I’m interested in people’s backstory. Their good days and bad, times of love and heartache, proud moments and shame. It comforts me to know that even the most seemingly confident individuals have experienced terrible fear and self-doubt. It makes me feel less alone.
This is my backstory: I grew up in Illinois with very overprotective, very Christian parents. It was a tough combination. There were the usual restrictions: no wandering beyond their sight when playing in the yard, no dessert before dinner. And then there were some more restrictions: I wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter. To this day, I’ve never been trick-or-treating.
I’m not trying to blame my parents. I know they had their reasons for raising me the way they did. I’m just saying they raised one weird little dude.
I was bullied throughout first, second, and third grade. I remember in third grade, some kid walked in on me pooping. I forgot to lock the stall, okay? Long story short: he called me gay, I told my mom, and she pulled me out of school. The whole thing was less hurtful than confusing. At the time, I didn’t even understand the concept of sexuality, let alone how forgetting to lock a door had anything to do with mine. I was nine.
So I was homeschooled for fourth grade. Then my family moved and I was enrolled at a new school in a new state with the incredibly stressful burden of moving mixed in. I’d like to say I handled it better, but I was a mess. I didn’t know how to interact with my peers. I was bullied day in and day out. I felt a self-loathing that no eleven-year-old should bear.
This continued through sixth grade. It was hard. Relief came the next year, when my school decided to put on the musical The Nifty Fifties. Despite being a socially inept and unathletic child, I was cast as George, a star basketball player and heartthrob. You’d think my crippling lack of confidence would translate into some pretty intense stage fright, but it was quite the opposite. The stage transformed me. I wasn’t ashamed of the person on stage because that person wasn’t me. He was magic.
Here, I’ll confess that I started doing theater to gain the attention of a girl, but I kept doing it for me. I believe theater turned my whole life around. It made me feel comfortable in front of people for the first time in my life. By throwing a smile on my face, I was able to convince them that I was happy. And then, the strangest thing happened: I became happy. Over time, the act became real.
Granted, sadness still invades my life every once in a while, but I always know that better days are ahead. And sure enough, I find them. Senior year of high school happened to be my best year yet. I continued to act, and with the help of some truly great friends, found a love for life.
The years leading up to high school were rough, but I value them. Now I treat people with a respect and kindness I may have been incapable of if growing up had been easier. And I get to make up all the childhood experiences I missed out on. I’ve read and watched the entire Harry Potter series. I go hard on Halloween. And guess what? I always lock the bathroom stall.