Tonight I have made a decision about my life, and it’s not something that I’ve come to lightly or precipitously. But in order to share that decision with you, I need to tell my story, in part.
From my earliest recollections, I was an outcast.
The neighborhood kids allowed me to play with them, but I was usually picked last when taking sides for games. Part of the reason they let me tag along was that my family had an above ground pool when I was young and keeping me as part of the gang meant a free pass to come swimming in the summer.
When I was six, my grandfather passed away. It was my first experience with death and I didn’t understand the feelings I had, I just knew I was never going to see him again, ever. Since we had already put his wife into a nursing home, their house stood unoccupied, so we spent that summer cleaning out furniture and prepping the house to sell. Rather than getting a storage place for the extra house full of furniture that we had suddenly acquired (storage facilities were rare commodities at that time) we just piled it into the biggest room of the house. Furniture was stacked on top of furniture, and that room became storage. It was also the first thing anyone would see upon entering the house, so my ability to host kids at the house suddenly went away. (A hoarding mentality crept in and the house stayed disheveled and poorly maintained until after my father had died some two decades later and my mother had moved out, further reinforcing the “no visitors” rule, but that’s another story.)
I was bullied throughout school. From my earliest days in grade school, I was made fun of for wearing glasses (I got my first pair at age four) and for being hyper-intelligent, yet not smart enough to keep it under wraps. My parents thought my intelligence was my greatest asset, so I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t liked for showing off the brain I was given. This eventually led to physical bullying as well as psychological. I made my first real friend between my sophomore and junior years in high school.
From the time I moved out of the house, I struggled to fit in somewhere, anywhere. I joined churches to find a social network without truly understanding the belief system the organization professed; because of that need to belong I can say that I’ve either joined or attempted to join the Baptist, Catholic, Pagan, Buddhist, Pentecostal, Mormon, and Unitarian faiths. I joined a multi-level marketing business with no real desire to make money or build a business. I tried to join an improv comedy troupe, which directly led to my being involved in community theater for a year. (It was a productive year; my first performance won me Best Actor for the theater for the season.) I joined and eventually moderated online chat rooms in America Online, and that directly led to me moving out of state for the first time for a job. I proved to be unsuited for the position, and moved again three months later to be with a girl I’d met through the chat room. Together, we moved seven months later to be with her mother during a recurrence of breast cancer. Seven months after that, and I was living alone in a state that I knew no one and didn’t have the first clue how I was going to get out of it and get home.
A few months passed by, and somehow, somewhere, saw an advertisement for a meeting of the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism. I had heard about this organization when I was in high school; one of the girls that didn’t really fit in told me in passing that she was a participant and I was curious about these people that wore funny clothes and acted like it was a different time. Not long after I learned of their existence, I stumbled by chance upon one of the group’s events, and I was mystified at how immersive it was. I was inquisitive at the time, but shy, and didn’t really know how to ask what it took to get involved. I tucked that memory away, and when I saw the notice of the meeting, I figured I didn’t have anything to lose and so I went.
People there greeted me warmly, and were eager to tell me about what the organization was about. I learned that it’s a nonprofit historical re-creation organization dedicated to pre-17th century European life, and that people not only dress up, but participate in combat, learn skills appropriate to the time period, and all manner of other activities in this umbrella hobby. I left excited about what I’d found, and came back for the next month’s meeting. People remembered me and were glad to see me! This was a very strange thing for me, as I was used to being shunned in social circles. I learned there was a demonstration taking place at the local renaissance fair in a couple of months, and so I decided to go see what it was all about.
This was the first time I was ever “in garb” and I loved it. I still hadn’t been to any actual SCA events – demos are handled differently from events as there’s a lot more interaction with the general public in a demo, answering questions and putting skill sets on display for others to watch and learn. I made plans to attend my first event in January 1997.
It’s at this point that I need to take a minute to explain the hierarchy of how the SCA runs. The SCA is a worldwide organization split into 20 regions which we call kingdoms. Each is run by a succession of sovereigns and consorts determined in an armored combat tournament, with each reign lasting around six months or so. When a combatant and his or her consort win Crown Tournament, they are installed on the spot as the kingdom’s heirs, and they spent the next few months acclimating themselves to the role they are about to take on. One set of Crowns steps down and another takes the thrones at Coronations, and it was one of these Coronations that I had chosen as my first true SCA event.
I remember much of that day like it was yesterday. I remember being entranced by the pageantry and ceremony of the day, by the gorgeous costumes, by the incredible food, by SO MUCH of what I had seen and heard. The event was a three hour drive one way from where I lived, and during the entire car ride home I was a non-stop battery of questions about the whole thing.
I was hooked.
Over the following years I built my persona, changed it, built it again, changed it a third time. I received awards for my service to the various levels of the organization. I won performing arts championships. At one momentous event, I very casually met a woman and struck up a friendship that blossomed into love and eventually marriage. I started getting used to introducing myself only to find my reputation had preceded me, and it was good. I was well-loved by my kingdom and I adored it. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged.
And then in 2005, my wife and I moved away and never could quite replicate the magic we had enjoyed in our new kingdom, so we stopped participating in the SCA for close to seven years. During this whole time, we tried to make plans to come back home, only to see obstacle after obstacle get in our way. My mental health was suffering as well, and I spent much of our time away depressed and despondent. I eventually found another home with the radio station and that helped, but that also got me accustomed to having friends through a filter, with very little face-to-face contact.
In late 2012 the stars aligned and at a moment where my wife and I were 45 days away from being jobless and homeless, through the help of many of our friends in Texas, we were able to come home and get a fresh start.
But my mental health didn’t improve upon coming back home to the chosen family I left behind. Steadily I got worse and worse and got to the point that I was afraid to leave the house for any reason. I stopped going to the weekly fighter practice that the local group held. I stopped going to events altogether. As I write this, I’ve been to three events in the past twelve months. Somewhere in Texas and Oklahoma, there is an event almost every single weekend of the year, and I’d been to three in a year.
I had myself convinced that no one wanted me around, that people didn’t like me all of a sudden, that I was persona non grata. And I never bothered to check in to see if that was actually the case. I just disappeared.
The last event that I went to was over Memorial Day weekend, and I only attended because I knew my closest friends would be there and they needed my help with a recurring project. i spent the whole weekend receiving hugs and very warm greetings from people, and the recurring mantra “you need to come out more often.”
And still I haven’t been active, because I’m convinced that someone, somewhere, doesn’t like me.
We’re currently housing a friend of ours while she’s in town seeing clients for work. (She’s a massage therapist.) Those clients are coming to our apartment and she’s doing business out of our back room, and all of them know me through the SCA. The week has been a steady stream of friends coming over to the house, spending most of their time with our house guest, but making a point of checking in on me and telling me point blank “you need to come out more often.”
And I realized that I am letting my fear rule my life and keep me from the only social circle I’ve ever known, and from some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life.
I’ve been trying to find another social circle to get involved in, but I’m afraid of trying something new. All because I’m scared that someone, somewhere, doesn’t like me.
Tonight I made a decision.
I’m tired of letting my fears keep me from being happy. I’m tired of having goals I want to reach in the SCA being held back by my irrational terror of what some unknown person may or may not think of me. I’m tired of not immersing myself into the most comfortable environment of my life.
So I’ve made the decision that, unless I’m physically unable (I am prone to migraines, after all) I’m going to be at fighter practice this Tuesday evening. And I’m going to be at the next one, and the one after that. I’m going to start getting involved more than I have in a year’s time.
Because I’m tired of not being happy a lot more than I’m tired of feeling afraid.
I’m going to stop listening to my stupid lying brain and start following my bliss.