Part II- The Academic
Age 13 to 17
Chapter 1- Breaking away from normalcy
Now we’re going to start getting into the meat of the story. The point where I started doing ridiculous things, where when I tell people about my past they told me I was bullshitting them. You can choose to believe me or not, but I’m taking this opportunity to be honest about everything. I’m writing this more for my own sake anyways. We will also start to meet the supporting characters of this story, though not for a bit longer. Again, I’ll try to speed through until the drama begins.
By the time I was 13, I was aware that I was pretty intelligent. I was reading above my grade level, I was processing information at a ridiculous rate, and discovering a talent for science. I had never really thought about it much, but my parents had, and that led to my mother’s… unconventional plan. A plan to teach me science, and to socially acclimatize me at the same time. Excited as I was to find something that would actually be intellectually challenging, I was still a bit shocked by what my parents had come up with. They planned to enroll me in community college. When I was 13. When added to the fact that I skipped sixth grade, after I began classes I had skipped a total of five grades. My thirteen year old self really had no clue about any of the significance, and I mostly used the awe of other people to be an obnoxious little douchebag. Which, of course, alienated the few friends I had left. It was also more than a bit difficult to build a social life at college, as you might imagine. This was made worse by the fact that part of my mother’s plan, in order to make sure I transitioned well, was to take all of my classes with me. It was hard enough to be taken seriously when I was the youngest person in my class by 5 years without my mother hovering over my shoulder at all times. With her, it seemed completely impossible.
When I entered the classroom, there was a palpable sense of shock. It took most of the semester for people to work up the courage to ask me “How old are you, exactly?”. Other than learning biology, and building any sense of self-esteem for the first time, the year was pretty uneventful. The interesting stories didn’t start until the next year.
There was one unexpected side effect of this situation. For the first time since preschool, I was actually spending time with one of my parents. My mother worked most of the time, and my father frequently worked overnight shifts at a hospital, which left him too exhausted to pay attention to my brothers and I when he was actually home. I had spent some time with my mother while homeschooled, but I was mostly given assignments and left to complete them. Seeing my mother as a student cast her in an entirely different light. For the first time, I saw where my competitive nature came from. We fought to outdo each other, and in that conflict grew closer together than I ever expected from my emotionally distant parent.
I also quickly realized that I was actually better at academia than her, which put me in an odd position for a teenager. With that flaw made obvious, I was no longer able to see my parents as perfect, and no longer able to do what they told me on blind faith. This forced me to actually evaluate them as individuals. My mother was competitive, had a short temper, was extremely manipulative, and often used guilt to compel us to do what she wanted. On the other hand, she was also decisive, driven, world wise, had an excellent understanding of human nature, and a business acumen that I had been completely unaware of. Once her advice had actually been supported by knowledge of her character, I started to listen to it more closely than I had. Apparently we listen to our elders better when they have more credibility than just having a working set of reproductive organs. Shocking, I know.
I only took biology my freshman year, and continued to be homeschooled for the rest of my subjects. Either way, it was a huge improvement over any other schooling I’d had previously. More importantly, I had a fresh slate for the fourth time, and this time I actually managed to make some use of it. I developed the ability to be friendly, interested in other people, and talk to new people without wanting to run and hide behind a book. This was a pretty significant improvement for me, which gives you an idea of how bad I was at that point.
The year passed, I aced the class, and apparently this was all the proof needed for my mother to decide to enroll me as a full time student. Something you may have noticed about my mother is that she really never lets any of her children waste even a moment of time they could spend doing something more productive. Every time I could have been doing more, she’s pestered me until I did what she wanted. Apparently high school fell under the category of “not productive enough”. For once, though, I didn’t care. I was enjoying my classes for the first time in my life. In addition, the next year I was actually going to take some classes by myself, mainly English 101.
That summer, something else significant happened. I left America, for the first time in my life. My mother decided that she wanted to revisit South Africa, where she had grown up, and decided to take me with. Immediately upon arrival, my wanderlust was reignited. I wanted to explore, see everything, to go to more and more places and experience everything there was to see. Sadly, this was not to be, and after 10 days, I was forced to return home. All the same, the seeds of restlessness that had been left to wither when I was a toddler had been watered for the first time in years, and I knew I wanted to travel again.
