Living in Growing Through Middle School

My Continued Journey Through Adolescence: Unveiling the Layers of Middle School, Spiritual Discovery, and the Dichotomy Within

In middle school I played basketball and ran cross-country, and I also played the saxophone for the school band. I wanted to play percussion, but on the morning that we were meant to meet with the band director the last percussion spot was placed within minutes before I could claim it. Of the available positions, I thought the saxophone would be the most fun. Middle school would be our introduction to self-discovery, time was allotted to allow us to explore what we wanted to explore. We would be allowed to make choices, and we wouldn’t yet be restricted by those choices. Transitioning into our teen years is overwhelming, not necessarily emotionally, right away, but we build up these expectations, and no one can say what those expectations might be exactly, still we do feel the pull of life’s approaching apprehensions. Our teen years, the earlier ones especially, are the beginning of the first real emotional and psychological changes that we experience in our lives, and it’s the only series of changes that we do not consciously make. We simply start becoming someone new, and hopefully we’re cognitively unlocked enough—consciously—to have some choice as to the direction that we might take—I wasn’t.

            Seventh grade was the first time that I realized who I was—at least in the way that I saw myself—and the way that other people saw me, was different. It would be years before it would occur to me that I was actually responsible for that. I wasn’t a vulnerable person. I didn’t open up to people. I kept the core idea of who I was wrapped up tight in a little ball of light that I hid somewhere near my solar plexus. The person that everyone knew, including all of my friends—even my best friends throughout middle and high school—was some persona I had pieced together that would allow me to protect myself. This wasn’t a conscious decision. There wasn’t a Third Eye Blind or the Verve Pipe lyric that spoke to me, and I wasn’t reacting to an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun. On some level, I knew that I wasn’t expressing myself. However, I didn’t have a clue how to express myself, and it was nearly impossible to recognize that because I wasn’t expressing myself, I wasn’t being myself. Eventually, I pieced together a façade of a person, and I built on that person year after year until I couldn’t anymore. I no longer recognized myself, and so one day I left (but that’s a story for another day). This is a story about who I was throughout middle school: after my interests in the renowned Alex began to fade, and I began to near the beginnings of the first great transition of my life.

Seventh grade is a blur, I don’t remember much of it, if anything really, maybe a few insights. The year was remarkably uneventful for me, that or something terrible happened and I wiped it from my memory (which I can’t entirely discount). I remember that I had Ms. King’s math class, and that I shared a table with Mandy. The classroom was plain, it was less than plain, it was clinical, like a common area at a jailhouse, with psych ward windows that looked out over the lawn of the front of the middle school. I thought Mandy was pretty, but I was never really interested in her. Mandy and I could banter. We had a fun give-and-take playful way, and we could make each other laugh. I think she was new to town that year, and new to the school. At the beginning of the school year, I was still very much in love with Alex, but my mindset shifted from out there to in here. I wasn’t particularly introspective yet—that would come later—however, introspection was already in development. I was becoming more aware of my internal monologue. My friend Jason, my best friend at that point, and I spent a lot of time together. His family had a pretty good-sized home out in Fair Oaks: with nice shaggy white carpeting, a larger-than-life rottweiler, a PlayStation, and a swimming pool, and we had almost nothing in common. Jason and I both liked basketball, and we shared a favorite team, the Orlando Magic, starring Shaq, in his early days, and Anthony “Penny” Hardaway, and we both liked Gloria Estefan, I think she was his favorite singer for a spell (she was never mine). I never cared for the PlayStation, and Jason would play the thing a lot. He often played a game called, PaRappa the Rapper, and I thought the game was stupid. Jason would play his game, and I would sit in his room and think about how white everything in his house was. The place was pristine, it didn’t feel like a home, it wasn’t lived in, it was on exhibit. Growing up in a household like that can be confusing. I’m not sure what Jason’s relationship with his parents was like, but I always got the impression that he might have felt an awkward connection with Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. There were popsicles one afternoon, they were Strawberry flavored. Jason finished his popsicle out on the patio by the pool, and then wanted to go play PaRappa the Rapper. I hadn’t yet finished my popsicle, still we found our way up the stairs and into his room. At that point, my popsicle was feeling the exhaustion of the afternoon heat, and it had started to melt, and it had started to drip onto Jason’s nice shaggy white carpet. I can still hear the sound that his mother made while she was scrubbing the blushing new shade of carpet that afternoon, and by then we were downstairs and on the other side of the house. I offered to clean it, and she refused, which is why when I do still hear the phantom, outlying muffled screams of a woman who was probably younger than I am now, I don’t feel the least bit bad. Jason’s sister was troubled, but the more time I spent with his family I understood why. The older she got the more success she had working through those issues, she’s a cool person, and I hope she’s doing well. She had a friend that started showing up at their house after school and on weekends, like I did. We’ll call her Laura (I’m going to change names at will if I choose). I thought Laura was gorgeous. She had straight black hair that rested on her shoulders, dark eyes, and fair skin, and she had a way about her that was fun and sexy; Laura was one of the first girls that I really thought was sexy. Sex is on every young person’s mind, young boys bear the heavier burden, although it’s not an adolescent boy issue, it’s a general adolescent curiosity. Until I met Laura, I didn’t think much about sex, not as an act. Until then sex was just an idea. Nothing would happen between Laura and I, although there was mutual interest—I don’t remember why nothing happened, I don’t recall the details, but I definitely remember Laura, and the four of us splashing around in that swimming pool.

