Sometime in 1995 or '96, I made the conscious decision to become my own polar opposite. Uncomfortable with my body, my friends, and (most significantly) my social status, I wanted to be a different person. I wanted to crawl out of my own skin and find somebody else's to live within.
This is the thing that has affected my life most, both then and now: my self-loathing in middle school; my love for who I am now, peppered with an understanding that I could love myself more if I were more like the me I used to despise. Essentially, I was two completely different people for the first and second dozen years of my life, and now I am moving back towards center.
A chubby, intelligent and diligent child, I played videogames, read comic books, and did my homework. Sports were a weak spot for me. I always wanted to be better at them than I was. Food was a weakness. My room a safe haven. Sweatpants were my only clothing bottoms. I ate my boogers.
Plenty of fodder for the average, or even below-average bully. I had them all trying out their best stuff on me. All I wanted was for people to like me. That made it worse. I would go home crying every day. I would constantly be putting myself into situations where I would be harassed or attacked. I became indignant. This couldn't be my place in life.
So, I changed. I changed everything. I stopped reading comic books (and regular books too). I stopped doing my homework. I started playing more sports. I cut my hair. I wore jeans. This didn't matter. My place in the Mahwah school system was forever etched. I had been too resistant to accepting my fate and had thus sealed it in the school scriptures. This change did not matter to the outside world until I entered ninth grade and left everything I knew by going to a different school system.
(On a side note: I am very glad that my change did not grant me entrance at The Cool Kids' Table, because it was not my place. I didn't know at the time, but it was the wrong thing for me to try to do. I'm glad my experiment failed. Because of its failure, I ended up where I did for high school. And for that I will be forever grateful, for reasons that will not be explored in this blog.)
Nobody at Bergen Academies knew the former me, except my current roommate and best friend, Mark, and a small handful of others. So, I was able to trick myself into believing that the new me was the real me. My shallow choices called for a mutiny and left the actual real me on a desert island with a pistol and a single bullet. The first mate became the captain, and the ship took a whole new direction.
I went from the top of my class (or near it), to the bottom of my new class. I cared about clothes and lacrosse and having crushes on girls (but never doing anything about that because deep inside I was still shy Matt). I feigned confidence and acted popular. I was a social climber. I was the opposite of who I had been 3 years before. The 180 was complete.
I lived my life in that way to some extent for the next 8 or 9 years. I was an attention whore; I wanted to be friends with the popular people; I spent more time getting ready to go out at night than I actually spent out. There were parts of me that resisted. Parts that were still me, the real me. I did community service; I didn't drink until I turned 21; I definitely still played videogames; I was really shy around girls, even ones who liked me; I was picky about my real friends, the ones who I let really close. But mostly, it mattered more to me that I got an A in Cool than an A in English 101. I got a C- in that, by the way. Somewhere inside, I knew all along that I was doing the wrong thing, and the parts of me that were deep down underneath this new outer coat were trying to escape to the surface. I started out one way, made a U-turn and have been slowly turning the car around ever since.
The real movements back towards the original me started happening around the time of two major events. I started dating my current girlfriend, Sarah, and I started doing long-form improv.
Sarah is a grounded, intelligent, beautiful girl. She represents both sides of the spectrum well. In many ways, though not in all ways, she is where I want to be. I know that more and more everyday.
Improv comedy, more specifically long-form, and even more specifically the UCB community drew me in. I was and continue to be compelled by the art. I believe that that is significant to this story: the beauty of loving the people you're working with for everything they do, not just the stuff that immediately SEEMS brilliant on the surface. The more easily recognizable thing to me in terms of how it plays into my current pitch towards the past, is that that person I used to be would be 100% accepted by this community. If I had not changed one bit from before I got indignant and had found long-form some time along the way, I would still be as accepted in this community as I am now (if not moreso ... but that's a blog for another time). The most important part to recognize in all of that is that this is the community I most want to be in, period. I spent so much effort trying to be somebody I am not only to end up in the same place I would have wanted to anyway.
I am not going to give up everything that I have become since that fateful 3-year transition, as there are positives I have found, but I am happy to find a place where I feel comfortable picking up things I used to love. I dropped those things for the wrong reasons, and now thanks to this community and how accepting it is and how it's made up of people who I believe I really relate to deeply, I don't have to be afraid. Afraid to read comics, or obsess over a videogame, or geek out about books for a while. I'm doing all of those things right now, for the first time in a decade.
Thanks. Seriously. Thanks.