Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Despicable Me

I apologize in advance because this essay is basically going to bludgeon you over the head with some miserable episodes from my life.  I am not reliving them to garner sympathy, or to cry or be a drama queen.  I seem to like examining and reexamining my life, and I also seem to enjoy doing it in public. The reason I like to do that is because I can, and I sincerely hope it might help others dealing with the same issues.  When I was younger, and even today, reading helped me understand that I wasn't alone in the world and others shared my problems and fears. I want to return the favor. I have nothing to hide from anyone, and in the end I don’t really care what people know or think about me or my inner workings.  Or do I?
I am pretty confident when it comes to my writing and how I express myself.  I know who I am, and I don’t have any fear of others knowing it either. In fact, many people I know think I am very confident, and though I may appear that way to some, I’m not sure it’s really the case.
So let’s take a tour of my past and the inner workings of my mind, if you can stand it.
I spent the first 12 years of my life growing up in a small town in New Jersey, living on a quiet, dead-end street.  I generally like to remember my childhood during this time as pretty happy and normal, but I’m not sure why.  My best friend during that time was a horrible, violent, mal-adjusted bully named Timmy.  I spent nearly everyday with him, and it was time mostly spent in apprehension and fear, all the while worried that Timmy would be hitting me, or come up with some crazy idea that would get us both hurt or in trouble.  It’s not really much fun spending your childhood laying in bed at night dreading what the next day with your best friend would bring.
More than all the fear and the beatings that Timmy brought into my life, I think the worst thing he ever did to me damaged me on a level he never dreamed of.  I need to tell you a quick story first:
When I was in Kindergarten, I had a classmate named Nancy.  I’m not sure what was different about Nancy.  She was what we called “slow” at the time, but I don’t know if it was Down’s Syndrome, Autism, or what.  It doesn’t really matter which it was.  The other kids would pick on Nancy once in a while, probably because it was easy to make her cry.  I was never one of the kids that picked on anybody, I was the kid who kept quiet and hoped they wouldn’t notice me.  At five years old I was already becoming adept at blending into the background.  I had quickly learned from my life with Timmy that the easiest way to avoid torment was to be as quiet and inconspicuous as possible.  I acted timid around everyone and the other kids picked up on it too, and while none of them tormented me as much as Timmy did, I got bullied and picked on a lot.
One day I arrived at school just as the bell rang for everyone to come inside.  The playground was almost empty, and I noticed Nancy sitting outside the fence and crying.  Usually I would just ignore it and not want to attract any attention to myself by going near her, but there was nobody really left outside to see me, and I didn’t want Nancy to get in trouble by being late to class.
I went to her and asked her why she was crying.  She pointed at the ground, to her lunch bag, which had been smashed on the sidewalk.  I asked her what had happened and she told me how she had helped her mother make her lunch that morning, and she was so happy that she had helped she was telling her friend about it.  The other kids must have overheard her, and they had taken her lunch and played keep away for awhile.  Getting bored, they smashed her lunch, the lunch she had made with her mother, on the sidewalk.
I did a pretty grown up thing, then.  I gave her half of my lunch and I told her it would be okay and not to cry.  She stopped crying and I can never forget the look on her face when she must have felt that someone her own age cared about her even a little bit.  We went to class, and I don’t think Nancy and I ever spoke two words to each other ever again.  We just went on in our separate lives, back to trying to go unnoticed and hoping everyone would just leave us alone.
The thing was, I always felt good about myself for that one nice thing I did.  Most of the time I felt I was worthless, at five years old.  All I had was Timmy and a bunch of kids that made fun of me when he wasn’t around to do it. My brother was six years older than me, so we weren’t that close growing up.  He had his friends and his life and he had a way of making me feel like I was intruding anytime I wanted to spend time with him.  My parents were always there, and always loving, but they weren’t out there in the real world, and besides, they were supposed to love me no matter how disappointing I was.