Eighth grade took me on a deep dive into religion. Something clicked for me that year, the realization that I could make every single decision in my life, including those that would become the foundation of who I would be—I just didn’t yet know how to. Religion is one of those things that is imprinted onto people, most people accept religion in the same way that we accept our genetic makeup—it’s simply a part of who we are, passed down through generations by a particular denomination and a particular set of ideas and dogma. At least, it was more that way then than it is now. I had no religious identity. My dad is agnostic and my mom’s deeply spiritual but unaffiliated; my dad was raised Southern Baptist, and my mother was raised Catholic (she attended Catholic school for years). I was raised, after my family moved to Texas, going to the occasional Baptist service with my grandfather, and exploring Awana(s), and I sometimes joined my mom at the services she was attending when I was younger, a religion that adopted both western and eastern philosophies. My mom wanted my sister and I to have a sense of something greater in our lives, and it didn’t matter to her how that might look. If we didn’t attend an actual service of some kind, she wanted us to be reading and learning about something spiritual. I read books on Shinto, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Gnosticism, and Transcendentalism, and then I came across a magazine, I don’t remember how, but I got my hands on some journal printed in Houston, Texas. I read an article that was hugely profound for me then, and the focus has stuck with me throughout my life. The article first quoted Buckminster Fuller, “God, to me, it seems, is a verb, not a noun.” And the author goes on to account sitting in a circle in a room of a spiritual community in Findhorn, Scotland, where one young man suddenly said, “Oh, wow, I finally see it! It’s not that God is in all things; it’s that God is all things.” In the following paragraph of the article, the author goes on to say, “God is indeed a verb. He is not the creator. He is the ongoing unfolding of creation itself,” (the act of creation). And with that, especially having recently read through the texts and belief systems of all the major religions and many minor ones. I couldn’t help but to acknowledge a greater connection between all the religions, rather than just the obvious or the assumed; and even in ideas like manifestation; suddenly, to me, it seemed, as if there was a missing link at the heart of our interpretation of religious dogma, and understanding God to be the act of creation was it. The religions started to lose their inherent differences, besides of course the prescribed cultural differences born into the dogma based solely on where the seat of the religious head was centered. Afterward, the principle of my beliefs found a new foundation, and I sort of adopted the tissue elemental to all religions. However, I was also still in eighth grade, and I was still very much “in development,” but a great deal of my thoughts—my overwhelmingly private thoughts—were focused on the development of these new ideas, and trying to form cohesion where there was largely only a feeling and a sense of something that made some sense to me.

Meanwhile, I’m fifteen years old, and it’s 1998; anyone born around, and after ‘95/’96 will have a difficult time relating to what it was like being a teenager before smartphones, social media, streaming television, and even streaming music, it wasn’t particularly awful, but we spent a lot more time with ourselves. We explored and developed who we were in very different ways than anyone has sense, not always consciously of course. Being a millennial, too, was, and continues to be, “upsetting.” A fraction of my generation started blaming our parents for everything (that’s where baby boomer hatred developed), and the same fraction behaves as if life were a mistake. Another fraction wishes that they were either ten years older or ten years younger, and have just, kind of, become the ideal of whatever they think that might look like.

