The Next Stage

I’ve always thought about my life in stages, but now that I’m feeling the transfer to the next one, I’m going to outline it to myself for posterity. Writing is therapy for me, and when I haven’t done it in a while (creatively–I’ve written a lot about games lately), I get good ‘ole fashioned life block, otherwise known as depression. So I’m making the choice to stay out of this funk.

Stage 1 – Precognisant [Birth to 5]

This would be the life I don’t really know anything about. Of course I’ve been told some stories by my mother, but to be completely honest, I really can’t trust anything that I haven’t 100% experienced in a fully sentient state, and I count that as everything that happened before my fifth birthday. I’ve heard plenty of people say something like this, but my first sure memories are literally from that day.

Stage 2 – Leaving the Nest [5 to 10]

This stage was when I was first thrust into a new situation, moving from my “hometown” to a place nearly an hour away, thanks to my mother choosing to live with a man she was in a relationship with. Despite not really having that many friends, I moved in second grade, which was highly detrimental to my development. This was at a time where I was enjoying the most liberal teacher that I would have until college. Mrs. Lebeau not only would have my class play board games for what I feel like was two hours a day, but then she’d lull us into a comfortable pre-nap state by singing songs to us and play her guitar. It was the absolute best thing. This was really all I care to remember.

Stage 3 – Communing with Nature [10 to 14]

After spending about three years in a shitty trailer home, and spending plenty of time at Missouri’s largest man-made lake and/or covered in fleas, I moved again to a place in the middle of nowhere. This time, to a duplex sitting right next to a major highway. I will say that I appreciated a lot of things during this stage. I upped my adventures in nature by hiking through some of the most beautiful parts of Missouri and creating a fort out of the refuse sitting behind my house, which spawned a thousand ideas for playtime with friends and a horribly-written novel that never passed the outline stage. This was also the stage where I truly felt like friends I had were going to be meaningful. These were kids that were talented, grew with me into Pokemon nerds, and were the first true friend group I was a part of. This stage shaped my adventures in puberty, which came to a head with multiple crushes, my first girlfriend, my first breakdown at a school dance, and my friends making a scene at ANOTHER dance. What a time to be alive.

This was also the awakening of my educational dominance, as I breezed through fifth grade as the teacher’s pet, literally sitting at the one class computer learning the Internet via Netscape Navigator. I ended up going two years in a row to a regional Scholar’s Academy summer program that I feel privileged to have attended, as I don’t know for sure that the program continued after my time there. I would feel particularly blessed during this part of my life, finding myself in a quality band program and succeeding in all facets of my life. This was boosted by my mother finding personal success, making home life relatively nice for a time, despite her getting married and soon bringing my brother into the world. Alas, happiness is fleeting.

Stage 4 – Several Steps Back [14 to 18]

That stepfather I mentioned would constantly prove a gross, drunk, racist piece of shit. Eventually, it came to a point where he threatened to kill me with the .357 magnum that he had during a drunken meltdown (he was a lifer working at the local prison, of course he was ideologically obligated to have a gun). We sat on that as a family for a bit, before my mother, brother, and I eventually moved out and returned to my shitty hometown. The timeline gets a little fuzzy here, but suffice to say, my mother went back and forth from being split up to still being with said stepfather, and things generally were weird.

I finished the last quarter of my eighth grade life finding myself lost in the nostalgia of knowing the people I was surrounded by nearly a decade earlier. I had a life-long crush thanks to some weird dreams as a child, and I quickly found one of my lifegoals to be in love with this girl. Ho boy, that was a choice. Across these years, I would find myself not trying to fit in, but surviving with my wit, my academic excellence, and finding a passion in my marching band experience.

I will never lie to myself and say it started well. My very first band performance, I for some reason procrastinated on finding a fitting uniform and spent the majority of my first march pulling up my pants as they would not stay up. You know, that typically happens when you have pants that are probably XXL to your M and a cummerbund that does not fulfill its duties. My shoes were also fit for clowns, so in all honesty, I’m surprised I survived this (if memory serves) 2 or 3 mile trek at all. One of my most embarrassing moments. Hey, it’s freshman year. Gotta take some punches, right?

