In eighth grade, I finally started to buck up a little. I was going to go to a private boarding school for high school, Mercersburg Academy – assuming I got accepted – but I had no doubts about that. I finally had a decent group of friends, many of whom were queer, too. I was doing well in writing and art. My English teacher adored my writing, and introduced me to authors like Samuel Beckett (it sounds trite, but “Waiting for Godot” certainly changed my young life). I designed the school t-shirt that spring. I dyed my hair and started wearing a little makeup, and, lo and behold, a few eighth grade boys started asking me out (I told them no, but I was delighted by the attention). My confidence still faltered from time to time, but I got accepted to the Academy, and rode that high until the end of ninth grade. I fell prey to typical high school mean girl shenanigans. I had made a group of friends that I thought were what I had been looking for all along. They were cosmopolitan, and popular, and they took me under their wing and helped me get used to the often overwhelming environment of boarding school. However, I got too clingy for their tastes (I recognize even now that I overstepped a ton of boundaries, but it was the first time I had had friends like that, and, as I’ve said, my social skills were subpar), and they dropped me, telling me they were never going to speak with me again. I took that hit hard. It made the mantra start looping through my head again. I had concrete proof that I was worthless and the worst! I’d been friend-dumped! No one wanted to be around me!
I considered dropping out of the Academy and going back to public school. Of course, I was being reactionary and dramatic. The summer gave me some time to mellow out, and I went back for my sophomore year ready to start anew. I made a new, tight-knit group of friends—outcasts, but at least they legitimately liked me—got a girlfriend, found my niche in tech theatre, and spent most of high school having a fantastic time. One of my friends, Matt, acted as a mentor to me. He was the only person I confided in about my battles with depression. I spent a lot of nights talking to him online after school, begging him to reassure me of my value and worth. Even if my social group adored me and I was doing well in school, I still felt worthless inside. I often didn’t feel like I was worth the time or trouble. Matt exuded over-the-top cockiness and confidence; our friends just about worshiped the ground he walked on, and I was no different. I dreamed of being like him when I got older: commanding, attractive, determined. He spent years convincing me that I was a captivating and strong person. He would listen to my interminable rants and diatribes of self-abuse, and then help me stand strong against the negative words in the back of my mind. He imbued me with the self-assurance I needed to apply to spend my senior year of high school studying in China.
I got accepted to the study abroad program, and spent an amazing year in Beijing. I affected Matt’s personality, and eventually it became my personality. I walked around in Beijing as the outgoing, fun, loud, passionate person I’d always dreamed of being. I returned to America that summer, so I could be present at my high school graduation, and that’s when things started going downhill. It was difficult beyond belief, readjusting to life in America. I had grown into a completely different person, outside the eyes of everyone who knew me. I’d seen nine months’ worth of strange, exciting sights, and no one was as interested in hearing about them as I hoped they’d be. I had become intimately close friends with one of my American classmates in China, Zach. We’d spent almost every day together for nine months, but he went back to Connecticut when we returned to America, and I went back to Pennsylvania. He was a grade below me, so he had his senior year to readjust to normal life; I was thrust right into college. Zach didn’t seem to understand the turmoil I was experiencing, and I was unable to articulate just why my return to America was fucking me up so badly. I got frustrated at him and stopped talking to him for the remainder of the summer, and that hurt me even more.
To be continued…