Most of my friends know me as quiet, and perhaps a little anti-social. I do not disguise the fact I usually prefer my own company to other’s. The main reason for this can be traced back to when I was 12-years-old, leaving primary school and entering high school. It was a hard time for me. I came to know those months (about 18 or so) as the Dark Ages.
I found it very difficult to live with my brother at the time. In truth, I hated him. A huge part of me didn’t want to, but I felt that he left me no choice. As I remember those times he punished me regularly, putting me down, dominating me when my will opposed his. I withdrew from him, into my room. It became my Haven, where the door could be locked and the blinds could be shut. The most hurtful thing he could do to me was enter my room, especially because we had sworn on our “brother’s honour” (a pledge, we agreed, was worth more than swearing on our souls) that we would not enter each other’s room without permission. Unfortunately, he repeatedly violated my Haven, going so far as to read my diary and write disparaging comments in it. It was like I left my soul in a bottle hidden in my room, and he had come in, found it and then dipped his hand in it and stirred it around.
Eventually locking the door wasn’t enough to get away from him and I started setting my alarm earlier. Three am was my favourite time of day- it still is-, because very few people stayed up that late, and very few people got up that early. For a few hours, I was completely alone in the world, and I was so happy. I could play RuneScape without being told to get off or without needing to stop for hours. I could do homework (that endless pile which I laid out on my bed every day, six folders and six textbooks, which stressed me more than any 12-year-old should have felt) without competing for quietude. I could talk to my friends on MSN, those in the US at least, and it was like being together in a quiet pocket of a hidden world.
I remember, once, reading the fifth Harry Potter book when it came out. I had been in my room so long, been in the dark so long, I could not recall what time of day it was. All I had was my desk lamp, and maybe on special occasions a handful of candles, as a source of light. The rest of the time my door was closed and window shut. It was awful. I used to whisper things to myself in that darkness. I told myself I was the only one I could trust. That everyone else was an agent of the Matrix, able to turn into someone who could hurt me deeply (as once happened when my friend told me the ending for that Harry Potter book before I had reached it. I had severe trust issues). I came to convince myself there was nothing I could not achieve by myself, through my own strength of mind, body and will. That I was the only one in the world I could depend on, and I could never rely on any other human being. I was alone in the world.
Unfortunately, school wasn’t much of a refuge for me either. Within a few weeks, my oddness separated me from what I knew as the entire student body. I was always a little strange in primary school, trying to meditate behind the classroom, staying after prayer time was over to finish the rosary, carrying a notepad and pen in my shirt pocket, being generally weird… This did not endear me to my peers in high school. I ended up with the nickname “Psycho”, a word that still triggers a deep pain, and for some reason it caught on. No one called me by name after that. I was always the Psycho, or some crueler variation of the name. I counted about six people in the school that did not express their hatred or dislike for me, and none of them expressed their like or affection for me for fear of being associated with the Psychopath. I respected their self-preservation- I wouldn’t have associated with myself either. I was bullied by everyone, it seemed, even those not in my classes, and even by some of the Year 10’s and Year 12’s whom I had never met before.
To help ease some of this anguish I created two fantasy worlds for myself. The first saw me standing on the Final Destination platform, if you’ve ever played Super Smash Brothers. A floating stone platform on top of a broiling purple storm, flashing with lightning. A solitary throne in its centre where, I, Xin, would sit, wearing my armour and my crown, Prince of the Realm, solitary ruler of the all-powerful nothingness. In reflection, I think the storm was my hurt and rage, isolating me from others and hurting anyone who tried to cross it. My other fantasy escape was riding into a village and everyone, all the faceless inhabitants, would turn and cheer when they saw me. They were so happy I was back, and they all loved and missed me. I hated this fantasy because I knew it wasn’t true, and never would be.
I fantasised about killing myself often. Throwing myself off the top floor of the school block would have been sufficient, I hoped. If I ever did it, I would aim to land on Ethan, a student I hated just barely more than Caleb, each of who lead their own mini gangs of thugs and bullies. I learned about goths on the internet from a stranger in a chatroom, and it perfectly described how I felt. If there had been any kind of goth culture present in my life I would have fled to it, but I didn’t know anyone who wore black or listened to particular music who rebelled against society. It would have been just me, tiny 12-year-old me, against the world. It already was, but I didn’t need dark clothes or restricted music to express it. I just withdrew deeper and deeper, running from home to school to home again.
I don’t remember exactly when, but a conversation on MSN changed everything. Her name was Beki, and I thought she was an angel sent from God to help me. It was more likely she was a bubbly 15-year-old girl who saw a sad kid and wanted to cheer him up. I don’t know how I knew her, or where I got her email address, but when I sent her an email a year or two later it bounced back. Wherever she is, whatever she’s doing, I’m so grateful she was the one to offer a hand to help me climb out.
I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I know that it made me realise I didn’t want to be sad and hurt and alone. As much as I had tried to convince myself it was good for me, it was a source of strength and the only way to get through life, I didn’t want to believe it anymore. I reached out to Beki asking her to help me, and she told me that I had to want to help myself first. Something inside me shattered, that wall of resolve I had so carefully built. And so I realised that I didn’t have to be alone, that I didn’t have to be the Prince of Darkness anymore. It was like my life was spent wandering a misty forest at night, and Beki had come in with a lantern and dispelled all the fog and I could follow her out. Another metaphor that struck me at the time was that I had been in a house where all the curtains were closed and I never left the darkness, but she grabbed those curtains and ripped them apart so that the sun could pour in. And my God, outside was beautiful; the light was so clean, the sky so empty and yet so full, the grass green and welcoming. Why had I kept myself from this for so long?
After that things changed, little by little. It wasn’t an instantaneous transformation- I wasn’t suddenly the most popular guy in school, surrounded by friends and cheer. But it wasn’t all bad, either. As the age group and maturity of my peers increased, the name Psycho faded into memory, still fresh for me, but not for others. I made a few friends over time, including Ivy and Jack, and my return to the social world slowly built from there. I became part of a clique of friends known as The Core and I had many stupid and enjoyable adventures. Perhaps I’m making it a little too black and white- it wasn’t all good times, but it was certainly better than it had been.
But a little part of me still finds it hard to trust. My childhood wasn’t full of violence or sexual abuse, but it was still traumatic, and it’s still shaped the young man I am today. I’m not sure why I decided to write a blog post about it, but I wanted to share with the world part of the reason why I am the way I am. Something tells me I should be sorry that I don’t call you just to chat. That I should be sorry for hardly ever texting you to see how you are, or to invite you to spend time together. That I should sorry for not letting people come to my house and always going to theirs instead. But I’m not. I need to be alone, sometimes. I need the boundaries of my walls, my room, my house, sometimes. And I need you to understand that even though I like you, it’s still hard for me to let you in past those walls, physically and metaphorically. My soul is bruised- it can’t take much pressure- but I still like you enough to spend time with you, to ask you how you’ve been and to go to (many of) the things you invite me to. But I’m not like most of your other friends, and I make no apology for that. I just wanted you to know, and I hope you’re okay with it.