A Birthday Retrospective, Part Two: Years 11-20

(Wrtier’s Note: As I begin writing this entry, it is a little after 9 PM on March 11th, 2019, and I am not 30 just yet.) So we come to the middle section of my life thus far. The last couple years of elementary school passed by mostly uneventfully, though I do remember the electoral college debacle during the 2000 election. I remember Florida’s votes getting messed up, and despite being in Nevada, I felt a strange sense of pride knowing that my place of origin had some sort of relevance in that election. I wasn’t quite sure which side I leaned closer to, though I vaguely recall liking the blue ideas more than the red.

Uh oh. Politics, in my supposedly-mostly-about-video-games blog? They’re more likely than you think. Anyway, if I had known better, I wouldn’t have been proud of Florida’s tomfoolery, but I digress.

When I was 11, sometime during the winter, my grandmother on my mom’s side passed away. I hadn’t seen her in a long time, but I recall feeling sad because I knew that was an appropriate response to death. I wasn’t a great child. My mom told me that if I attended the funeral with her, she would buy me a video game. The offer came out of nowhere, and pretty fast, and I was 11 – I didn’t say no. Would I have gone on the plane ride to Missouri if there wasn’t something in it for me? I want to say yes, but I’m not sure. As I said, I wasn’t a great child.

Somewhere along the rented car ride from the St. Louis airport to my uncle’s house in the Missouri woods, we passed some kind of chain supermarket – you know, a place that sells groceries, clothes, appliances, pharmaceuticals, the works. My mom guided me to the electronics section and let me pick out a game. I didn’t really have any list of “most wanted” games at the time, but I had my GameBoy Color with me. I looked at the mysterious boxes in the display case and picked one that looked intriguing. Dragon Warrior Monsters. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just picked up my first legit Jrpg; I mean, Pokemon is pretty fun and all, but it’s not nearly as challenging as it could be. As I squinted at the screen in the dim light of my uncle’s kitchen later, my mom asked me to explain the game to my uncle. I don’t remember what I said, but it probably wasn’t much. I was in the game.

I remember sleeping on my uncle’s couch in the living room. If I recall correctly, I had a book of Greek mythology with me, and I think I was reading The Odyssey. That, or I was looking at my uncle’s copy of The Odyssey and thinking that I should read it one day. I got to it eventually, but at the time, I think I was mostly bored and looking for entertainment before sleep took me. As I look back at this strange, sad series of events, I wish I had noticed more. I was not the most attentive 11-year-old; I mostly lost myself and my surroundings in video games and books.

Later that school year, I turned 12, and by the summer, elementary school was over. Three years in the Nevada school system and I was ready to surge ahead to middle school. It was all mostly the same, except the building was different and I had to figure out how to navigate it. I had to memorize a class schedule – no more sitting in one room all day and switching subjects as one teacher saw fit. I started playing the clarinet when I was in sixth grade, and I chose to continue that life in middle school. Everything was fine and dandy, until we had to take tests. Tests in band class typically involve each student playing a section of music, out loud, in front of everybody. I had never realized it before, but I wasn’t cool with a spotlight on me. I braved these tests just like everyone else, but man, they gave me the jitters something fierce.

I had noticed girls in sixth grade, and had crushes, but middle school made my crushes a lot more intense. Y’all know why. I distinctly recall taking introductory German classes and noting that my former best friend was “dating” one of the prettiest girls in the class. Jealousy wasn’t exactly a thing for me, not yet, but if it was, I’d have been pissed. The only reason we weren’t best friends anymore was because, well, I wasn’t a popular dude. I played video games and read books and mostly kept to myself. First week at middle school and cliques were already forming.

(Weird, disturbing side note with a TRIGGER WARNING for pedophilia: that German teacher got busted later for having some messed up pornography. I fervently hope that none of my classmates experienced any messed up shit at that teacher’s hands.)

