*This is part I of a series on how I got so weird. It starts here. There will be more.*
I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to forget my first year at the Academy. I came to boarding school for a host of reasons, one of the (less important) ones being that I was intrigued and allured by the culture of prep: traditions, connections, and the virtues of pink and green. When I arrived at the Academy to begin my freshman year, I had thoroughly prepped out my wardrobe, room, and even my school supplies. Bright colors, white polka dots, and madras plaid abounded, and I wore a polo and pearls to class every day. I was proud of my style, but I have to wonder what I was really going for with the way I dressed and chose my political views, activities, and ambitions.
Of course, everyone wants to fit in in high school. I was no exception. When I prepped myself out before starting out at the Academy, I think I was trying to fit into my idea of what a perfect Prep School Girl was supposed to be – and somewhere along the way, I started to believe that that was who I really was.
Despite my newfound identity as “the really preppy girl,” I never found a social niche during my first year. I didn’t really have any friends, and either nobody noticed that or nobody cared. Sometimes my mother would ask me about my friends and I’d just rattle off the names of some of the kids with whom I had classes. Nice enough people, but not interested in being friends with me. Sometimes she would ask me if there were any boys I was interested in. Not like I’d tell her about the one guy in my history class over whom I obsessed all year anyway, but one day I finally snapped and just said, “Mom, you have to get it through your head that boys just aren’t interested in me. Get over it.”
I mean, it was true. The other writers have probably mentioned the walkback system that passes for dating/courtship at the Academy; needless to say, I didn’t get walked back (or even asked to do so) once the entire year. And, of course, I didn’t have any friends to help me fix this problem. It was pretty pathetic.
Fast-forward to August between freshman and sophomore year. I’d signed up for a community service trip abroad and was really looking forward to making friends and putting in solid work to make what difference I could (for all my flaws, I had a ridiculous work ethic and was very seriously getting back into Christianity, so service wasn’t just résumé fodder for me). But aside from the whole Saving the World thing, I wanted to enjoy myself a bit.
Before heading out of the country, I found a bunch of the other kids on my trip through Facebook and got to know a few of them a bit. I really hit it off with one guy in particular. His name was Mitchell and we were both really into Eric Clapton and a bunch of other classic rock musicians. Because I was an emotionally immature fifteen-year-old, that meant I developed a massive crush on him.
When we arrived at the base camp for the trip, Mitchell seemed a lot like me – an “underappreciated overachiever” and an “old soul” as I’d describe him in my diary a month later. Unfortunately, he seemed far more interested in one other girl, then another, so I tried and failed to convince myself that it wasn’t going to work. Like I said, I was naïve as hell.
So I busied myself with Saving the World and didn’t worry so much about Mitchell until we were assigned to home-base duty together (running errands and maintaining our base camp in lieu of going to a worksite) so we got to talk a bit. He asked me casually about whether there was a boy interest at home, and I, of course, replied with a very roundabout way of saying that I am nothing resembling a hot commodity, a fact that he called “surprising.”
Fast-forward to the last night of the trip, after a bunch of my friends convinced me that Mitchell was definitely into me and definitely worth a shot. Now, of course, we all managed to completely disregard the fact that telling me to take a shot at Mitchell was like telling a blind person to take a shot at a target.
With an assault rifle.
And, of course, the blind person has no clue how to operate the assault rifle and will probably end up holding it upside down and shooting herself in the face.
Anyways, to make a long story short, the group got to go to the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen after dark, so the scene was perfect and romantic and gorgeous and everything – and I was absolutely terrified. We ended up sitting alone together and I was too nervous to respond to anything. In retrospect, the things he said (“of all the pretty girls here I’ve definitely ended up with the prettiest,” “I have a secret. You have to look at me to hear it,” etc.) were kind of sleazy and pretty much just half-assed attempts to get some before going home to the real world, but they somehow managed to terrify me even more. The group headed home for the night and, while I was thoroughly relieved, I was cursing myself the entire ride home. Why was I such a chicken?
I couldn’t sleep all night, couldn’t stop shivering from the anxiety, and ate one tiny pancake for breakfast because I couldn’t stomach more than that. I didn’t have time to create closure for myself or to have my friends reassure me that I wasn’t insane since we all had to go get on a plane, so all my negative emotions festered for a long time. After all, if I couldn’t be comfortable in something of a vacuum, how would I fare when I went back to the Academy – where I had a reputation as a loser and a prude already? I deserved my reputation, I constantly thought. I was a loser because I couldn’t take what was handed to me on a silver platter, and I was a prude because I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself to be alone with someone else.
Of course, none of this occurred to me at the time, and I thought that there was something much more wrong with me than low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression. For better or for worse, I hid my issues well. And again, for better or for worse, I turned briefly to religion and then to some music with which I’d lost touch for solace.
Christianity didn’t stick.
My Chemical Romance did.