grandiose, and general otaku tendencies – of both the fandom and the obsessive varieties) that I can’t trace back to some form of trauma. At this point I not only question what the hell a person is (because I technically am one, I guess, but I’m realizing I very rarely feel like it), but I also question how much of me is just a cluster of symptoms and damage. Everything I said about butterfly effects when I talked about Amber comes to mind, as I’ve somehow looped back to the viewpoint of my teenage self, which is that I’d be better off without most of the people that were in my life. If not for them, I might have grown up functioning, instead of just now learning how to function. And while there are things and people in my life I honestly love, I wonder if I could have turned out better if I were one of them. Instead, suddenly I’m left with fundamental questions of “what the fuck am I, anyway?”

And the only answer I can seem to come up with is “broken.”

You could love me if I knew how to lie. But who could love me? I am out of my mind, throwing a line out to sea, to see if I can catch a dream.” – Panic! at the Disco, “She Had the World”

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