Jason had been dating a girl, she was new to town, and to the school—we’ll call her, Shelby. Shelby had class and style; she had dark hair, dark eyes, a perpetual tan, and a nice body, and needless to say, I was into Shelby. The pair broke up after a few weeks, I think, maybe a month. Jason was a handsome eighth grader, he had the look of a symmetrical Jewish frat boy, but he was shy. He would shut down in situations that were uncomfortable to him, and being with girls was uncomfortable for him. After the two broke up, I asked Jason if he was OK with me asking Shelby out. Shelby and I dated for several months. I wasn’t as assertive as I could have, or should have been, and although I was curious about bodies and skin and sex and sharing all that, I was really worried about pressure. I don’t remember much from my childhood, but I do know that I felt pressured to be a certain way, a particular idea, and a particular person, and I either never was that person, or I never wanted to be. Because of that, I also developed a pedantic idea of pressure. I would often mistake being assertive with being coercive—intellectually. If someone didn’t want to do something, I didn’t want to influence them to do it, and I still struggle with that, it’s why I hate sales, among other things. I would go as far as to avoid bringing something up that might have the potential to influence. There is a smug balance about influencing a person that, in some situations, I feel comfortable with and in others, I just don’t. Through middle school and high school there were a few girls that needed a more assertive me—Shelby, Kara, and Carla most notably—and I struggled to be that. I don’t blame Shelby in the least for cheating on me that following summer, especially since she ended up marrying the guy, and they are still together today—for those of you who are math enthusiasts, that’s 26 years, and we’re not even 40. I was sitting on Jason’s couch watching a scorpion climb up his impossibly white living room walls, through the window the pool shimmered in the waning sunlight which created a glare and I had to bob my head to keep sight of the scorpion. I was talking to Shelby on the phone. We talked on the phone a lot, every night at least. I fell asleep a few times on the phone with her and woke up with my family’s gold matte landline receiver laying in my lap, I was perched on my chair at my desk in my room. I think I’d still be able to recognize Shelby’s voice in a crowd. Shelby broke up with me while I was sitting on Jason’s couch, she was my first real girlfriend. Earlier that summer, there was a class trip to New York City and Washington, D.C., it was my first time visiting either city—I have since been to D.C. too many times to count and have since lived in New York City. On the plane, Shelby and I were sitting next to each other, and I kissed her. I mean, I really kissed her. It wasn’t our first kiss, but it was our first real kiss. I remember almost nothing else about the trip. Being in a hotel room with our chosen buddy group in New York, sitting on the steps above the TKTS booth in Times Square (years later I would sleep just a few yards from there), and standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the first time, looking out over the reflecting pool through the Washington Monument, the National Mall, and toward the Capitol building—I’ve loved D.C. ever since.

Our town was small, in ’98 the population of Boerne was just over 6,500, and so pretty much everyone knew each other. I was never a popular kid, but popularity in smaller schools tends to carry a different meaning, at least for everyone who didn’t proudly acknowledge their own popularity. Sixth, seventh, and some of the eighth grades were emotionally and mentally noisy for me, but in part, and because of that, I was never too concerned about what other people were thinking or thought, especially about me. There’s some benefit to that, particularly as a teenager, however, caring what people think about you, again particularly as a young teenager, will offer support in the development of empathy. Being self-conscious can be a healthy regulator as you mature into adulthood if you continue to develop as a person (that’s an unpracticed behavior these days). And because I had little interest in what people thought, I wasn’t always aware of how the people around me, my friends in particular, might be sensitive to my projected idea of self—you know, who I thought everyone wanted me to be. Looking back, I would have been more present for them, and a better friend. I do think it would be interesting to be thrust back there with all the experiences and refinements and ideas that I now have, because I know that it would be different, because I would be different. I am nothing at all now like who I was in middle or high school. In eighth grade, we graduated from middle school, we all transitioned from our final years of childhood into high school, and we had a year or so of acclimating before the world caught on fire. A new generation of adults that never wanted to be adults lost themselves in the heat and the blaze and the hypnosis of that fire, but well before the ashes there was high school, at least the beginning of high school, and I still may not have been myself in high school, but those four years were remarkable, and we did have a lot of fun…


Biographical Series:

Part One: Unearthing my Earliest Recollections: A Journey Through My First Fluid Memories 

Part Two: Reflections of a Sixth Grader: An Introduction to Concepts of Growth, Challenges, and Self-Discovery

Part Three: My Continued Journey Through Adolescence: Unveiling the Layers of Middle School, Spiritual Discovery, and the Dichotomy Within.

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