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This is a guest entry from I, Asshole for the month-long blogathon to help support Scarleteen!
I’ve never liked labels. If there is some kind of personal box to fill out on a form, there is this pathological part of me that will either make something up (Occupation: Flenser), or if I am in a confrontational mood, will write, "NONEYA, OK?” That’s my label: "label-rejector." I know, I know. I am rolling my eyes at myself. I think this is because it was very rare that I was given a label that was followed with, “Okay, now you go stand over there, with all the other people who are like you.”
I was raised in an environment where I felt like I didn’t belong. This wasn’t really anyone’s fault. I just really didn’t belong. I was given some innocuous labels: outgoing, loves to entertain, a social butterfly. There were the less-positive ones, too: wasted potential, weirdo, voted by my graduating class as Most Likely to Relocate to Mars (hey, it turns out Seattle is Mars). I did not know what to call myself, I just knew that I was little different from all my friends. My precocious age-inappropriate-novel-gobbling self even knew from reading that this feeling was kind of part of the human condition: everyone feels like they are a alone sometimes.
At the beginning of high school, I found one label I could get behind: atheist. This was slightly terrifying to me, because I lived in a semi-rural, God-fearing place where there were "megachurches" that were so big you could indeed imagine them being God’s house.
From the beginning, I had heard about Heaven and Hell (how many times had I seen a cartoon cat on a cloud, strumming a harp, before being pulled back to Earth to face his cartoon dog nemesis and an assortment of falling anvils and dynamite again?). I had also heard a little about Jesus. Some of my relatives had pictures of Jesus on their trailer walls. Once I even encountered the infamous Footsteps poem. That blew my mind. JESUS WAS A STRONG DUDE, APPARENTLY!
Right after my 14th birthday, I was left to my own devices in an apartment for a few weeks in the fall (another story altogether). I saw no one but my classmates, whom I did not really speak to much. I got up, got dressed, scavenged something to eat, slept through algebra, and came home again. Sometimes food would reappear in the cupboards while I was gone during the day or there would be a note on the counter: "See you soon, Tuesday probably." I listened to The Cure and spent a lot of time thinking. Once I stayed up for three days just thinking, because there was no one to tell me not to, or to go to bed. Once again, I felt like I was outside everything. I imagined, probably erroneously, that all my classmates had someone waiting at home to tell their day to, while no one knew my secret.
After a summer of binging on TV unchecked, I was fairly sick of it. Books were the answer, I decided. Books and the inside of my own head. I thought about everything at that time, and I do mean EVERYTHING. The meaning of life. What I wanted to do with myself. I got a book out on meditation and tried to teach myself that. Finally, I had an epiphany: I was a non-believer. This felt weird. Would I be struck by lightning immediately? Did I need to make an announcement somehow? I decided to make changes at school, to assert myself slightly. I would not shrink into the background when the subject of religion came up, but would respectfully state my beliefs.
When my mother turned up again, I shared my new beliefs, or lack of, with her. She stopped washing the dishes and let out a dramatic sigh.
"Just like your father," she said. "You’ll grow out of it."
So when it was time for people to pray at school, I hung back, sheepishly and somewhat apologetically. I was a drama geek, and there was a prayer circle before every play performance. I was the only one standing off in the wings by myself, as everyone else linked themselves into a circle and spoke too softly for me to hear. Well-meaning friends dragged me along to Catholic mass, Methodist services, and Evangelical megachurches for youth nights.
During that fall of my freshman year, I started crushing on a boy named Ryan, who was funny and played soccer. I remember he was always in shorts, and I enjoyed admiring his legs, with their corona of very grown up-looking blonde fuzz. We concocted a way to meet that sounded plausible to the parents of fourteen-year-olds: we had a project we had to work on at the library. We were a pair: an athletic, clean-cut kid with nothing to lose by being seen with a rumpled, droopy, and tired-looking goth girl.