Up until third grade, I still held on to that small moment with Nancy to tell myself I had some self-worth, that I was good and didn’t deserve all the shit I got from Timmy and the other kids.  It might have been enough to hold me over until I got older and realized that the other kids were wrong, but it wasn’t to be.  The worst things Timmy did to me didn’t involve getting beat-up or tormented.  The things that hurt most were when he would force me to do something I knew was wrong, but I was too afraid of him to stand up to him and tell him no.  Helping him shoplift at Highs drugstore, which was bad enough, but the day we got caught and I lived in fear for months afterward that my parents would find out.  I remember the owner shaking Timmy by the collar and all manner of things falling out of Timmy’s shirt.  I remember most of the things he stole were things no little kid would ever need: a paperback novel, razor blades, bobby pins, things that he stole just to steal them.  He would keep all his contraband behind the tree at the front corner of his house, alongside the steps leading up to the porch.
Timmy would also have me help him vandalize things, just for the fun of destroying other people’s possessions out of spite.
The worst thing he did, though, was when we were walking home from third grade class after school.  A young girl from public school (Timmy and I attended St. Joseph’s Catholic) was rushing down the sidewalk towards us.  Timmy blocked her way and asked her what the hurry was.  He was like a predator that way, he could sense an opportunity to torment and cause pain in any situation very quickly.  She was a first grader and she explained that she had gotten a gold star on her paper that day and wanted to get home to show her mother.  My stomach tightened into a knot because I knew what was coming.
“Can I see?”  Timmy asked, smiling.  The girl held up her paper proudly and Timmy snatched it out of her hands in a flash.  He held it up out of her reach while she leapt for it and bawled hysterically.  Then he handed me the paper and held the girls arm and he told me to throw it in the sewer.  I could have just given it the paper back to the girl and she could have run away, but I was too afraid of Timmy.  He noticed my hesitation and made a fist and that was all the persuading I needed.  I dropped it down the sewer grate and the girl ran home crying.
From that moment I felt what I did to that girl cancelled out anything good I had done for Nancy.  I lost the one good thing I had in my life to make me feel worthwhile.  After that, when ever I felt bad about myself, I was no longer able to look back at giving my lunch to a sad girl without thinking about making that little girl cry over her paper with the gold star.
The funny thing is, both Nancy and that little girl probably went on to live normal lives, barely thinking about either incident.  If I met them now and recounted the profound impact those events had on my life, they would probably ask me who the hell I was and wonder what I was talking about.
As a result of the kids picking on me, I spent a lot of time playing alone if I could.  I developed a rich fantasy life, full of imaginary friends and most of my toys had their own personalities with extensive back stories.  I spent a lot of my time by myself in my room or the basement with a whole cast of invisible pals.
Don’t get the impression that my life was all bad, though.  I had a lot of fun with my parents.  I always felt older than I was, and my parents didn’t really baby me or talk down to me.  They used to include me in a lot of their adult life and I enjoyed that.  My parents enjoyed it, too.  They really seemed to get a kick out me, some of the things I came out with.  If they were having their friends over for a party, I got to stay up a little later to meet everyone before I had to go to bed, which I suppose was normal for parents to do.  For me, though, it was a chance to be with people I knew weren’t going to tease me, or push me, or tell me I was stupid or ugly.  They would actually praise me!
Again, that did little to help my own self esteem though.  Adults were supposed to do that, I figured.  Kids my own age hated me, and their opinion mattered more.
Then my father got sick and was in and out of the hospital for what seemed like a couple of years but was in reality from Memorial Day Weekend until the end of the summer.  He had diverticulitis, which resulted in him having several surgeries and was in intensive care sometimes, so there were some long stretches when I didn’t see him at all.  I can only remember going to see him in the hospital one time and it really scared the hell out of me.
I spent that period terrified that my father might never come home from the hospital.  My biggest fear was of him dying.  I remember coming home from school one day and my mother sitting me down and telling me she had some bad news.  I freaked out thinking that my father had died, although my mother told me that the only thing I did was say very matter of fact “Dad’s dead.”
She quickly corrected me and explained that she had to put our dog Max to sleep.  I only replied “Okay”, and started to walk away. She stopped me and explained that it was alright to be sad and I could cry, but I told her it was alright and went to my room.