The GameCube was the new hotness back then, having released during the holiday season of my seventh grade year. I joined a new group I’d never exactly noticed before: gamers. We all liked Nintendo, we all played Super Smash Bros. Melee, and we all had terrible track records with dating. In that, none of us had had an official relationship with another human being. Granted, at the beginning of middle school, this should come as no surprise; still, I recall watching other people get closer to each other, and have what could be called relationships. I didn’t experience that until I entered high school.

Ah, high school. For some people, it’s remembered as a terrible time. For others, it was the “best time of [their] life.” I feel pity for both camps: a bad high school experience can skew a lot of things, but firmly believing that high school was one’s peak is a destructive attitude as well.

I’m happy to say that high school was, all in all, a pretty good time for me. Although I closely identified with gamers in middle school, I also met my new best friend while I was there, a young man named Brad Crane. He attended the church that my parents had been taking us kids to, and he had heard from my people that I was attempting to learn to skate.

Before I sound too cool for school, yeah, I tried to skate. I was pretty bad at it. Even after years of attempts, I could hardly ollie, and moving on any sort of incline scared the shit out of me. Somehow I taught myself how to pull off shove-its and, rarely, a heelflip. I did this weird thing that was like a boneless, but I turned my body in a strange way to make it a whole new thing. It’s funny that slight variations on the norm create a whole new trick. Entity. Perspective? Anyway, I tried to keep up with Brad and our other skater homies, but they always outpaced me.

Still, Brad and I remained best friends throughout most of high school. We were both in band during middle school, and we continued that trend, which kept us in close proximity most days despite our taking different classes. Marching band was a strange time, but it led me to meet a fellow clarinetist who become another best friend of mine. I know two bests can’t really co-exist, and the notion of a best friend is probably an unfair one, but I’ll call Kevin my other best friend. Kevin was a gamer, like me and Brad, though he didn’t skate. Probably just as well, because that shit was rough. We would routinely hang out with our extended friend group and play random games together, or even apart if we happened to have our portable consoles with us. Kevin usually had his GBA, and eventually, we each had our own DS. Alone together can be a healthy thing too, if you do it right.

Brad and Kevin were my main dudes, and our group was a weirdly huge one. Brad was something of a social butterfly, and I was nice enough to garner my own friends and acquaintances. Among the three of us, we probably knew the whole school by name.

I had never had an official girlfriend before, but high school changed that. I had a crush on a young woman who went to the same church as me and Brad, and somehow she ended up agreeing to date me when I was a freshman. She was a year older than me and Brad, and at the time any age difference blew my fucking mind. So my first girlfriend was a sophomore, and I had no idea what I was doing. Kissing was like a rare and exotic animal to me; I’d heard of it, I sort of knew what it looked like, but I didn’t know if I could handle it.

Eventually I got used to kissing, and even got to like it. Holding hands still gives me an electric thrill. That first relationship only lasted a matter of about three months, but I was set up to experience a lot more relationships throughout my teenage years.

I used to do this thing where I would sit down with Kevin and count my high school girlfriends. It sounds really fucked up, and it probably is, but I mostly did it to test my memory. I like to think I can still remember the names and faces of each young woman I dated when I was in high school, but as many young relationships go, some of mine only lasted a few days. At one point I tried dating someone I’d never met in real life – she was a friend of one of my ex-girlfriends, and we talked online. We tried to meet in person once but something went wrong and we didn’t make our rendezvous. I went to a Jimmy Eat World concert with a young woman who tried really hard to make out with me in an elevator. I felt beholden to another young woman at the time, so I refused the make out session.

I had a strange sense of loyalty. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but of course I ended up doing that anyway. I was a teenage boy, and I have to admit that my emotional intelligence was pretty fucking awful. I dated one young woman twice, both times ending with her breaking up with me. Live and learn, right? There was one young man who I could probably count among my friends, and he watched me get close to two young women he had a crush on, on two separate occasions. I shattered that kid’s heart, twice. And at the time, I didn’t feel bad about it. I just did what I wanted.