We quickly ended up in the library’s only bathroom, snogging like the noobs we were, with me trying to avoid the mortal danger of Ryan’s braces. He called me on the phone. I didn’t really sit around and moon properly, like I did with some people, but I wondered. Would I see him outside of school again? Were we boyfriend and girlfriend now?
About a week later he called me up. "I have something to say to you," he said, and launched into a speech that was obviously written down, that he had taken care with and labored over to get exactly right (or maybe it just came issuing out of him the way impassioned letters do out of teenagers). I could tell pretty quickly that he was reading from something prepared. He was very sorry, he said, that he could not see me anymore. He was very sorry that I was going to spend an eternity burning in hell. He was going to work with me, he said, to help me see the error of my ways and bring me to the Lord. Then we could be together.
"Huh," I said. "No thanks." I hung up the phone.
Beyond looking forward to an eternity burning in hell, I was excited to experience other things as well. I had all these big ideas! There were places I wanted to go, things I wanted to try. Like most teenagers, I had yearnings.
"Drink this with me," I said to a friend spending the night, cracking open an ancient, sticky bottle of my parents’ Triple Sec.
"I don’t know. Won’t we get in trouble?" she said.
"I think someday, I will try smoking pot," I said to a different friend one night at the park.
"If you do drugs, I don’t think we can be friends anymore," she said gravely. No one around me seemed to have a pulse and I felt ashamed for all my urges.
I envision my mother at 32, tiny, evil, with a 15-year-old who was not doing so well. I was the underwatered philodendron that had been stuck into a closet after a long while of yearning and not fitting in. Because of my age, likely, I was cycling irregularly, and my period was ten days late, and let me tell you, no Ps had come anywhere near my V. I was not even interested in that.
My mother, like many, parented with a double-fisted combo of guilt and threats.
"What do you MEAN your period’s late?" she screeched as I was submitted to one of her patented interrogations while trying to watch Hollywood Squares out of the corner of my eye. Oh, Shadoe Stevens, how will you fool the contestants this time?
"It’s late, I dunno," I said, weakly. How could I know what was going on in there?
"You seem depressed, too," she concluded, eyeing me suspiciously. "I am taking you to get a PREGNANCY TEST!"
Woe betide the daughter of a teen mom who, armed with no information or protection, had gotten knocked up on her sexual debut. From the ages of twelve to seventeen, every sneeze was diagnosed as PREGNANCY MOST FOUL. Lucky for me, she was so loud my uterus heard her railing near my body and saved me by working properly again a couple of days later.
A few months after that, I was fooling around with my good high school boyfriend, who was not very interested in damning me to hell. He was also gay, which made him also not interested in partaking in activities which would damn me to hell. I did not know he was gay at the time, and I’m not sure he did either. Once in a while we fooled around, but we were mostly company for each other. Two secret weirdoes who didn’t quite belong who had found each other, listening to OMD and Morrissey together, and not realizing how alike we were. We had the door closed when my stepfather came home, who, completely out of character, did not burst in and yell "AHA!" or something equally douchey, but instead ratted me out to my mother.
Later my mother had to have "A Talk" with me. DEFCON ONE! BECOMING A GRANDMOTHER AT 32 IMMINENT! We sat awkwardly in the car on the way to some tedious, contrived errand.
"Soooo, I know you must be having feelings lately…" she began.
"Yes, I have had five today already," I deadpanned.
"I mean ABOUT JEFF and SEX," she said, though clenched teeth.
"Yeah," I said. "I mean, no. I…I think I’m gay, so I’m not really thinking about doing it with boys. Jeff’s just…safe."
"Oh," she said. We were sitting at a stop light and I could see her shoulders sag. "Well. Tsk. Just like your father. You’ll grow out of it."
I DIDN’T GROW OUT OF IT.
In closing, you know I don’t shill for anyone. I just really, really love this site. I hope you will or already do like Scarleteen, and will tell other people, particularly young people. If you are so inclined, I hope you will consider a donation to keep the servers afloat and keep information getting out to the lonely young noobs who need it the most. Goddam, I wish my nosy, reckless, passionate kid-self had a Scarleteen.