I remember feeling very guilty that I was so relieved to find out that Max was dead and not my father.  I hated myself for it, I loved our dog, but I couldn’t grieve for him.  That summer of anxiety and fearful apprehension is why I probably still have anxiety attacks to this day.  After my father got sick I used to hear about how it might be hereditary and I had to watch what I ate and I might have to go through the same thing someday. I spent a large part of my life living with that hanging over me, and my anxiety manifested itself in stomach problems that persist to this day.  It’s all nerves, and I have gotten over living in fear of diverticulitis, but it has been replaced by fear of other things.  I am not a hypochondriac, but my mind does always go to the worst possible outcome at first.  It does with everything, but in a way that has helped me. It’s why I’m so good in emergency situations.  I immediately imagine the worst possible outcome, and then I decide if I can handle that, and when I make my peace with it I can proceed calmly.
I also realized at that point that others people had a lot on their plates, and I developed this weird idea that if I could handle all the crap that life was handing me, I could take on other people’s problems.  Whenever anyone in my family got upset, I would try to shift the focus to me.  If my father and brother got into an argument (my brother was a teenager at that point, with all the obnoxiousness that goes with it)  I would get in the middle, sometimes misbehaving just so I got yelled at and took the onus off of him.
Growing up I was close to my cousin John, and when he slept over or I slept at his house I had a much better time of it.  He was my age, and we had a lot of fun together.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last either.  He had friends now where he lived, and he didn’t want to come over to sleep at my house.  I had to go to his place for weekend sleepovers.
I enjoyed hanging out with John’s friends too, at first.  John lived a block away from the Garden State Plaza, a bunch of stores that was a fore-runner to malls.  It had a movie theater and a Geno’s hamburger place, so it was a lot more fun than my neighborhood.
It soon began to lose its appeal, though.  Some of John’s friends started to give me a hard time and John didn’t really do much to stop them.  It was around this time I realized that John had his own situation with his friends to deal with.  John was kind of low man in his group and he had his own Timmy in the form of a friend named Rudy.  Rudy was bigger than the other kids and while not as much of a terror as Timmy, he was definitely the alpha male.  Rudy didn’t like me so nobody could like me; although sadly on a few rare occasions John’s other friends would stick up for me more than John would.  That really hurt, but looking back now I realize that John was trying to please Rudy and he had to live there the rest of the week when I wasn’t around.  It still hurt at the time, and it just further proved that no kids anywhere really liked me and no one was on my side.
In fourth grade I got glasses, but that just gave the kids something else to pick on.  I would sit in class with my glasses hidden in my desk.  If we had to copy anything off of the board I would pull my glasses out, hold them up to my eyes and read as much as I could before shoving them back inside my desk and writing my notes from memory.  Sadly, I thought that no one would notice, but I got teased for that too.  I finally just resigned myself to wearing my glasses and getting shit for that too.
By the time fifth grade rolled around, I was starting to distance myself from Timmy.  Most of the kids who had teased me were starting to dislike Timmy and accept me somewhat.  The day I finally felt I belonged a little was the day Harold, a kid on the fringe of popularity himself, gave me the nickname “Doofus”.  From that moment on Harold moved up a rung and I became low man on the totem pole, but at least I was accepted on some level, even if I was called Doofus.  I actually felt kind of close to Harold because of that, that’s the strange place my life was at.
It was about that time I developed my first real crush on a girl.  Her name was Diane, and she was in my class, and she was one of the cooler kids, so I didn’t have a lot of interaction with her.  I thought if she got to know me she would see how different I was and fall in love with me and we’d end up getting married, but in a cruel twist of fate, she soon started dating Harold.
One afternoon we were all up at Harold’s because his family had a pool, and the boys and girls were at opposite ends of the yard.  The other boys were getting on Harold about whether or not he had felt under Diane’s shirt yet and he was describing all the things he had done with her in vulgar terms.  I was sure he was lying because we were all only about twelve, but it really upset me.  Then the girls came over and Harold started trying to kiss Diane and grab at her a little to impress the other guys.  The fact that Diane didn’t seem to mind made me rethink my whole future with her.  In a very childish way I decided I didn’t like her and I hated Harold, and most of the other boys for that matter.  I was stupid to think she would ever like me or that I would ever fit in.  I didn’t spend a lot of time with those kids after that.