I made a handful of friends that would be the bedrock of my existence throughout high school, and a couple of my cousins would play a larger part in my life (older and younger ones…I have a lot of cousins on my mother’s side). My one true love would get an older boyfriend my freshman year and my romantic hopes would be squashed, but as crushes do, they carry on as truly awful experiences. Flash-forward through building this friendship by performing together in Speech and Debate, our constant connection in marching AND concert band, and then my eventual practice to become a drum major (I ended up not going through with that). JUNIOR YEAR was the penultimate time during this stage, where not only did this friendship alter, but I started my first job and really came into my own. This was the first bit of confidence I had since early in Stage 3.

Of course my first job was as a stock boy in a grocery store. Of course I KILLED IT. I became known for my crowning achievement, facing the cereal aisle of Town & Country Supermarket. I know, superstar status really looks good on me. Truly, this was a hell of an accomplishment, one that would both inspire the management team to have me train my coworkers on completing this task, but also would allow my three best friends and two of my cousins to be hired. It would be more than ten years before I would have such a good time working again. My peak mindfulness was during the hour or so I would use to make the cereal aisle immaculate. My penchant for thorough work and solving problems would continue to sit me in the boss’ good graces, as I would be allowed to complete pretty much any task I wanted there, often pairing up with the attractive cashiers in close spaces and working on my game…for better and worse. We’re talking peak adolescent thirst. This time period really makes me wonder how ANY teen boy lives long enough to become a man.

I would try my hand at being effusively nice and an incredible listener, and mold myself into the whitest of white knights, before it was 150% a negative connotation. I was rejected handily and watched as my coworkers began to all date each other in a very work incest way that actually got really weird, but again…high school. Like…multiple cashiers even got pregnant during this stage and to be frank, the whole environment was this white trash utopia, so it makes sense in the end.

That was all to say that the weird hormones and the confidence boost from the job would lead to a particularly exciting senior year, where not only did I quit the job by walking out during a work meeting, but I did so because #1 the boss literally said we were all disposable and #2, I had a pseudo date with my previously mentioned destiny. Senior year in band would lead me to switching from clarinet to alto saxophone, cementing my absolute sex-bomb status. Ok, fine. No. BUT damn, I loved it, and I carried the boost through the whole year.

Again, the timeline here is fuzzy for me because HOLY SHIT, I FEEL OLD. And it was 16 years ago. FUCK.

However, this pseudo date with the person I’d crushed on for over a decade was happening. I forget the reasoning…but we had our final marching band performance at the final home football game, where my crush was crowned the band queen. We had spent so much time together, practicing band and drum major stuff, having way too many classes together, and the culmination was this night. With her boyfriend far out of town, I left with her from the game to my house, where not only did she change out of this stunning dress (like 10X better than any prom thing I remember seeing) five feet away from me, but we were going to chill with Return of the King on dvd with my sexy surround system and the comfiest futon I’ve ever owned. The ultimate bachelor move. Suffice to say, we ended up saying just enough to each other, enjoying the time spent, and had some of the most impactful speechless moments together that I’ve ever had. We cuddled for the runtime of the movie and maybe longer, with her in one of my t-shirts, and I was filled with profound feels that I still don’t exactly understand. Sometimes you tell someone how much they mean to you, and sometimes you just don’t have to. About a half hour after the movie was over, she had to go home. I’ve never struggled so hard to let someone go, but that’s what this was.

At the end of the school year, I would find myself going to prom with a super-cute friend of a friend that was equally as individualistic and largely antisocial as myself in reality (though I proved to have a pretty solid facade), thanks to said friend straight up asking me to go with her. This was win-win. And no, this is not a story of sexual accomplishment, but every story needs its depth. The prom would be a pretty decent time, despite me never successfully dancing in public until several years down the road. I wouldn’t have a storybook ending, or even a night of regrets, promiscuity and alcohol. We literally chilled at the “project prom” event, playing card games and snacking, generally being honest kids for what feels like the last time.

As if the end of high school wasn’t enough, I was already paying rent to my mother and my estranged father wanted to see me graduate, despite me wanting absolutely none of that shit. Did I mention I learned about my brother from my father’s side not too far from this? Ah, no. I didn’t. Awkward. I have no ill will towards him, but I have all the ill will for my father, who DID show up during my graduation, where I didn’t get to receive my diploma the night of because the principal thought I still owed the band program money (I didn’t). It was fixed after the weekend, but damn if I thought I’d have a great graduation day. I would quickly be reminded of how little control I had over my life and how hard the next stage would hit me.

To be continued…sorry, this got way longer than I anticipated and I’m tired.

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