As a kid, I liked to make up my own games and involve my friends. I don’t know if that made me cool, but enough people were involved that I never gave it a second thought, wondered if what we were doing was popular. I’d lose myself in these games, and when I was home by myself, I’d make up my own scenarios in my backyard. A lot of these were based off of computer games I loved, first-person shooters, and I could lose hours out there in the beautiful sunshine.
Middle school can be a truly terrible time. Everyone is entering this awkward stage in life where their body is changing, and while some are having a difficult time with this transition, others capitalize on it. When I entered middle school, I became aware for the first time that I was not the coolest cat around. I hated my hair, I wasn’t bright, I wasn’t athletic, and I definitely wasn’t popular. I managed to fly under the radar most of the time, but every now and again I’d get picked on. Sometimes the teasing would be light in nature, but every now and again, it would get physical. Sometimes I’d lose the game where you’re not supposed to look at a hand signal that’s down low, and I’d get drilled in the shoulder. Whenever I was given the chance to retaliate, I never seemed to muster up the strength I thought I was capable of. I can’t help but think that I was just blah, that there was nothing noteworthy about me.
My art teacher called me, “The Stereotypical Average American Boy,” and while my stepmother assured me that he was being complimentary, I never took it that way. After a visit to the doctor’s where I definitely came away feeling chubby, I realized that I didn’t like who I was.
I remember asking my younger stepbrother how to be cool, and I know that for so much of my young life, I never felt comfortable in my own skin. Sometimes I still don’t, but things changed for me after freshman year of high school. I’d spent the entire year pretending to be something else, and I decided to just be me from thereon out, and to not care who approved and who didn’t. That was the turning point. I still wasn’t cool by any stretch of the imagination, but I was starting to do much better in school, and I realized that so many people based their self-worth off of the opinion of others. I’m not trying to sound all high and mighty, but I knew that this wasn’t sustainable, at least not for me. I decided to change the paradigm. I wasn’t making up my own games with students at recess, but at the very least I was starting to feel much more comfortable with who I was.
The friends I made weren’t necessarily the coolest, but they were people I liked, that were intelligent, that I could have a conversation with. I formed a core group of friends with people I’d known when I was much younger, and I’m happy to say that we’ve remained intact after all these years. The key thing is that, as a friend put it, “We’ve all aged well,” meaning that we’ve all matured and are trying to make better lives for ourselves and the people that we love. We’re all still trying to improve.
I’ve gotten older, and have still been steadfast in my desire to be true to myself. I’ve got more friends now than I rightfully deserve, and I’m grateful for all of them. I remember walking into parties in college, and realizing that even though I didn’t know anyone else there, or even though the people in attendance didn’t look particularly inviting, I was with a group of people that knew me and liked me. It gave me a newfound sense of confidence, as I realized that to some degree the paradigm really had shifted. I wasn’t popular, but I was no longer the loser I’d been for so long.
I’ve made friends, but I won’t pretend that I’ve become a whole new person, that I’m too big to mix with certain people. Underlying everything is that fact that I’ve been a loser before, and I still remember that feeling of walking into a room full of people cooler than I was, and feeling stupid and/or wanting to leave. I know what it’s like to be an outcast because I still feel like that every now and again. A room full of uninviting faces can be painful to be around, and if I can be the oasis in the desert, someone who can help you feel less awkward, I’m happy to do it. That part of me still remains.
A friend from New York told me that I’m soft. I could have taken it as an insult, but she clarified it by saying that it was a good thing, and that it was one of my better qualities. When I lived in New York City, people constantly asked me for directions. Although they didn’t know it, I’m terrible with directions, and still am to this day. Maybe they thought I looked like a local, but the more I’ve thought about it, maybe I’m just approachable.
This past year, the organization I worked for had a black-tie gathering. There was a lot of big money in the room, and I was as uncomfortable as I’d been in a long time. I walked out of the main room and into the hall, and found my boss’s younger nephew, who was living down the Cape and working for the organization that summer. We struck up a conversation, and came to the realization that we both didn’t want to be there. It wasn’t the night of my life, but the night took a turn for the better once we started talking.
If we ever happen to be at the same party or social gathering, don’t hesitate to walk up to me and strike up a conversation. I’ll talk about anything you want, and I love the deeper conversations. At the end of the day, I’ve been that loser, I’m still that loser, that outcast, and I won’t shrug you off or walk away. We can both be our strange selves together, and I have a funny feeling that we’ll have a much better time once we start feeling less alone. Thanks for reading.