Sitting on an enclosed deck in the middle of a thunderstorm has become a favorite pastime of mine. I used to be terrified of thunder; as a child, even the slightest rumble would send me flying under the covers, shaking with fear. Even now, the storms seem scarier when I am inside, so I call upon my father to join me, where we settle into the green and white-striped chairs--his, always the recliner. With the sounds of whipping wind and falling rain all around me, I am calm.
My parents still live in the house I grew up in, about a two hour's drive from where I am now in New Jersey. Graduate school has kept me almost absurdly busy, and I don't go back there very often, except for the occasional orthodontist appointment or holiday.
There is a danger in visiting one's old hometown, in that you run the risk of seeing people you know. People from the past, who remind you of the person you used to be, and who you spent years trying to forget.
People you went to high school with.
The beige and black building is much smaller than I remember. At its feet rests a verdant landscape, the grassy, crater-shaped bowl used for baseball in summer and sledding in the winter. A long handrail in the middle of half moon-shaped steps leads the way to the front doors, whose once heavy handles yield easily to my hand. From faraway glance, it is peaceful, serene, and immaculately kept.
For me, it is and was my vale of tears.
It can be said that people spend most of their lives trying to figure out who they are. It can also be said that this process almost universally begins in high school. Jock. Nerd. Homecoming queen. Band geek. Class president. Loner. Which one are you? Now's the time to find out, to find others like you and stand together--allies in the silent war of the hallways.
But to do that, you first must know that you are a person. I never got that far.
Sometimes it was only a look. A brow furrowing in disapproval, eyes rolling almost comically far up into their heads, a brief scoff before finally turning away. I never knew what these things meant, but still I was left with a deep burning inside my heart. Chest heaving, cheeks flushed, the beginnings of teardrops forming in my throat. A powerful poison that was slowly, methodically, killing me.
I knew I wasn't like my peers. Not popular, beautiful, happy. Not normal. Through elementary and middle school, my apartness from them became painfully obvious in almost every way, but it wasn't until high school that I realized the true nature of the divide between us.
They were human. I wasn't.
I believed this. At first, it was because they told me. "Psycho. Freak. Loser. Retard." In between classes, alone in the hall, standing by myself not saying a word. If there was an opportunity, they took it, hurling insults like tommy gun-loaded paper airplanes whizzing through the air.
Am I someone? Am I even alive? the questions plagued my thoughts. After a while it became impossible to see the difference between their lie and my truth. Their words were pinballs, firing around in my mind through the maze of neurons and synapses, reverberating, shrieking as they traipsed and ran and looked for the end of the labyrinth, to no avail.
I was convinced that I wasn't really there; just a body, floating through those halls day after day, with no essence or tangibleness behind it. Nothing to tether me to the earth, to the rest of humanity. My soul belonged to them.
This was the storm that I lived in, with no shelter to run to, no protection to shield me. No matter where I tried to hide, the thunder always found me. And it roared.
My father gently rocks back and forth in his recliner, the screws squeaking quietly as I listen. The rain is beginning to subside now, the sky brightening, and the air is tinged with a crisp coolness. The trees are stained, their leaves heavy with damp. Tiny droplets hang from every edge, pulling them down as if bowed. Another survivor. I nod my head gently in reply. We have both made it through the storm.