It wasn't that bad, no I mean to say it wasn't all bad. It certainly wasn't all good but growing up wasn't all bad. Someone asked me recently: 'what would you go back and tell your 6 year old self?'
I think I would tell my six year old self that the worst was yet to come, but I would also tell him to embrace being different and revel in being a complete and total weirdo, at least in comparison to everyone around him. I would also really highlight the fact that introversion and introspection are great, they're not the same thing but since he'll end up spending so much time on his own because of the latter, the former just develops. That's what I would say to a six year old me.
I didn't feel particularly weird but in comparison to the other kids I guess they made me feel strange about my awkwardness. I was the kind of kid who spent a lot of time either pulling things apart to see how things worked, or sitting in a corner reading a book. I didn't have a great deal of friends as a kid. I genuinely didn't feel like I needed any more than one or two. It's as true then as it is now that I don't get a great deal of energy and stimulation from being around other people. In fact, quite the opposite, after being around a lot of people I often feel exhausted, drawn out and kind of sad.
Something that might surprise most is that I'm painfully shy, incredibly shy. I don't make friends easily and it's not because I'm unfriendly it's really not that it's just that when I meet people I have these two internal dialogues going on in my mind.
The first one tells me that I feel that I need to go out of my way to be funny, charming, interesting, interested, knowledgeable, cultured, whatever so that whoever I'm talking to likes me; and the second narrative going through my mind is: oh god they hate me, they really hate me I must be funnier, more charming, more interesting and so on.
It's difficult trying to be wonderful as well as likeable with every single social contact you make. People tell me to just 'go out there and be myself' when they find me hyperventilating outside before I enter someone's birthday party. To be 'myself' as far as I'm concerned anyway would involve me wearing some really comfortable pyjamas reading a magazine on my own somewhere with a coffee.
The hyperventilation is a true story. It's happened more than once, in fact it's more often than not that I have to mentally prepare to go out on a social outing of whatever description. I'm getting better as I'm getting older, but as a kid I had such a complex about being liked or disliked that I couldn't even go to the mailbox without fear of being judged. Either because of this or in spite of it, I spend a lot of time on my own.
It's funny really because later on in life I would decide to become a group fitness instructor. I really feel that when I'm wearing a microphone and making people go through their paces I'm playing out a role, like a character in a play but when that microphone come off or the class is over I'm back to being painfully shy. I often wait elsewhere before my classes begin and come in to the room right on time so that I don't have to talk to anyone. It's really not because I don't like them, I do. I wish I could talk to all of these people about something but the words just fail me, and the two narratives start blaring inside my skull and then I just end up sounding like a fool.
I've always just been quite happy to be on my own, be it reading or watching videos or anything really. I truly enjoy my own company and I could spend weeks without seeing anyone. Not because I dislike people, I genuinely truly love being amongst them, particularly when I'm just watching them get on with their lives but I just find it easier to observe a group than converse with one.
My commitment to spending so much time alone was a curse as a child, mainly because my family didn't seem to understand that what I was lacking was not an ability to make a multitude of friends but rather the desire. My parents would push me to go and be like the other kids that lived nearby and just hang out in big groups and play soccer or whatever. I was more interested in listening to music, writing, drawing or just hanging out on my own watching the grass grow. In a way I resent my family for not fomenting that and nurturing my inward n nature instead of trying to force me to go out and "be like the other kids".
Maybe I just didn't want to, and that's ok. I always had a feeling that they thought that I was an oyster without a pearl. Whereas in fact I was probably just carbon, waiting to become a diamond.
From a very young age, I guess it must have been from an early age because it's certainly for as long as I can remember, I've had this mild level anxiety that drives me to know and learn as much as possible because one day I will die. One day I will just cease to exist, much like in the same way I didn't exist before 1983, I will cease to exist somewhere in the distant future (hopefully). I always have felt that that my lack of immortality was just monumentally unfair. Why can't I live forever? There is just so much out there in the world that needs to be seen, experienced and known and there will never be enough time.
My way of assuaging that anxiety of needing to achieve impossibilities before the inevitable demise of the collection of stardust that I call my body, was to read. Not just to read but to find out the nature of things, of as many things, of all the things. I loved reading, I would read voraciously, comics, fiction, non-fiction, textbooks. I started reading Dante's the Divine Comedy at age seven because I thought it would be funny. It is called the Divine Comedy after all. It wasn't funny.
I really liked books about things that I didn't know anything about. Airplanes, world religions, buildings, design, architecture, geography, atlases, anything. I don't read as much as I used to anymore, but I'm slowly making my way back there. If you want something to kill your passion for reading try going to law school for four years. That will certainly kill your passion for a lot of things. I didn't love reading because I had a vivid imagination and wanted to get lost in tales of adventure or anything like that, I just wanted to know things. I wanted to know all the things about everything.
To this day my husband Michael, and I'm sure many other people who are far too polite to protest hate the way I will ask a leading question about something I'm sure no one will know the answer to and then proceed to pontificate on whatever I have just read about. Let me give you an example.
Me: "Do you know which European emperor held the Diet of Worms in Germany that saw Martin Luther condemned for heresy?"
Michael: "No David, I don't. I'm sure you're about to tell me..."
Me: "Yes! No, listen this is important. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V who ascended the title because of his Hapsburg connections to the many houses of Europe...."
