If personal experience has taught me anything, it’s taught me that hiding behind the largest personalities are lifetimes of hurt. Only when we face the hurt, do we build our confidence and gradually pull down our walls to reveal our true selves.
Young people are no exception and I was one of the kids in school that had become so accustomed to hiding his pain, that it took me until my mid thirties before I realised that my loud boisterous personality was nothing but a mask.
But I was glad of that mask after Sally found herself a boyfriend, it allowed me the ability to keep a public facade of happiness and strength. For without it, I fear I would have drowned in my shame and humiliation. You see I am an introvert by nature and there are very few ways to better wound an introvert than to humiliate them publicly.
That her boyfriend did not go to our school meant that I could maintain my pursuit of Sally as my date for our leavers dinner. And so I continued with jokes and playing around. I loved making Sally laugh, she had this laugh that was so infectious, everyone on our bus would turn around to see what was happening. Sally’s laughter made the pain of my high school life worth living.
I am that lost kid that would sit under a tree with my rifle of an afternoon and wonder if life would better for everyone if I just shot myself so that no-one would have to worry about what should be done with me.
I thought that being rid of me would be better for my mum, for the family that had taken me in, for my teachers that told me I was wasting my potential. I thought that being rid of me would save my family from any further embarrassment and everyones lives would be far better without me here to be of any further nuisance.
There were two people that kept me alive at this point in my life. One was my little sister Catherine, who I would die for to this very day and the other was Sally. She didn’t know it of course, I was too busy trying to pretend I was the strongest, coolest person she could ever hope to have as a date for her leavers dinner.
But the truth was, that through her laughter I saw a tender heart that I wanted to be mine. I wanted someone to know that I wasn’t as rough and tough as I pretended to be, I wanted someone to feel my version of love and more than anything in the world. I wanted to know what it felt like to have someone love me back.
Eventually, Sally did become my date. And I will always be the boy that took Sally C. to our leavers dinner but sometimes getting what you ask for is not the same as getting everything you want.
Once Sally agreed to become my date, my life went into overdrive. It was my final year of high school after all and so there was all the shenanigans that are part and parcel of being a teenager as well as all the admonishments from teachers about how you’re wasting your learning opportunity by not finishing assignments etc. But kids who see no future, don’t worry about school grades.
And so my biggest focus became Sally and the leavers dinner.
Unfortunately, the events of that evening have been lost to me. I remember hiring the suit and fancy white shirt. I remember Sally putting her arms around me to measure me for the Cummerbund her mum was making for me out of the fabric from her dress. But more than anything I remember how the night ended. Those moments will be indelibly stamped into my consciousness forever.
The night was ending and groups were gathering to take photos to preserve final memories of a childhood that was about to end. Couples were starting to get cosy and school yard mates were walking around with arms around each others shoulders, promising to stay in touch. Outside, proud parents stood on the sidewalk waiting to celebrate another milestone in their childs life.
Sally had called me over to have a photo with her, her best friend and her date. I don’t remember who took the photo, I remember smiling into the camera when I suddenly hear someone say “Hey, thats Sally’s boyfriend”
Yep, it was time for my world to start crashing in around me. I quietly said good night and walked outside and waited for the bus that the school had provided for those kids that didn’t have other arrangements. I think someone even nicknamed it the rejects bus and that sounded about right.
There were a few dateless single on the bus and even a few couples that were busy finding dark nooks to cuddle up and giggle in. Because I was “The Man” taking Sally C. to our leavers dinner, I had told everyone I could I was so excited and now my shame was on show for everyone to see.
On the bus, someone asked where Sally was. It went quiet when I said she’d left with her boyfriend. My cousin Rachel, came down to my seat where I was alone, hugged me and told me she loved me before leaving me alone to sob quietly for the hour long trip home.
It was 4 years before I let anyone else get that close again.