(Sally: Skip it. Don’t read it. It brought up memories I didn’t want to relive, so I’m certain you feel even more passionate about that, because you have real feelings, and as we all know, mine are made up.)
(Everyone else: This is not as lighthearted and funny as most, you may not want to delve into this one.)
There was a time in my life where I was unsure of who I was, or where I was heading. I was a teenager, lost, like so many others were at that same age and while I figured that everyone else my age was going through the same sort of mental shit I was going through, I also felt as though my personal problems were worse than anything else anyone had ever gone through (the narcissism was rooted in me, it wasn’t learned). At the time, I was not the glowing beacon of confidence many people know today. I was unpopular. I was liked by very few people and not because of my personal feelings about myself, or the fact I thought I was better than everyone as I do now. Back then I was narcissistic, but I felt instead that people would never want to be my friend. I was the most important person in my world, that hasn’t changed, but I, for some reason, could not fathom a reason on why anyone else would want to like me, especially as much as I liked myself.
It was due to the greatness I saw in myself that would cause me to spend most of my days at school either sleeping through classes (I liked to stay up late watching Letterman, only to wake up the next morning early to go to swim practice before school) or with my face buried in the empty pages of a composition notebook (kids, if you don’t know what this is, ask your parents), pen in hand, scribbling away fiercely as I would write the newest in a series of stories about things I had never experienced. I often talked about how I had a life planned out, but even then I knew I had no idea where I was going to end up, or even where I wanted to end up (Now I never thought in my wildest dreams I would live the life I have. And while 16-year-old me might not like me very much, or the decisions I’ve made, 17-year-old me would probably be ecstatic about the things I’ve done. A lot happened that year).
I spent a lot of time alone that year. True, I saw people at school and swim practice, but that was basically my life back then. That and a group called Young Life. If you know what Young Life is and know me now I can understand your confusion on how these two things had ever converged. I am an admitted agnostic who constantly berates organized religion and can’t understand how people accept it as truth (Sally, I told you not to read this). At the time though, Young Life was the only place I could ever really be myself. The person most people see me as now is the person Young Life saw me as. For three hours a week on Tuesday nights I was able to really be myself without worrying about how I would be perceived by others. I imagine this is how a lot of people get into religions. They can act like themselves free of judgment until they do something that is worthy of being judged.
So for three hours a week (and occasionally during swim practice when I had gotten more than 4 hours of sleep) I felt like myself. I felt like I could be that same person I was when no one else was looking. The problem was this was the only place I could really be myself. Everywhere else in my life, whether it be school, or home, or with my friends I felt like I was walking around on broken glass, constantly afraid if I took a wrong step I was going to slice my foot open and then get yelled at for bleeding on the floor (I like to think that most teenagers felt this way, but I also know I am pretty special).
At the time the home life was filled with tension. It was not a good situation for anyone involved, namely me. I was not the favorite of the family at that time, which is weird because I didn’t drink, I didn’t do drugs and the only real places I ever wanted to go were the movies, my swim meets and a church group. I’m certain that Don and Sally didn’t exactly see it that way, but from the way I remember it, that was basically all I ever did. I had lost many of my friends who weren’t in Young Life, most of my nights in which there wasn’t a swim meet or school function I was at my Young Life leaders house hanging out with his family and if I wasn’t there I was watching television in whatever room I could have the most amount of privacy possible. Even with all of that, I still felt like everything I could possibly do was wrong in the eyes of my family. Not just my parents, but my entire family.
I didn’t like being there. I never wanted to be with them. I also felt like they never really wanted me around. I wanted to run away but I was 16, I could leave in less than two years, what would really be the point? I may as well stick it out and then I could join the military and disappear (for many of you out there reading this who know me now, I understand how the idea of me being in the military is almost as laughable as me being involved in a church group, but anything is possible in this world). I have learned a year or two is not that long to have to sit through something you don’t enjoy. My last relationship I stayed in for eight months of torture just because I felt it was the right thing to do, but that’s a story for another day.