I returned home, and readied myself for the upcoming semester. I was a novice writer, not having the patience to put my thoughts on paper. Expecting to take no pleasure in English, I left for the first day of class in a bit of a ill-tempered state.
When I first walked into that classroom, I expected… honestly, I don’t know what I expected, but it absolutely was not at all what happened. My professor had a Mister Miyagi approach to teaching. He gave us tasks that seemed ridiculous, and in the end turned out to make us incredible writers. I remember the first of these assignments vividly. I was assigned to take a fresh half of an apple, put it on a plate, and write 4 pages describing it every week. With no repetition. For a month. It was a nightmare, but if there’s any better and quicker way to learn descriptive writing, I haven’t seen it.
I also managed to bond with my classmates over our shared misery about the bizarre assignments we were given, and realized that my time in college had given me something else as well. In order to deal with people so much older than me, I was forced to become mature at an absurd rate in order to not be laughed off as a child. Apparently my subconscious is just as competitive as I, because it managed that in spades. It got to the point that people didn’t realize I wasn’t eighteen if they spoke to me before they could ask my age. As time went by, I learned the nuances of adjusting my outward maturity to whatever level it needed to be in order to deal with a group of people, as long as they weren’t actually younger than me. On the plus side, I was around very few people younger than me, so it never really bothered me that much.
All of this came at a cost, one that it took me years to realize. I had sacrificed my childhood, utterly and entirely. I had stopped reading as much adventure, instead opting for more nonfiction. I had stopped playing, being active, and enjoying exploration I had still pursued. I was so caught up in making sure I was taken seriously, in the novelty of actually having friends again, that I forgot to actually have fun. This led to a habit of taking myself much more seriously than was entirely reasonable, and a difficulty in cutting loose and not caring about consequences. Both have improved over time, but back then they were massively obvious.
The year went on, and classes progressed. I finished English, took the next level, and finished that as well. I had noticed the girls on campus, but now I actually spoke to them, making tenuous friendships that ended after a few weeks over and over again. I was a novelty, but had next to nothing in common with my peers, and none of the character to build real friendship. In addition, I was still more than a bit full of myself, although I had worked on it to the point that it was relatively manageable. To quote Patrick Rothfuss, “I was like an curious stone that is picked up, carried a while, and finally dropped again with the realization that for all its strange look, it is nothing more than hardened earth.” That is still largely true.
There was one entertaining incident around this time, though. In March, I was at a friend’s house while my parents were at a dinner party inside. For some reason, the parents of this friend had decided to buy a large plot of land in the suburbs, and turn it into a farm. Because why not? Either way, there was a lot of open space, and when I went there, our games usually involved fighting of some kind. I was mock fencing with him, using a wooden sword, while he used a metal pole with a piece of PVC piping on it. He swung, I jumped back, and the piece of piping flew off the pole and hit me in the face. Needless to say, it was less than pleasant. I was knocked to the ground, dazed, before I responded with intense anger. I got up, spitting out blood and shards of shattered tooth, and began to hurl obscenities at my friend. I don’t even think I noticed the pain, or the massive cut on my forehead. That became pretty obvious when blood ran into my eye, drying and sealing it shut. That’s the sort of thing that tends to make someone pause and think whether yelling is the best use of his or her time. I stopped, realized it was an accident and that I needed medical attention, and went inside. The dinner party’s reaction to me calmly walking inside and saying “I think I might need to go to the emergency room” in a monotone was entertaining enough that I cheered up pretty quickly. Quietly sitting on the couch until I was ready to be taken, enduring the incredulous stares of the adults present, it was all I could do not to laugh.
In the end, I needed stitches. And a root canal. And the surgical extraction of a shard of tooth embedded in my gum. Basically, the pipe had cut open my forehead, then spun around and shattered two of my front teeth. Not knocked out, shattered. The bottom halves of the teeth were still there. I needed those teeth reconstructed, and later one of them replaced with a fake tooth altogether. That’s another story, though. I also walked away with a crescent scar on my forehead, which makes an excellent excuse to launch into this story when anyone asks about it. Honestly, this was the first story I had worth telling to people. Definitely not the last, but the first. My reaction to the events at the time was a bit ridiculous, enough so that I could laugh at it later, and the pain tolerance I’d displayed was slightly insane. While I didn’t think I’d get more, a love of having a story to tell became part of who I am. It took me a while to realize it, and to start chasing my own stories, but I think the beginnings of it were here.