I’m pretty sure one of my high school girlfriends wanted to sleep with me, and one night we somehow convinced our parents to let her sleep over at my house. She lay down on my bed, fully clothed, and I had no idea what to do at that point. I had the vague feeling that she wanted us to get naked, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. So I didn’t do it. She went to sleep in our guest bedroom while I fell asleep in my own room.

She broke up with me a few weeks later and started dating one of our mutual friends soon after that. Rumors strongly indicated that they slept together fairly quickly. I don’t always know how to please other people, but sometimes, pleasing other people involves damaging oneself. I wasn’t ready for sex, so I didn’t pursue it.

All this reminiscing about my old love life has gone on way too long.

During junior year, I suffered a severe lack of motivation. I just wanted to stay in bed all day, playing games on my DS and reading books. I got way into Ayn Rand. I liked her philosophy’s take on individualism, but the political and economic stuff was just meh for me. After I failed a few classes during that first half of the school year, counselors recommended to my parents that I catch up online.

Reno’s online learning platforms at the time were sorely underwhelming. I enrolled in the core classes I needed to move on to my senior year successfully, but once again, I wanted to slack off. I played video games until 4 AM instead of doing homework. Teachers assured my parents of my intelligence, while I squandered it on video games. The night before a bunch of assignments were due, I panicked and tried to rush through all of them at once. I did it to myself – I didn’t do my work at a steady pace, and procrastinated instead. By the time 5 AM rolled around, I knew there was no way for me to finish all my required assignments before the deadline. So I booted up Chibi-Robo and played it instead.

My graduating high school on time was something of a miracle, if only because I somehow summoned the motivation to push through the dreaded “senioritis” and take a full load of classes at the school, while I took two additional classes online to make up for failing my junior year. I poked my head into the band room once during my weird absence from school, and the band instructor/conductor, Mr. Willis, asked “Are you okay? Have you been sick?” It was a strangely touching moment, and I felt really bad when I ended up quitting school altogether and leaving his clarinet section minus one player.

I wasn’t really that good anyway, so it was probably all right.

So I pushed through a jam-packed senior year, decided that I enjoyed books enough to become a teacher one day, and made plans to attend the local community college to pursue this goal.

The summer after Brad and I graduated, we went on what was to be my final mission trip with our church youth group. It wasn’t the final mission trip because of my age or anything – I had decided a year before, in the midst of my Ayn Rand obsession, that I was an atheist. I didn’t want to do anything related to the church anymore. Despite my turning away from organized religion, I did enjoy helping people. I just wanted to do it my way. So I went on this mission trip, the summer before college started, and I fell in love.

Another youth group joined us on this trip, and they were from a place that was only about two hours from Reno. One of the young women from this place caught my attention immediately. And thus my history of falling in love too fast began.

Our youth group leaders swapped info to keep us all in touch, but I had a better idea: I gave my new crush the link to my myspace profile. Holy shit, yes, I’ve finally mentioned myspace. I had never been a huge fan of telephone conversations, and thinking back on it, I probably preferred myspace comments because they’re typically text-based. I could write weird, sappy novellas to this woman. Which is exactly what I did, for weeks. She finally gave me her phone number via myspace, but I was too thick to take the hint. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was giving me one final chance before she stopped giving into my weird obsession with myspace comments. Lucky for me, I finally gathered enough courage to use the phone.

And things went well. It wasn’t as difficult to hold a conversation as I thought it would be. You take text, filter it through your brainspace to your vocal cords, and you say it out loud. Then you listen to what the other person says, and you compose a response very fast, to then say out loud right after they stop talking. The process scared me at first. But I got good at it.