I'm only trying to understand the nature of things. Honest.
I got up to the most incredible fun as a kid, usually all on my own, sometimes with my little sister but largely on my own.
I loved going to circuses, they seemed so otherworldly and exciting. I remember going to a circus in San Salvador and seeing a lion tamer in action. I was either so impressed or was just impressionable that when we returned home I found a belt and I made my sister jump from couch to couch while whipping her like the lion tamer did to her charges in the show.
I was fascinated by circuses and theatres, actually any sort of performing spaces. Even the passion plays staged in my grandmother's village during Easter used to have me transfixed. I guess they sowed the seeds for me going off to study to become an actor later on in life. I never finished drama school because I found out that my shyness wasn't compatible with auditions.
However I was committed to stagecraft from an early age, I used to make little model circuses out of wire and plastic bags for ants. Really, I would get ants to come as patrons. Real ants. I would entice them with sugar and then make little puppets out of newspaper and put on a show for the ants, as riveting as it would have been I'm sure the ants were there for the sugar and nothing more. I enjoyed it though and I guess that was the point.
I also really got into making dioramas and model cities out of cardboard and scrap paper. I would drive toy cars through the little towns and would sit in a corner playing for hours. I made an airport out of styrofoam packaging and I would land paper planes in it all day. I'm sure I had actual toys that my parents had bought for me but nothing beats the box they came in, right?
True to my love of theatre I used to cut Corn Flakes boxes and make little theatres with working curtains and little theatre lights and everything. I would then cut out the comic strip characters out of the newspapers, stick them on to cardboard and loop string to them so that I could use them as puppets to act out the comics in my little theatre. I would put on a show for anyone who would watch, even if it was reluctantly.
I didn't really need an army of friends, not with an imagination like this. Even today when I go and see a show I spend just about the same amount of time looking up to the lighting rigs to see how the theatre is designed and the lights put together as I do on the performance.
Part of me wishes I was still sitting in a corner cutting out cardboard boxes having the time of my life.
It's funny to look back and see me as this book loving kid that was completely and totally harmless and incredibly polite. I guess I may have been weird but only in comparison to others, in comparison to me I was perfectly fine.
Despite what has transpired now, I was a very devout child. I would often go to church willingly and pray on my own, of course. I was across all my sacraments, and in fact I considered becoming a priest, actively considered it albeit briefly. My father had also done the same I would find out years later. Considered it that is and apparently only briefly. Despite how much I hate it, my father and I have a lot in common.
I was so devout that I would go through the whole mass service from start to end at home in my room while wearing a bathrobe, preaching and administering bread to my toys there assembled. I would have been no more than ten years old. I was incredibly heartbroken that my grandmother did not ask me to hold mass for the funeral of my cousin who died of leukaemia. I think I was more upset that I wasn't asked to officiate proceedings than I was of losing her.
All of this piety came crashing down one day when I was in grade three. I was waiting to go into chapel at school and for whatever reason I was near or next to one of those disgusting sinks that are used only to clean mops. The school priest exited the chapel before the service, came out with a little crystal jug and filled it up at the mop sink and then went back into the school chapel, robed up, called us in and then delivered the mass.
I don't know where I thought that holy water came from, but I sure as hell was sure it did not come from the mop sink out in the courtyard. It was at that moment that I thought, ok if holy water is total bullshit maybe the whole lot of it is. That's the day I lost my religion. Funny because for another six months I was convinced that I could talk to god. I was sure of it for no other reason that I feltcould predict which way smoke would blow when coming out of chimneys or from bonfires. I couldn't really, but it was just as good an excuse for having an imaginary friend as any.
I used to even collect trading cards of saints. In fact, in my spare time I would just sketch out different designs for chapels to honour the Virgin of Medjugorje or the Virgin of Guadalupe or Our Lady of Fatima.
I'm still fascinated by Catholic mysticism and lore, but I treat it in the same way I treat Game of Thrones. Interesting, riveting and a good yarn, but not good for basing ones morality on.
I loved school, I would be that one student who would buy all his books a month early so I could read them before school even started for the year and then I would ask for more to read, learn and do. To the point that out of boredom and a desire for a new challenge I asked my teachers if I could set exams and quizzes for my fellow students as extra homework, they hated it, with a passion the students that is the teachers loved that I was working for them.
I was always terrified of breaks because I didn't have a million friends, just the one and if he was ever away for whatever reason then it was just me against the world and I was ok with that. Everyone else just made me out to be this hermit, loner type. I really didn't have a problem with it though.
Eventually, partly to be out of sight and out of mind and slo so I could have the peace to read in complete silence I volunteered to do things like be a hallway monitor so that other kids didn't roam the hallways during lunch and recess. Hallway monitor duties involved sitting in the hallway and, well- monitoring. It was the most ideal job for me, I would sit there with a book and guard the empty corridors like a troll under the bridge.
I really don't know what I'm growing into. In fact, I don't know if I'm growing into something or out of something.
I do feel that after about 31 years living across continents, amongst war zones both of the belligerent, military kind and of the domestic violence kind, the many failed relationships and the one that hasn't; the many people who are responsible for keeping me alive, even the ones that would rather see me dead.
After all of these things and these experiences and regardless whether I'm growing into or out of something, I like what I'm becoming.