For chapter 1 and why I’m doing this, click HERE!!!
Heading into middle school for me was kind of weird. See, while I was still playing with X-Men action figures, watching Power Rangers, and mastering every Mortal Kombat fatality, everyone else was getting into girls, sports, and caring about things like fashion and being presentable. I was very much that kid that wore a t-shirt and gym shorts every day. Sometimes I’d change it up with sweatpants. When you’re a 200+ pound 12 year old, having clothes that were baggy and would likely still fit as you continued to further abuse yourself was a must.
While I got along with people in grade school, me being in a state of arrested development still obsessed with all my nerd shit, prevented me from making any real friends. Our middle school combined students from the three nearest grade schools, so in a single day I met three times the population of people my own age, and as luck would have it, 4 of them were kind of like me. Not only were they like me, but they were into things that even I hadn’t heard about. So while I was the expert on comics, they got me into games like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana. It was a short time before we started playing role playing games like Shadowrun and Dungeons and Dragons. We had sleepovers where we watched Samurai and James Bond movies. We played card games, and pretended to be GI Joes on the beach. Given that all of us were either over or underweight, we were the textbook definition of nerds. Without even knowing it, we formed our own little nerd culture.
I was so incredibly lucky to make friends, because middle school was not very kind to me. My parents started remarrying, and within a short time I suddenly had another mom and dad along with 5 step siblings, all of which were also much older than me with the exception of one step sister. And like you’d probably figure, I didn’t get along with any of them. Two dogs that we either had since I was born or very young died, one of my step sisters died, and my home life continued to get harder and harder. At school I started being bullied heavily. I started liking girls, but none of them really liked me. I slipped back into depression, and my grades along with it. I got so stressed out that I came down with shingles, which baffled doctors since that’s supposed to happen to people in their middle age brought on by extreme stress, not a kid in middle school. Something that should have been a wake up call to me and my parents, really ended up just being something that pushed us further apart.
I did discover at the time that I was pretty good at entertaining people. I couldn’t do much to make myself happy, but seeing a smile on people’s faces made things a little easier. I could carry a tune, and had pretty decent comedic timing, so I started to get heavy into music and theater. I found that it was a great way to express myself and just turn Mikey off for a bit and be someone else. It wasn’t long until I started accelerating at this and was cast in high school plays while still in the 8th grade. As I transitioned into high school, I was the first freshman to ever be accepted into both the elite choirs our school had. Literally half of my school day revolved around music or theater classes, and my nights were spent with play practice after school. While all my elective courses were straight A’s, I was barely passing or failing the majority of my other classes. It was around this time I made the personal realization that my intelligence is directly related to my interest level of the subject. I became good at reading because I loved comics and superheroes. I excelled at music and theater because I loved performing. Aside from a few classes like History and the occasional film elective, I just couldn’t motivate myself to do the work. I understood all the concepts, but you’d sooner get me to do a pull up than math or science homework. And you know what? I was kind of okay with that.
When I was 14, I started working at a summer camp. At first it was just a place that my mom pawned me off to for a week in the summer, but it quickly turned into a place that I loved. So in high school I became a camp counselor. My love of performing, and knowledge of everything superhero and Star Wars made me a big hit with kids. It was here that I realized I could be a mentor to kids like me who when younger were just lonely and misunderstood. I knew if someone I looked up to when I was younger would just ask me about the things I was into and indulged in it a bit, it would have changed everything for me. So every summer I brought a huge stack of comics, action figures, and pencils and paper. During downtime in my cabins, kids were reading comics, drawing, writing stories, or just talking about that kind of stuff. At night I’d have every kid give me one thing they’d like to hear in a story, and I would improvise a story in serial form that I added onto each night of the week. Years later, I still hear from people who’re now adults telling me that I was one of their favorite people at camp, or that they still remember those stories. For the first time in my life, I was sharing my interests and ideas, and people thought they were cool.
The next year at school, I was motivated now to try and become a storyteller. I dusted off the old computer collecting dust in our house, and I started writing comic scripts and story ideas. I wrote plays. A friend and I even made a comic, got local stores to sell it, and as a sophomore in high school, we even had a table at the Portland Comic Show, where we even sold a fair amount. I was a creator. It was then that I decided that what I wanted to do with my life was make comics. Now that I had my goal, I knew that I needed to focus on getting out of high school, going to college, and getting out of my small town. My grades improved because I now had reason to care. I even had two jobs outside of school. Some nights I was working with my brother at a restaurant, where I answered all the nerd trivia questions for the bar regulars, and sometimes I was working at a video store, employed only because the manager overheard me talking to friends about comics. So all aspects of my life were aligning, and my future was in sight.
Of course, life doesn’t always care about your plans. My senior year of high school saw a lot of bumps. My mom moved out of town, and in order to stay at my school and jobs, I needed to find a new place to live. I went from living with friends, to getting my own apartment, to finally having to move in with my dad and stepmom. If you don’t recall from part 1, my dad isn’t exactly the most kind and understanding person in the world. He did not approve of me wanting to work in comics. He didn’t approve of me playing role playing games with friends, even going as far as suggesting that I must be gay because I hung out with guys for many hours, and cared more about being in plays and music than sports. Coming from my homophobic dad, that could only be an insult. Eventually it all lead to an argument after I got home late from seeing Attack of the Clones with friends. What resulted was my dad choking me, police getting involved, and me having to graduate high school with bruises around my neck so clear that the police could tell my old man was left handed. I ended high school more or less homeless, moving from friend’s place to friend’s place, now not knowing if I was going to even be able to go to college, let alone just get some semblance of life together in general. Luckily, I’m a persistent asshole.
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