In general, I’ve always been a pretty private person. I am an introvert by nature, but one who has mastered the art of speaking in front of large crowds & classes. I can function in a large group, but I prefer small groups of people I know. I can work a Pride crowd, talking to strangers and hand out flyers like a pro, but deep down inside still lurks the past.
I was blessed (although at many times it didn’t feel like a blessing) with a mind that functions at a very quick pace and I never had to put much effort into school. When I was in 1st grade, I was tested and moved into an accelerated learning class beginning in 2nd grade. Even then I was bored. To make matters worse, I never really seemed to “fit” in with any group. My family wasn’t wealthy so I never fit in with the “cool” kids because I didn’t wear name brand clothes & shoes. I didn’t fit in with the “girls” because I wasn’t girly enough. I was picked on as a lot of kids are, but what no one on the outside realized, was what I was also dealing with at home. When I say I was picked on, I mean it was so bad that my older brother actually taught me how to defend myself and fight. He would let the neighbor boys fight me (sometimes 3 on 1) until he felt I couldn’t hold my own anymore and then he would step in. Combine this with an abusive home, it’s no wonder by the time I hit college people were literally scared of me.
I went to 4 different elementary schools and by the time I reached the last one (mid 5th grade) it was time for basketball tryouts and it was a predominantly white school. I think the tryouts were actually on my first day at the school and I don’t think any of the other girls were too thrilled when I showed up. I was a newby and I loved to play ball. I had spent the last 3 1/2 years honing my basketball skills with my African-American friends at my prior school, where I was the minority. They had accepted me, respected me, defended me and now here I was in a new school starting all over again. I was an outsider again. It was that awkward point in your life when your hormones are kicking in, etc.
6th grade was really a turning point in my life, starting with my accident. It was the first, clear memory I have of my father ever verbally “attacking” me. I won’t go into details about the accident but it was a pedestrian vs. motor vehicle (guess which one I was). I remember immediately before impact and nothing of the actual accident. I did regain consciousness immediately upon impacting the pavement and sliding to a stop. When my parents reached the scene, the first and only thing I remember my father saying was chastising me for being “so stupid”. My mom made her usual excuses for him saying “he was just scared.” I didn’t question her, but those words had a huge impact on my psyche. Now, as an adult and mother, I look back on that situation and wonder how a parent could be so cold.
7th grade was a nightmare for me. I got the worst case of chicken pox my pediatrician had ever seen, compounded with pneumonia. I literally had them down my esophagus (they could see them on the x-ray they took for my pneumonia). Even though I did not scratch, I was left with MANY scars from it, which a lot of them were raised (they think this was caused by my high fever). A lot of those scars were on my face. You can imagine, a young kid with scars all over their face is going to be subject to bullying. Mine didn’t come just in the form of school kids but also from kids at our church. It got so bad that I had to threaten to kick the pastor’s daughter’s ass if she ever said another word. I also ended up getting scarlet fever that year. I missed over 60 days of school that year due to illness.
8th grade wasn’t much better for me. I became depressed. My parents were rarely home (which wasn’t any different from the rest of my childhood), which made it a ton easier to not go to school.
By 9th grade I had pretty much given up on myself. I still got A’s in school although I rarely put any effort into assignments. I was so depressed that I skipped school constantly and stayed in my room a lot. No one seemed to care.
By the beginning of the 2nd semester of 10th grade, I convinced my mom to let me drop out of school. I still continued to get good grades, but my unexcused absences had exceeded the number allowable to maintain your credits. The principal informed my mom that they would yank my credits for that semester. Several of my teachers fought for me because they could see the potential in me, but it was a hopeless case. I didn’t see the point in continuing to go to school if wasn’t going to get credit for it. I convinced her I would go to summer school and make it up. That never happened. Life was getting infinitely worse at home. My mom travelled all the time so she was rarely there and my dad was rarely either. It was during this time that my father spoke probably the singular thing I will remember my entire life (and no it wasn’t I love you, because I don’t ever remember hearing him say that as a child). We were arguing in our kitchen and he screamed at me that I was worthless and I would amount to nothing.
