By Nicky Reid aka Comrade Hermit
Exile in Happy Valley
Middle school sucks for everybody. But its harder for some people than others. After nearly a decade at a small, conservative, K-8 Catholic school, I was beginning to chafe beneath the cross of my mental illness. I had suffered from depression and anxiety since early childhood but as I entered the maelstrom of my teens, these issues became too turbulent to conceal. I didn’t feel like the other kids and my awkward individuality felt far from welcome among the pious adults. Even beyond my ability to cope with the basic everyday stress of being an active human being, I felt strange and detached from what passed as normal in this stifling environment. My body felt like a mistake and I couldn’t shake the fear that these feelings were evil. I had never heard of words like transgender or genderfluid. This was the Nineties and the only people who looked the way I felt were Dennis Rodman and Marilyn Manson, and the generally excepted wisdom at my church was that these freaks were going to hell, and so was I.
I was terrified. Terrified of myself. Terrified that if I ever let people in, that if people ever really truly saw me, they would either burn me at the stake or run screaming for the hills. So I retreated and found ways to cope. I lost most of my friends but I found shards of myself through the awesome power of punk rock music and radical politics. George W. Bush dropped bombs on Baghdad when I was in 8th grade and the very next day I came to school with a peace sign strapped to my arm. In early post-9/11 middle America, this mild gesture of resistance was tantamount to burning a pentagram in your forehead and declaring allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
I spent the proceeding weeks and months engaging in all out verbal combat with nearly every student and teacher I crossed. It was exhausting, but for the first time in a very long time, I wasn’t scared, I was proud. I had declared my independence from “normal” and stood my ground and it felt empowering. So I dressed in all black, stopped standing for the pledge of allegiance and gave up on trying to please the normal people who occupied my life. I decorated my backpack with badges emblazoned with the portraits of my new saints; Kurt Cobain, Che Guevara and Joey Ramone. Then the wolves came in and normal bit back.