Then we moved to Texas, and I was right back where I started.  I moved to Texas right before sixth grade, so I went into my first situation where I was the new kid, the outsider.  The kids picked on me because I was the new kid, and I talked funny, but they weren’t the worst part; the teachers were.
My first period class was Mathematics with Mr. Sharp, a weasel-like bald man with gold rimmed glasses.  It was as if he took over for Timmy.  On my first day during roll call he stopped on my name.
“Ferraris?  What the hell kind of name is that?” He asked.
“Italian.” I told him.
“Wait a minute, you sound like a Yankee.  Are you a Yankee?  Where you from?” He demanded
“New Jersey.”
“New Jersey?”  He snorted.  “I tell you what, Mr. New Jersey, why don’t you come stand up in front of the class and tell us all how stupid Yankee’s are.”
And that’s what I had to do, several times a week for the whole year, get up in front of the class and explain how stupid and worthless I was.  He would make the pretty girls in class sit on my lap to embarrass me, and tell me how there were no pretty Yankee girls like that where I came from.  He made Timmy look like an amateur.
I also had a science teacher named, and I swear this is true, Jerry Derryberry.  He was less interested in teaching science and more into sports and the football team.  In fact, he demanded that the kids call him “Coach” Derryberry.  His class was basically a period of being ignored or put down if you weren’t on the football team or interested with the football team.  I was much too insecure to ever try playing football, but I secretly thought I could because I was big and somewhat athletic.  I could always run like the wind, but I seldom did around the other kids because I was afraid they would notice me and pick on me, so in gym class I would always hold back in the middle of the pack.  Being good at something or bad at something was a sure-fire way to get yourself picked on.
Even in Texas, though, the good times where with my parents.  My brother and I even got a little closer.  I started taking art lessons and I enjoyed painting and drawing and the attention it brought, but only from my parents and adults.  I don’t think I ever told kids my age I was an artist or let them see my work.
I got fat in Texas.  I didn’t do much.  I came home from school and ate and watched TV.  I had been a little pudgy as a kid, and I had gotten teased about it back then, but in Texas I gained too much weight, and it hung around until after high school.  I would lose some here and there, but it always came back.  One more reason to hate myself.
After two years in Texas(that seemed like a lifetime) we moved to Pennsylvania.
For eighth grade I went back to Catholic school, and I was the new kid again.  The only kids that would talk to me were Tim and Jeff, the two poor kids that everyone picked on.  I remember for most of the year that recess consisted of a game called Battlestar Galactica.  Tim, Jeff and I were the Cylons and the other boys would chase us around and kick us in the shins until we hit the ground.  I have no idea where the nuns were during all this.
Then it was off to high school.  It was back to public school, and of course I was the new kid again.  I was picked on from the first day, and I did nothing to stick up for myself.  By this time I was resigned to my fate in life, to be picked on by everyone besides my parents or the few friends I had.  I was ugly, fat, useless, different; a freak that didn’t really fit in anywhere.  I probably could have just trudged through high school the way I had the rest of my life, trying not to be noticed, but that was not meant to be either.
In 9th grade I had a cute girl for a lab partner.  Karen was about the best looking girl I knew, but I knew nothing about her other than she was my lab partner and she tolerated me. Tolerating me was the closest thing I knew to affection from anyone outside my family, so I was smitten with her.
There was a dance coming up, and one night I confided in my mother that I liked her and wished I could go with her. It was then that my mother unwittingly gave me the worst advice in the world.  I can’t blame her, countless sitcoms and movies perpetrated the myth that informed her advice.
She said “The pretty girls never get asked out because all the guys are afraid of them.  They sit home at night crying because they think nobody likes them.”
“Really?” I asked excitedly
“Yes”, she reassured me, “She would be so happy if you asked her to the dance!”
