Over the past two years I've promised numerous people that I'll write about what happened in May 2007: ultimately, I've decided to split this into four posts, each around a thousand words long (I don't think anyone really wants to read all four thousand words all at once). I'll post them around a week or two apart, and edit them post-publication (instead of my normal practice of things being edited to minutiae over months before publication). As such, they are more or less what I wrote at 12–5 am last night.
September 1995, I walk into the entrance room for the first time, piously holding my mother's hand; my first day at nursery, a day which holds no memories whatsoever for me. This would be my first introduction to two people whom I would spend the following ten years in the same class as, initially at nursery, and then later at the attached prep school. Eventually, we would all leave having reached the top of the school, as the school shut its doors for the final time (with us being in the final year unaffected by this).
The buildings remain, the site now fenced off, all windows boarded up, trapping the thousands of memories of those who passed through them inside. The memories undoubtedly vary from the euphoria of winning in the numerous sports that happened throughout the year, to the terror of being picked on continuously, being mocked and belittled. Sadly, it is to this latter category most of my memories belong; memories in the former are in general all-too-scarce, and primarily from within the first two years, i.e., nursery, where memories in general are scarce.
Inevitably, this has played a part to play in my first act, throwing me on a course that would lead to total breakdown ten years after starting at the school itself (as opposed to the nursery) and two years after leaving. Yet, of course, life is never as simple as it would seem: the action that I broke down upon was seemingly irrelevant, an action that happened numerous times every day, an action life would be very different without. That action, on its own, much like every other occurrence, would have been nothing more than a minor annoyance on its own, but put in combination with the thousands of others, it became the critical point at which all would fall apart and separation of good and bad became meaningless, mere synonyms that differ only insofar as the façade they portray.
Some of the others in my class (in a school of the size it was, the class and the year are one and the same; there were a little over one hundred people at the school for my entire time there) had come to the conclusion by age five that the certain way to get what you desired was violence; I remember once being over at the house another boy in my class, when we were five or so, and the three of us getting into a slight argument about what game to play, which resulted in my head meeting the metal frame of his bed. Even by this time, the mafia-like rule of silence had already prevailed, and I had merely fallen and hit my head by the time I returned to my parents with a plaster on my head.
Of course, it's not only child's games that cause hurt of this kind: my final few years were spent with myself in doubt over how I could possibly fall into the binary categories of straight and gay, as although I was in love with a girl in my class (I was absolutely certain of this, as all young people are, full of naïve hope), I also thought some of the guys were kinda nice… This alone, would eventually be solved with the discovery that sexuality is not a binary choice (thanks Kinsley!), but this was not the primary annoyance. The real annoyance was the affixation of the label
gay to me, the word continuously and seemingly endlessly flooding my consciousness with its sheer repetition; sure, it was generally used as an insult (hurtful enough for some unsure of their sexuality), but it seemed to be used disproportionately often to describe me (but, as I was told when I said I thought I was being called names disproportionately, maybe I'm just egocentric).
Even the jester couldn't survive the flood of words and jokes sent towards me, crying an hour before having to go on stage in what would turn out to be my final school play (the next year, when I would play the character that had the scary job of delivering the opening line of the entire play, I would miss both performances, off school with glandular fever). This would result in the headmaster speaking to me, seeing my red, swollen, tearful eyes, asking me what had been going on. As I had learnt, the mafia remained strong, so initially I said nothing. Eventually, however, the truth spilled out bit by bit, but the eventual conclusion of his was something along the lines of just having to get used to people being horrible to you. To someone who has managed to get depressed enough to dream of running away from everyone they know (though never able to work out where to, or how to survive alone, so I never got around to it) before even reaching their teenage years, with occasional wishes of death, saying
get used to it was essentially just cementing the thousands of tiny daggers into my heart, an invariable fact of life. Sure, each attack, alone, individually, I could cope with. Hundreds every month, thousands every year… that was too much.
But it wasn't just a small select group that placed all of the daggers, and though there are some that stand out for their perseverance, it was also the very people who I would call my friends who were responsible. In my penultimate year, I would in one English class, after some comment was heckled, run out of classroom in tears. Yet it wasn't just the name-calling and the statements made about me that annoyed me, for it was the very trust that I put in some of my so-called friends that was often betrayed that hurt me the most. Trust is one issue I always held in the highest esteem, and always believed, fruitlessly, that people were inherently trustworthy. (As I would later learn, believing people are inherently untrustworthy is even more painful.)
There again, life is anything but consistent; despite my apparent friends being unkind to me, kids will be kids, and rumours spread about who people fancied, several times apparently girls infatuated with me. A deliberate attempt at malice, putting her down and making her like the one who was excludes; or reality? I never knew. The optimist was yet to die inside of me, and so I hoped it was real, that the rumours were true, and I wasn't the horrible person I was portrayed as by my so-called friends.
However, it was far from an environment in which love could ever prevail: after the first three years, when we were eight, a very clear separation between the boys and girls would start, a separation that would last until the final days of school. Any attempt to ever cross this line would caused endlessly mocking and allegations of love (whenever any couple would seemingly appear, they would be mocked, hundreds of childish rhymes hurled towards them); once in my final year of prep school, I would end up alone with the girls in my class in the common room we had: we were all uneasy, knowing if anyone found me there, it would be the subject of ridicule for weeks to come, despite the fact that several years before, prior to the separation, I spent the majority of my time with them.
My second half of prep school would see the rising of what would become my
home in the eyes of my parents — living in front of a computer screen. I had an interesting in computing, I can't deny that, amazed by this single object that can do seemingly anything. Yet this interest was never as great as it seemed, I cared about English as much as I did computing, it was just that computing had a major advantage: the internet had other real people on it; books did not. If I was going to be isolated by the "real" humans around me, left out from parties, from playing together, and other normal childish activities, I may as well surround myself by some semblance of socialization online.
As the psychologist who I would see many years later (after having made what was probably the hardest decision of my life: to go and speak to a GP about depression) always assured me, and always encouraged me to end on, to give me a positive thought on my way out, there is something good in everything. I didn't leave the school entirely beaten: I could hold my own when physically attacked by any of the numerous bullies who would intermittently attack me (though they knew a few simple words were more effective than a thousand punches, and would often make use of this knowledge once I had them pinned down, unable to move); I had one good friend who I had some desire to stay in contact with after leaving; and, I was, as would remain the case for many years to come, hopelessly and irrevocably in love (love fades, but never dies).