I see you.
The nerd. The geek. The forgotten. The ignored.
You were different, you knew that, but it wasn’t supposed to matter. Chubby cheeks, frizzy hair, funny glasses and ratty sneakers. A nose that goes on for days.You were last to be picked at kickball but the first to get picked on. Who decided that, you asked. No one could tell you why. You wanted to play with them, but you didn’t know how. Nobody had a crush on you in school. You danced to a different drum, but no one would ever join in.
It wasn’t just the kids – the adults were in on the game, too. Silent, cruel legions of moms with warm smiles and cold, calculating eyes. Their children were to be pushed forward while you were held back. Nothing personal, kid, their eyes said, you can get ahead, just as long as you aren’t ahead of me. You saw it happening, but you didn’t know why. You had learn to be strong, to stand up for yourself, on your own.
I saw you when you woke up that morning. You were what, twelve? Fourteen? You knew you were different. The aching beauty of blossoming youth … what was that? Your body wasn’t made for designer clothes. Your budget wasn’t made for expensive shoes. Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram filled up with pictures of your peer’s amazing adventures. Parties, ball games and concerts. First dates and camping trips … bittersweet events that will eventually make up the nostalgia of childhood are not to be yours. The adventures and romantic experiences in coming-of-age movies were interesting, academic ideas … but you never knew them for yourself. … someone was having the time of their life, but it wasn’t you.
I saw you … the kid who didn’t play kickball, as you became the kid who didn’t play football or basketball. Compartmentalized and ignored, your loneliness compounded itself. Nobody voted you “Most Likely” to do anything. You had no letters on your jacket. You belonged to no clubs. The silence of a thousand afternoons. You stared at the wall of your bedroom, knowing that things were supposed to be different … but what? And how?
They weren’t paying attention to you until it was time to fix their laptop or their phone. They couldn’t do without you, but they couldn’t really do with you either. You choked down the pickle juice cocktail of bitterness and found other lost souls in the sanctuary of a sympathetic teacher’s classroom, away from the quad’s wasteland. Where some kids had signatures scrawled over every inch of their yearbook, you were lucky if you had five.
I saw you … late at night as you stared out your bedroom window. You listened to the traffic outside. People were going somewhere … you wondered when you were going to be out there with them. The answers wouldn’t come for a long time. Life chose a different path for you.
No one was coming to give you your start. Internships at daddy’s office didn’t exist. Your first job interview was a twenty-year-old high school dropout with bad skin going ‘well, I guess I’ll hire you …’ Your parents had no money, so you were lucky if you drove a crappy ’84 Ford Escort, let alone anything at all.
Loneliness breeds desperation, and desperation breeds loneliness. You disappeared into other worlds. The comic books, the movies, the games … they didn’t reject you. You dreamed of the day when you would experience your own origin story, but it never came. Slowly, you found other people like you. The desire to be understood gave way to the ache that comes from awkward socialization with other people who struggle with the same social fallacies you do.
I see you … You’re older now, and things are better. The qualities that made you an outcast as a child, made you a star as an adult. You’ve kicked a space out of the universe for yourself and yours, and it feels good to have finally found a home. The bitterness has worn itself to nothing. You have a good life now, even if you haven’t found a solution to the unbalanced equation of your childhood.
You are grown up now. Your scarlet letter means Able, instead of ‘A Dweeb.’ It serves you well now as a husband, wife, father, mother. You have found your place in the world, even though you have never forgotten your days as an outlier, an outcast.
The comforting sanctuaries of your art are now being invaded by the public. Your carefully crafted Okatu has been co-opted by pop culture, so desperate for new forms of authenticity that they pillage the last vestiges of your youth. You see shows on TV like ‘Big Bang’ and the ‘IT Crowd.’ You’re supposed to find it funny, but you don’t. They were laughing at you then and they’re expecting you to laugh at yourself now. Your pain is not a punchline.
You dream of the day when they finally get it. Some day they’ll finally realize what it felt like to be you. You fantasize about rejecting the apologies that will never come, but it never happens. Someone will explain the purpose of this crucible. It never happens. Desperation and your loneliness still lead you down ego-bruising rabbit holes. One is advised not to understand the pattern. If you work too hard to open the door, you may go over the edge on the other side.
I even saw you rise above their cruelty, when their circumstances changed. Reversals of fortune peeled back the layers to reveal the dismal and lonely world you’ve been navigating since birth. You could have turned your back like they did, but instead you reached out a hand. They took it, but did they really understand? When life got back on track for them, did they bring you along for the ride? If they didn’t, then I have news for you … I saw that, too.
I saw all of it. Your knobby knees and your crooked smile. Your loneliness and your pain. Your struggles with the silent, unforgiving world around you. Your determination to rise above it all. I saw your integrity, your courage, your bravery. The world was not worthy of you. I saw your story, because it’s my story. too.
I do not know what it all means, and I do not know what the future holds. What I do know is that I’m glad to know you. I’d rather know one you, than a million of them. They can’t appreciate what it takes. They can’t know what it’s like. They don’t get it, and they never will. I’d rather see you, because you’re you. You’re the real deal. Accept no substitutes. Your life may not be a pretty picture, but it’s a real picture. I’ll take a cut from the rusty blade of truth over the feathery touch of the fake every time … and so will you. That’s why the world was not worthy of you, and that’s why I’ll choose you over them, every single time.