So the next day I couldn’t wait for science class.  I don’t know why I forgot all the lessons I had learned about keeping your head down, not trying, not getting noticed. As soon as I saw her I asked her to the dance and to her credit she didn’t laugh in my face.  She was flustered, probably shocked that I would even ask and disbelieving that I didn’t know my place.  She told me she was going to her aunt’s house this weekend and wouldn’t even be around to go to the dance.  I was sad, but I felt okay about it.  I asked her, she declined, and not because she was sickened by me, just because she wasn’t going to be around. The world didn’t end, and nothing horrible happened.  Not that day.
The next day it was all over school that I asked her out, and it turned out she was going to the dance with Scott, a jock and our class president.  I was ridiculed and from that day on. Scott and his jock buddies bullied me, threatened me, and pushed me around.  It sealed my fate for the rest of high school.
I had made a few friends with some of the other outsider kids.  Thank God for them, or I never would have made it through those times.  I became friends with a girl named Jennifer, and she above everyone else in high school saved my life.  She was a goth kid before there was such a thing.  She even brought tarot cards to class!  She was also super smart, knew everything about music and was really cool outside school.  She drank, smoked pot, snuck out of her house at night, went out with older guys … you name it.
Unfortunately, in school she was just as popular as me.  The other kids started calling us “Pugsly and Morticia” from the Addams Family, but she really didn’t seem to care.  She had a whole life outside of school, with cooler people than I knew, or so I thought.  I heard stories, but I never met them.  Sadly, what I came to realize is that she dated a guy in his 20’s that was basically a drug addict and a loser who blew her off most of the time and treated her like shit when he didn’t.
I didn’t know or care about any of that, all I knew is she liked me and hung out with me no matter what the other kids said. Of course, I fell in love with her, but she only wanted to be friends.
Why would she want to by my girlfriend?  I was so ugly and unlovable no girl would.  I can remember lying in bed at night, asking the universe to just let me be good looking for a couple of years, to let girls like me for just a while, then I could go back to being ugly and alone for the rest of my life.
Everything else was going to hell.  I just stopped taking gym because I was tired of being picked on, by the kids and the teachers.  My grades all started falling.  I had been in the academics program, preparing for college, but I couldn’t even pay attention in class anymore. I was missing more school than I was attending by 11th grade.  I would wake up in the morning and my stomach would hurt so badly from all the anxiety.  I dreaded going to school and ended up staying home in bed all day more often than not.  I was smart enough that I still barely passed most of my classes without being there a lot of the time or doing much homework, but I knew college was out of the question.
In twelfth grade I finally snapped.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  One day I was walking down the hall, my head down, fast as I could, hoping no one would notice me.  I glanced up to see Scott and two of his jock friends coming towards me.  I couldn’t turn around and escape, so I just hurried along hoping that they wouldn’t see me.
As I walked, I got more angry, mad that I had to deal with this everyday.  I hated school, I hated my life, I hated myself.  I was ready to snap.
As they started to say something to me I just swung my books and hit Scott in the face.  He was more stunned than hurt by it, and his buddies were too.  My books flew everywhere, but I just didn’t care anymore.  I yelled at them that it was enough, to knock it off because I wasn’t going to take it anymore and I would beat the living shit out of them if they ever bothered me again.
It seemed to work.  They never picked on me after that, but school was already ruined for me. I just steadily declined until I dropped out with only a few left months to go.  I was informed that even if I passed my classes I couldn’t graduate because I didn’t have enough gym credits.  I would have to go another year to make them up.  For gym! So I quit, went and got my GED and never looked back.  Oddly, something like dropping out of high school made me feel better about myself, which is completely backwards, but I was just so relieved to get out of there.
Sometimes I regret that I missed out on college, but it hasn’t really hurt me as far as I can tell.  One of the things that appeals to me about higher learning is that it can impart you with critical thinking skills, but I was lucky to have a few friends that were outsiders like me, and that in itself can help you develop your own way of critical thinking.  You didn’t fit in any category, so you sat alone examining the world around you and your own feelings trying to figure out why the world worked the way it did and why it wouldn’t let you in.  It gave me a special set of tools and criteria to use to examine anything I came across.  It also helped to give me a sense of self-awareness (even if it took me awhile to realize that some of my self-worth was based on faulty data and to adjust it) and more empathy towards others.  In examining why people hurt me I came to realize that it was because of their own shortcomings and problems, and I found I could pity them.  Not so much at that time, but as the years went on.