This young woman’s name is Molly. Molly and I had phone conversations fairly frequently, but we really wanted to see each other again. Only problem: I had not obtained my driver’s license, and I had no car to drive to her. Brad, best friend that he was, drove me everywhere I wanted to go throughout our high school days. Molly’s home was two hours away from us. There was no way he was gonna take me there.

Except he did, once, when it was Molly’s birthday. Another young woman from Molly’s youth group wanted to see Brad, and he wanted to see her, and she was invited to Molly’s birthday shindig, and oh heck why don’t we just drive over there and make it a whole thing? So we did. Brad drove us there, we hung out with Molly and her friends, and I watched from the periphery as Molly and her friends had a great time. I had a taste of life in close proximity to her, and I wanted more.

Thus began my Greyhound bus phase. For a good half a year I took intermittent bus trips to see Molly, and we had a weirdly enjoyable long-distancey relationship. I mean, it wasn’t too long-distance, but it was still not an easy bus or car trip. We still relied on the phone as our main means of communication. I started community college, and something about me must have impressed Molly’s parents because they allowed me to show up and stay in their guest bedroom for days and nights at a time.

That, or they love their daughter and they wanted her to be happy. So they let her weird long-distance boyfriend crash at their place every now and then.

Either way, Molly is a year younger than me, so she was still in high school. During the days, most days, she’d be at school. So I ended up sleeping in most days, chilling in her parents’ guest bedroom until she got home from school. We’d go on walks, watch movies and tv shows together, go to restaurants to eat good food and have good conversations away from parental supervision … you know, relationship stuff.

As all things do, our relationship came to an end. Near the end, I was not the nicest guy. I made disparaging remarks about some of Molly’s friends, and I just wasn’t fun to be around. In the wise words of the Spice Girls, “If ya wanna be my lover, ya gotta get with my friends” (please God let me get the words right). I was not with Molly’s friends. I was harshly judgmental of them, and even of Molly, in the end. So she broke up with me.

I was fucking devastated. Around the time, summer was creeping around the corner, and I was used to doing nothing during the hot months. I’d never worked a job in my life, but my stepdad really wanted me to get a job. I didn’t want to oblige him. After a heated argument that ended with me on the lawn and him leaning over me in a threatening way, I just fucking left. I went to the nearby park to cool off. A good friend of mine lived down the road a little ways from my parents’ house, and I ran into his sister at the park. I am no good at keeping my emotions to myself, so I told her what had happened. She walked me to her mom’s house, I explained the situation, and this amazing woman graciously allowed me to crash with her son for the nonce.

Thus, I pined for Molly at the house of my friend, while I played too many video games, watched too many YouTube videos, and generally ignored my urgent need for a job.

The way I saw it, my friend’s mom said that all she wanted from me was to help her son stay motivated enough to graduate high school. His drive had been faltering, and I promised I would keep him in line when school started. Until then, though, I was enjoying myself immensely. I had recently started playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and we had a great time messing around in it. Our group of friends was still playing Super Smash Bros, so we got together to get into that. This dude’s house was so close to my parents’ place that all I had to do was walk for about two minutes and I could go inside, take a shower, do laundry, and leave, all before my stepdad got home. So I kept myself and my stuff clean without using my friend’s hospitality.

He’s a good man. I haven’t talked to him in a few years, because I’m bad like that. He got me into Fallout 3 right when it came out, and I will never be able to thank him enough for that. By that time, though, I was gone. I found a job that August, and after working for a few weeks, I had enough confidence to sit down with my stepdad and talk things out. I moved back in with my parents, and avoided rent discussions because I hardly made any money. Part-time gig at the mall, selling shoes, yeah … not the best paychecks.

I ended up dating again after Molly, but we’ll get to that next time. My stint at Journeys Shoes put me in contact with a few women I ended up dating, and one of them took up most of my 20’s. That sounds bad, the way I put it, but I mean it in a neutral way. My desire to be with someone just wouldn’t quit, and I kept trying out new women until finally, one stuck around.



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