Monday, July 12, 2010
Late in the summer of 1992 I enrolled in an elite college prep school. An eager Jr. High candidate, I was blissfully unaware of the humiliation that awaited me, or the repercussions it would have on the rest of my life.
The sun had begun it's descent when our aging vehicle rumbled to a stop in the parking lot. We stared up at the solemn brick building. Shadows from the nearby forest already extended into the well manicured lawn. Nestled among rolling Western New York hills there would be a spectacular display of fall foliage in a few short weeks. Mom parked the wood-paneled minivan next to a BMW and pretended our clunker was it's equal. We belonged here, mom reminded me.
Having been home-schooled most of my elementary years, enrollment at The Academy was a departure from the norm. I was leaving the shelter of a country community and commuting an hour each day to attend a boarding school with international and inner city kids. Today, in the Dean's office, I would sign off on my first heavy dose of the real world.
Perhaps the most shocking Jr. High surprise was that the girls magically became women between their sixth and seventh grade summer. Sharing the halls with dazzlingly beautiful females was hardly a confidence booster. Especially because I was eye level with their navels.
Unfortunately I had more than just height and innocence working against me. I had a wardrobe specifically designed by Steve Urkle to help draw a maximum amount of negative attention. As if it wasn't enough to wear my pants at my nipples and my golden geek-bar glasses, I also employed a perm as part of my acceptance strategy. One of several poor choices.
Another poor choice was the note I passed to Joanna in History class. She didn't even bother to check the 'NO' box. She simply simply shook her head emphatically, her eyes wide with terror behind over-sized, eye-magnifying lenses. Jasmine, the class feminist/vegetarian, sized me up like a bad piece of meat each agonizing march to my locker. And Marcea's flirty smile evaporated each time I looked in her general direction. But Elizabeth destroyed me more than them all. She was everything at once. She was taller in 7th grade than I am today. Smarter in 7th grade than I am today. And in my little mind, more untouchable in 7th grade than any human alive.
Sweet adolescent girls, without any malice and without any words, unwittingly wrote the template for a recording that plays in my head every day. It goes something like this: You're worthless. You're ugly. You're unlovable. And you don't fit in.
For years I struggled under the weight of my lot as a hopeless loser. But inside I burned with indignation and resentment. "I'm better than you," I whispered through clenched teeth in their general direction. "Someday you'll see." Long after we moved away I fantasized about a future where I would become famous and those same girls would chase after me, clamoring for my attention.
I was 16 before a teenage girl noticed me. By the time I realized she'd already moved along. I felt empowered anyway, but I was bitter. "I'll show those girls," I thought, "I'll tease them. I'll make them like me, but they can never have me. I'm too good for them." It was a decade of payback.
Through high school, college, and graduate school I sought to validate myself and silence the merciless recordings about my worthlessness. I honed my flirting skills, developed scary intuition, and became every woman's emotional dream guy. I didn't realize my motivations at the time were so twisted, I just knew that I loved feeling validated.
Now that I'm married and my plans to change the world have ground to an abrupt halt, I'm faced with some ugly realizations about my actual motivation. Could it be that my desire to change the world is an unquenchable thirst for my classmate's approval? Could it be that some of my brokenness is tied to unforgiveness toward those young ladies? Sadly, I say yes.