After high school, things got better.  Right around the time I dropped out Jennifer and I became boyfriend and girlfriend.  I was ecstatic!  I couldn’t believe a girl actually liked me, I couldn’t believe I was finally having sex!  Jennifer and I had a really good, deep relationship, helped by the fact that we were friends for years first.  Oddly, I was the only one of my friends now with a girlfriend, and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how that happened.  A small part of me could never just enjoy what I had with her, though.  I was constantly terrified she would just change her mind and leave me some day.  She would figure out what everyone else knew, that I was ugly, fat, and useless.  Despite my worrying she never did, but it wasn’t my insecurities that eventually did us in.
Jennifer had been picked on just like I had, and her mother probably criticized her more than any kids did while growing up.  She hid her insecurities well, but they were always there, just underneath the surface.  Ironically, the confidence boost I got from her loving me was starting to make her insecure.  We never fought, but we would have these discussions where she would morosely tell me that I was going places and I was going to figure out how much I had going for me and I would leave her behind.  It all seemed very dramatic, but in her case it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  She kept drifting away from me, pushing me away before I could hurt her, which I was never going to do.  In the end it just kind of fizzled out.  She was always sad and afraid I didn’t want her anymore and nothing I said or did would change her mind.  It was shocking that she seemed to be dealing with all the insecurities and low self-esteem issues that I was all this time.  In the end she let those fears dictate her life and our relationship.  We remained friends but didn’t talk much.  She drifted into relationships with abusive guys ended up turning into what she hated others for.  It makes me sad to this day.  The things she dealt with growing up dictated her life now.  She never got past them, and I guess few of us do.  It set me back too.  All I knew is that the girl that loved me was gone, so maybe all the things she saw in me weren’t really there.  It also seems to have set a pattern with me and my relationships with women.  I haven’t spoken to Jennifer in 20 years, but I hope she is doing well and loves herself.
I also had a new best friend, Bryan, and his friendship really went a long way to getting me to a better place.  Bryan was kind of an outcast too, but it was like he chose to be one.  He honestly never seemed to let others opinions of him reflect the way he felt about himself.
One of the first times I ever spoke to Bryan was towards the end of 11th grade in high school gym class.  The period was over and we were all standing around the gymnasium and out of the blue some jock came over and shoved him, looking for a fight.
Bryan just looked at him and said “hey, don’t shove me, you don’t even know who I am.”
The guy just looked at him and didn’t know what to say or do.  Bryan just kept looking him in the eye as he tried to figure out what just happened.
“Eh, you’re not worth it” he finally managed and slunk away. Bryan just went back to talking to me like nothing happened.  I was amazed though.  He just handled it and shrugged it off when it was done.  Whether or not he was scared or tormented inside, no one noticed any of it on the outside.
We would talk once in a while now and then throughout the school year, but we weren’t really close.
After school we somehow became better friends and started hanging out more.  I started getting out and doing more now that I had someone to do things with.  He had a car too, which was nice.  He helped broaden my taste in music, and he would actually try to pick up girls.  He had long hair in high school, and I had started to let mine grow once I dropped out.  I needed a new look, well, lets face it, any look other than whatever it was that I had up until that point.
I started dieting and lost a lot of my extra weight.  It was working, but not fast enough. I could never be someone worthwhile as long as I was fat.  I had been teased about it all my life and I was desperate to get rid of it once and for all.  Maybe a little too desperate.
I ended up starving myself, and if I broke down and ate a meal I would make myself throw it up afterward.  That started months of the binge and purge cycle.  People tend to think of anorexia and bulimia as problems women have, but I know plenty of guys that have had it at one point in their lives.
