Middle school is the breeding ground of all future self-doubt/loathing in life. At least it was for me. Middle school and I did not get along, specifically grades 6 and 7. 6 was nice enough, but then it introduced me to 7 and you know what they say about 7, and why 6 is afraid of him… Because 7 is goddamn insane with all this bullshit about social order and how things are supposed to be. 7 breeds hateful intensity into a certain few people and then leaves them to figure out how to release that hate and intensity. I suffered for it. So moving from Washington state to Texas between 7th and 8th grade was one of the best things that happened to me.
I should start earlier. I went to a small public school in a destination town on the edge of the Puget Sound. The school’s unfortunate initials were PMS and those three letters emblazoned all of the football helmets of our scraggly little team. I lived on a nearby military base and received special permission to attend PMS from the district, despite being zoned for a different school. The school I attended was roughly divided into two social classes: the affluent which had lived in this small community their entire lives and everyone else. This was not a point of unification for group two. We were just the dregs who happened to go to the same school. It would have come across as an honor to attend a school with such prestigious and well off people if they didn’t loathe anyone outside of their circle. So yeah, that was the structure I was thrust into as I hit puberty and moved from elementary school to middle school.
I got along okay at PMS. I made the good grades I always had. I got involved with the Knowledge Bowl team and became the go to guy on religion and ancient history. I also didn’t have many actual friends. I had people I spent time with, but I can look back somewhat confidently now and conclude that none of them were a friend. They made fun of me, in a way just a tad too venomous for a friend to do, and rarely helped me out. The only compliment I got from them at all, apart from comments on my intelligence, was that I could likely kick someone’s ass because I was always quiet and never let on what I was capable of. I liked that well enough. At least it meant people would leave me alone. But these are the same group of people I found out later made fun of my weaknesses behind my back and didn’t actually give a shit about me.
I remember that period of my life as one of the worst and can’t tell if it is my memory or the actual situation that makes it so. I remember my parents fought a lot. Maybe I just remember the fighting more than anything else. I remember not having many friends at school, but I also remember having friends among the kids in my neighborhood, the children of other Soldiers and so we shared a common bond in our lifestyle. Most of all I remember how much I hated myself. This was the deepest point of depression in my life. My depression was not a chemical imbalance or diagnosable case. My depression was one brought on by massive physical and emotional changes from puberty and loneliness. I was lonely as all hell. And that’s probably why I made the dumb decisions I did.
Whether to look cool to the group of burnouts and idiots I called friends or just trying to take control of my life I some way, I started to talk about violence. Not hyperviolence like I video games, but Columbine style violence. I talked about it secretly, but still in the presence of others. I joked about it during armed intruder drills. And one day, the one friend I had came to me worried and said someone had told the school administration what I had said. I spent the next hour just sweating. Not focusing on anything. Nothing was important but the inevitable shitstorm to come. I was called to the principal’s office. I cried while he questioned me about access to guns and bomb-building materials. My parents were called. My father picked me up. It was the most intimidating he had ever been in my life. He said nothing the entire drive home, didn’t even look at me. My mother had come from work to meet me. She was in tears, asking what she had done wrong that led me to consider such action.
In that moment, my existence crystallized. Here was something I may not be able to run from, something I might never escape, that I had done and would have to keep the taste of in my mouth for the rest of my life. I looked up from bottom of the pit I had dug myself and realized how stupid I was. My parents waited at the edge above me, my father arms crossed in silent rage tinged with sadness, my mother’s tears falling into the grave I stood it, her arms reaching out for me. I could take their hand, but I had to reach that point myself. I knew what would wait outside of that pit if I wanted to get out and I wanted to get out more than wild animal caught in a barbed wire fence. The desire to live, so counter to the depth of self-loathing I had felt prior to that moment, exploded inside of me and I saw red. This pulsing red anger at the people who callously spoke to me as though I were dirt, at teachers for not doing something about an acidic social environment, at my parents for failing to see their son’s emotional state falling away to nothing, and at me for not doing anything about it. I was furious at myself for my weakness. Why had I let myself be dominated?!
In that moment I think I achieved time travel and went back and told that self of middle school just what he needed to hear. He/I arrived like a comet scented of pine and dirt with the sound of a bagpipe fanfare, landing squarely in that grave of self-worthlessness.
Now Me: YOU! STOP BEING SAD!
Then Me: Who are you?
NM: I’m you, FROM THE FUTURE!
TM: Why are you yelling?
NM: BECAUSE I’M MAD! Mad at the fact that you are letting anyone else force you to be something! What you went through was necessary for the development of the person I am, BUT I WILL BE DAMNED IF YOU DON’T FIGURE OUT YOUR SHIT RIGHT NOW!
TM: What are you talking about?
NM: Your sadness is not absolute. You are lucky enough to turn that around right now. If you don’t, you might kill yourself. You want that?
TM: … No.
NM: DAMN RIGHT! Feel that fire pounding in your chest? That’s a heart that beats with blood that is going to stay in your damn veins until you are old and gray and lived a life full of explosions, lumberjacks, dragon-slaying, and maybe even kissing a girl on the mouth!
TM: That sounds crazy.
NM: It is, but you will understand one day, when you too have the facial hair that endows you with supposed wisdom.
TM: Your beard is really cool.
NM: DAMN RIGHT IT IS! And I didn’t grow it by watering it with tears! I grew it with maple syrup and adrenaline!
TM: You seem crazy.
NM Maybe I am! Right now I want you to reach into your pants.
NM: Do it! You feel those balls that dropped not too long ago? Those are not a weakness. Those are a pair of wrecking balls giving you permission to do what you want and ignore everyone else.
TM: I’m not going to touch my balls…
NM: You don’t literally have to, but listen to me! You hearing all this?
TM: Yeah, it’s just a lot to take in from a loud, hirsute future version of myself.
NM: You know the word hirsute? Go you.
TM: Yeah. Words are awesome.
NM: That explains a lot about future interests. Anyway, GO FORTH AND BE THE YOU YOU ARE MEANT TO BE!
TM: … Who is that?
NM: … Whoever you want, but it will likely lead to me.
TM: You seem pretty cool.
NM: Thanks, you do, too.
And then we fist bumped.
I looked at the sides of the grave I had dug for myself and plunged my fingers into the sides of it, pulling myself back to the surface and into my parent’s arms. As they embraced me then, I realized they were on my side. It hit me just how much of this was my fault and no one else’s. We developed a plan of encountering the allegations laid out by the school and subtly threatened legal involvement if they insisted on the incident going into a permanent record. I wrote an apology that I truly meant and found solace in the fact that we were moving after that year.
I rode out the rest of that painful school, and not without incident, but doing much better than I had been. I had a better grasp on who I was and how I should live and that made me stronger than anything else I’ve ever done. And I moved forward in life with some pretty kickass intention and self-assuredness. As well as the excitement of one day looking like English nobility with my beard. And lumberjacks slaying dragons with explosions, and kissing girls on the mouth. Actually, still waiting on that last one.