Those words still haunt me at times. But those words also made me mad. I was tired of people treating me like I was worthless. I made up my mind that I was going to do whatever it took to graduate high school on time, with the grades that I needed to get in to college. I moved out of my parents house at 17 and in with one of my older sisters. I finished 3 years of school in 2 years time and started college in the fall of ’93 with a huge chip on my shoulder.
Deep down inside, I was still a little child desperately seeking the approval of her parents and so I did everything I could to hear those words that every child wants to hear. “I’m proud of you.” I had developed such a “hard” persona that I never let anyone close to me, never trusted anyone. I was unapproachable. As the years passed and I was away from home, I had softened my outer appearance and I actually had people tell me that they had been afraid to speak to me as a freshman because I seemed so angry. My outer shell may have softened, but inside was a wall of steel. I was determined to never let anyone close enough to be able to hurt me with their words & actions.
I grew up in the shadow of a very well-known, respected and large family. I never felt like I fit in and the pressure of keeping up appearances grew to be unbearable. I was hiding the very core of me because I felt I was dirty, a sinner and worthless. These feelings were compounded by the actions of some very hypocritical leaders in our denomination when they found out (by no choice of mine) that I was gay. This was simply unacceptable and they made sure that many of the pastors in our district knew by sending out a letter to them and purposefully excluding any that they knew were related to me (which was quite a few). This was devastating to me and I have seldom been inside a church since.
I’ve carried that shell for almost 20 years. There have been many other things in my life that have contributed to it aside from the things I’ve mentioned. I have lived a long distance away from where I grew up for 16 years now, purposefully distancing myself from all of that. I do not have a lot of “friends” but rather “acquaintances”.
In December 2014 my father’s health began to decline and I was forced to face some demons. What kind of legacy did I want to leave this world with? What kind of person did I want to be? My parents had not prepared for their deaths, even though both were 84. My father went in to hospice in January 2015 and the reality of his death faced my mother and siblings. They had no arrangements & no money to pay for them. I knew that I did and I had to take a hard look inside myself. Everything inside me screamed “Too damn bad, why should I help you when all you did was make my life miserable?” When the time came and he passed, my mom called me first. I told her I would call my siblings and as I hung up the phone I knew I had a choice to make. Would I perpetuate a legacy of hate or would I lay it down and choose love. That choice took me only seconds. I chose love. I paid for my father’s funeral, I went to his funeral (although I did not stay for more than about 10 minutes of the service) and I tried to put aside the anger that boiled inside of me.
As I laid down that anger and hate, I’ve been handed a new start. I’ve decided to be different, to live differently, to love and to allow myself to heal. It hasn’t been easy and I have a long way to go. I have spent the last 10 months learning to be different in my relationships, especially with my girlfriend. It’s incredibly hard to allow myself to be open because it gives the opportunity to be hurt.
People have asked me why I choose to write storylines the way I do. My answer is this. Life isn’t all fairy tales and princesses. Some people have wonderful lives and never know pain, but the majority of people, especially in the LGBT community know hurt all too well. I want to be able to connect with a character and in order to do that, they have to be human. In my life experiences, human is broken, hurting, afraid and imperfect. All of those things have made me who I am. It also makes me extremely sensitive with my interactions with others. If we believe that fairly tale endings are the only way to be happy with ourselves, then we need to reconsider. You can achieve happiness even if it’s peppered with struggles, pain and differences. Happiness is what you make of it.
Whatever your life experiences are, you are beautiful, you are special and you are loved. Differences are beauty. You may not be good at everything, but you are capable. You may not be what society deems as pretty or “hot” but you are beautiful. Life is so much more than physical appearances and words on a page. Romance isn’t all roses and candlelight. True love isn’t about being perfect. It’s about seeing each other’s imperfections as beauty.
You are loved. You are beautiful. You are worthy. You are special. You are perfect.