I was just so desperate to be thin, to not be the scared little fat boy from my youth anymore. I’m 6 feet tall and have a big build, but I got myself down below 160 pounds.  I still thought I was fat.  I would wear jeans that were too tight and complain how my fat would hang over the top of them. I remember my mother was so worried about me she sat me down one day and showed me pictures of models and how their skin above the waist of their jeans looked the same as mine. It didn’t matter though, I still saw myself the way I perceived others did, based on kids treatment of me from my childhood.
When I turned 21 things really started to change.  All my life growing up a lot of my parent’s stories involved bars.  My parents are very social people, and growing up they and their friends hung out in bars.  They aren’t alcoholics or anything, they were social drinkers and still are.  I couldn’t wait to go to bars.  All my life I imagined them to be this fun and amazing place.
Once I started going to clubs I realized that I had a chance to reinvent myself.  No one knew me here.  I had long hair, nice clothes, contact lenses, I was skinny.  These people had no idea I was a pathetic loser!  Around the time I turned 21 the music scene in my area seemed to explode.  There were bands playing every night of the week and I got to know quite a few of them.  I was in the clubs 4 or 5 nights a week, I was getting girls, making friends, and everyone accepted me.  I was popular.
Inside, though, I was still that scared, intimidated boy.  I could push him down and ignore him most of the time, but he was always there whispering to me, telling me that this will all come crashing down someday when everyone realizes how ugly and disgusting I really was.  Inside I was a mess of insecurity and anxiety, but outside I was playing a role and playing it really well.
A good case in point: There was a club I used to go to all the time called Lupos, and when you had to go to the bathroom you would have to walk along the whole length of the bar between the people and the dance floor and stage.  Everyone was looking your way as you strode past them.  It was like being on some horrible catwalk.  I felt so self-conscious making that walk, like every eye in the place was on me.
I would sit there and steel myself, tell myself that I would stand up straight, and walk in an even, measured stride like I belonged there and those people weren’t even in the room.  Then I would get up and start walking.
I would be acutely aware of every step I took, I would hold my head up, look at anyone right in the eye if they looked my way.  I was anxiety ridden the whole way and felt ridiculous, like everyone knew I was a pathetic phony.
The crazy thing is, it worked.  No one ever caught on, and years later when I would tell this story to people that were there they would tell me that they too got nervous making that walk sometimes.  One girl even told me that she always noticed the way I walked past everyone and always seemed so confident and how she was always jealous of me.
The sad reality of it is, no one really cared.  Sure, a few people would make a crack now and then at someone if they were wearing something ridiculous or they didn’t fit in with the crowd, but for the most part people were living their lives and watching the band.  It was all in my head, and apparently the only people that did notice were people as unsure of themselves as I was.
Bryan and I hung out in clubs for a lot of years.  I dated a lot of women in an effort to prove to myself that I wasn’t that same ugly kid anymore.  It was like my plea from years earlier had been answered, I was finally good looking enough to get girls.  Of course, in my mind that meant that the second part of the plea would come true, that I would go back to being ugly and unlovable someday, and I actually lived in fear of that day arriving.
In the end I just got tired of bars.  It started to seem like the same old thing.  Bryan got tired of it before I did, but I wasn’t far behind him. My friends and I started to just hang out together at home.  It was more fun, and safer.  Sadly, though, nothing else has really replaced clubs in my life.  Sure, I do other things.  I still love music, and I am still social.  I just don’t have a scene or a thing that helps define me.  I guess that’s okay.  I’m still a completely different person in a bar though.  It’s like I never left.  I’m outgoing, I feel like I’m in my element and I kind of take over the place.
I had gotten over the anorexia/bulimia thing after a year or so, but I was still acutely aware of my weight.  Then, like a switch flicking off, I stopped caring.  Well, not exactly.  I still felt fat and hated my body, I just stopped worrying about every little thing I ate and if I gained weight.  As a result, my weight goes up and down with my moods.  I hate being heavy, but I feel kind of liberated because I don’t care about it.  Until I do, then I strive to lose the extra weight, feeling horrible about myself the whole time.  It’s a vicious circle that I suppose I might have to live with the rest of my life.