I was not happy in life in general at the time (as though that isn’t very obvious by this story up to this point). How could I be? I was a teenager in the suburbs. Every once in a while I would find a pocket of happiness somewhere that would open my eyes to other options in the world, but then I would be reminded by someone on a regular basis of who I really was. I was a 16-year-old kid, who didn’t have many friends, whose family loved him, but seemed impartial toward him, who wasn’t very good at anything anyone cared about and still hadn’t experienced his first kiss (I was a late bloomer, leave me alone). This wasn’t a life I was supposed to be living. I knew I was better than all of it. I knew I was meant for great things, I just didn’t know how to break out of the chains of my own lack of self-confidence that were holding me down (again, this guy, late bloomer, although this is a much less embarrassing way).
As I was drifting through my life, just wanting to find some sort of contentment in everything, I had made a decision, a tough decision that I probably jumped into rather quickly. I knew three things about my life at that time. One; I only felt like myself at Young Life. Two; I felt like an outcast in my own family. Three; I wanted to run away. So, I devised a plan in which I would not have to be around my family, I wouldn’t really be running away, but I would be gone and I would be somewhere that nobody knew me, so I could be myself and if I was judged for it, they would change me into someone who was accepted. Maybe what I was being told by school, family, friends, and almost everything else was I needed to be someone else. I had convinced myself I wasn’t good enough and I had to make myself better. I came to this decision one fateful Saturday night.
I was supposed to have gone out with some people from Young Life that night. They had never called, so I wasn’t sure if we were still getting together, or if they had just went ahead without me and just decided not to tell me (I was going through some real self-esteem issues at the time). I didn’t want to sit at home and just wait for them to call, but I didn’t really know what else to do. The correct answer, looking back on it, would have been to be anywhere else that night. That night changed my life forever. While at the time it broke me, and it made me question everything about life and what I accepted as facts or truths in this world, in the long run this night helped turn me into the person many people know today. I had broke for the first time. I had become a shell of who I was, of anyone I ever could have imagined myself being and while I could feel the difference nobody else was really able to tell.
The events of this night have only been told to a handful of people in my entire life and I have always promised myself, more than anyone else, that I would not broadcast what happened that night. This night set off the long line of dominos in my life that helped me find the person I am today.
I read earlier today that a domino has the power to knock over another domino 50% bigger than itself. That domino, utilizing the energy passed on from the first one, can knock over a domino 50% bigger than it is, and so on and so forth. This means if the first domino is around 2 inches tall, the eighth domino would be in the area of three feet tall, the tenth would be over six feet, and this would continue until the 57th domino is almost reaching the moon.
That first domino wasn’t small. It had more than enough power to influence the next thing I did in my life, which influenced the next one and so on and so forth until I reach the point I am now, sitting in my house, typing this story.
Now, what happened next is a story for another day, but all of these stories started with this. They all began with a kid who had low self-esteem, who didn’t know who he was, or where he was going. They all begin with a lonely, terrified little boy who only wanted to be accepted by people and maybe one day receive his first kiss. They all start with someone looking so deeply to be liked he would find himself in so many places, and subsequently lose himself in those same places until he one day woke up to find out who he really was. The same person he found he was in Young Life. The same person he later found in relationships with different women. The same person he found in drugs. The same person he found in gambling circuits. The same person he found in restaurants and bars. Now, the same person he finds within himself in his home telling his stories so people can see life gets better if you really want it to.
I can look back and blame so many of my mistakes on one fateful Saturday night. I can also look back and see that Saturday night as the catalyst that began me on the lifelong adventure to become the person I am today and be appreciative that night happened. Don’t get me wrong, I would never thank anyone or any higher being for what happened to have happened, but I can look back and know that without that night, I never would have dropped out of college and found myself driving across the country in a Toyota Tercel. I wouldn’t have started working in a smokey basement dealing cards in an underground poker game. I never would have moved to Tennessee, nor would I be living in Florida now. Nor would I have the next story I am going to be writing.