I have had a lot of relationships, and even though I try to pick women that I think are strong and together, they seem to be saddled with the same damage and insecurities that I am.  I don’t really have a problem with that, everyone has shit they have to deal with.  The problem is, they don’t deal with it.  I am determined to not let my own bullshit interfere with the people I love.  I face it everyday and don’t let it dictate my actions.  I think that’s why some of these women are attracted to me.  They think it will rub off on them.  I am very supportive and very thoughtful and caring.  I know what it’s like to feel unlovable and inferior.  These women respond to that at first, but it doesn’t last.  Their fears and insecurities always seem to win out.  They want to punish themselves, the same way I used to berate myself.  I have to be careful when a relationship ends because I will spiral into self pity thinking that all the good things they saw in me while we were dating were all in their heads and I am a repulsive mess.  I’m just fortunate that I got over a lot of it.
One of the good things it has done for me is that it made me very sensitive to children’s feelings.  I am very good with kids, and I always try to make them feel good about themselves and let them know that some things don’t matter.  I will tell them things that happened to me at their age and how horrible I thought it was then and how it didn’t really matter at all in the grand scheme of things.  I get great joy when I see whatever weight they were carrying around life off their shoulders.  In turn, I am a very free spirit around them, and it is probably the only time I don’t obsess on my own feelings.  They respond too.  I am always encouraging them to live to the fullest and not worry about what others might think.
It’s why I write and post these things, really.  I hope it helps when I talk about all this.  I think that the only way the world has a chance is if we all share the experiences we internalize and show that we all have a lot of the same fears, unfounded or not.  Then we can feel closer to each other rather than push each other away.  It’s easy for me to do, to expose myself like this.  I don’t know why, I guess it is a strange form of self confidence that comes with knowing who you are.  Most of my insecurities are about looks, not thoughts.  I know who I am and I am very sure of that.
It’s always there though, just below the surface and I have to be careful.  I still always feel extremely self conscious walking through the store for a few moments before I catch myself.  I feel like people are looking at me or judging me when I take the trash out.  It’s a really strange byproduct of being teased and picked on by people I hardly knew growing up.  I feel perfectly confident talking to a perfect stranger face to face, but if they are 15 feet away I feel isolated and inadequate.
That will be with me the rest of my life, and while I still try to work on it I have realized that there will never be a way to undo it entirely.  I will never have closure.  Everyone that picked on me will never call and admit it was just their own insecurities and fears manifesting themselves and taking it out on me.  Even though I know that now, it doesn’t really make it better.
Even with a loving family telling me how I wasn’t all those things I felt, ugly, different, useless, it didn’t really matter.  Most damaged people are like that. You need to hear it from the people that made you feel that way.  It’s the only way you will ever feel validated, and sometimes not even then if the damage is too deep.  That’s why it’s so hard to help someone that is holding onto some past hurt or trauma.  You can’t provide the closure no matter how much you try, no matter how much you love them.  All your love and feelings are discounted and tossed aside, made small by some weird filter in their heads that tells them you don’t see them the way the rest of the world does.  If you only knew who they really were, how unlovable and horrible they are at their core then you would run from them screaming.  A lot of people have had to deal with much worse than I have, so I can’t even imagine what it was like for them.
It’s all in their heads of course.  It’s in mine, and will be until the day I die, but I have learned better.  I have taught myself to trust the people around me that love me.  I realize that my self image is warped and I can’t trust it.  I have to ignore that and look at the facts, look at how the people in my life see me and what they tell me.  I have to look to the fact that I haven’t been shunned, I have dated many girls that apparently found me attractive, I have helped people, I have made lots of money for my various bosses over the years so I must not be stupid or useless, I have many friends so I am not unlovable.
I know all these things now, but the initial impulse is still that of a picked on little boy, even if just for a second.  I am still repulsed at the sight of myself in a mirror.  I can’t stand seeing a picture of myself, and that’s why you will probably never see any new photos of me on Facebook.  In my mind I am still a hideous troll.  Reason takes over then and I remember that it’s my warped psyche telling me these things, and I push the feelings back down and face the day.  I know I’m not stupid, I know I’m not ugly, I know I’m not repulsive.
I know I am not worthless.
But knowing all that is not the same as feeling it.

© 2015 David Ferraris

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