Book 2- Chapter 1: Breaking away from normalcy

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.

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Book 1- Chapter 2: Transition

After two years, my parents realized that I was no better off in public school. Trying again to improve upon my social skills, they had me skip sixth grade and enter middle school at a different religious private school. The new school was no better. I was unable to become part of any group, was isolated, and spent all of my time reading. It was the first time I was attending the same school as my brother in years, but he was three years older than me, and just a bit occupied with the things that usually interest fifteen-year-old boys. The only result of the final year I spent in private school was the beginnings of a disdain for religious figures of authority, and somewhat for religion as a whole.

There were two important events that happened during that year, the first events that actually caused me to begin to change in some discernable way. Both were a little traumatic and had long lasting effects.

The first of these was a direct consequence of both my inability to recognize other people as having separate needs and desires, and the fact that the private school system can institute an even lower standard of teacher than public school, especially if the private school attracts students by being religious. This particular teacher strongly disliked me, because I always read in his class, and left exactly at the time the class ended whether he had finished speaking or not. Obnoxious, I know. I was 12, what do you expect? Regardless, by this point the teacher was fed up with me. During a fundraiser, he was counting money in class and placed a twenty dollar bill in my binder while I was in the toilet. When I returned he accused me of stealing it, searched my belongings, and found the money he had planted there. I was completely horrified. Even worse, he held a trial in the classroom, and had the class, who had seen him put the money in my binder, act as a jury. He had instructed them to all vote guilty, and all of them but three did. I had considered some of those people friends, and they had worked to bring me out of my shell with some success, but this set the process back completely. I was ejected from the classroom, and as I walked away, I shouted back that I was innocent. This, of course, caught the attention of the principal, who put me in detention for yelling in the hallways. When I finally returned to class after missing lunch and recess, the whole process was explained to me. Apparently the teacher had thought it was funny. It was absolutely not.

My parents, when they learned of this, were livid. My father screamed at them on the phone for hours. I had never even seen him angry before, and it was terrifying. It was quite honestly near the point that they were going to sue the school or get the teacher fired, when someone asked me what I thought should happen. What I responded with was completely out of character for me, and I’m shocked that I didn’t notice it at the time. I told them to do nothing. To leave discipline in the hands of the school. I said that I didn’t want to be responsible for making a man lose his livelihood when he has a family to support. My parents argued with me, but eventually gave in, save for insisting on an apology from the teacher and the entire class. Strangely enough, the school did absolutely nothing. I have absolutely no idea why the teacher wasn’t fired. Its really just more proof that a private school can get away with pretty much anything when it’s labeled “religious”. I also really don’t follow my logic at the time for that decision. I basically gave him the chance to do more damage to any of the other students that passed through his classroom over the years since that day. I suspect that I just wanted to have the school make the decision to fire him instead of me, and was just as confused as everyone else when they didn’t.

I’d like to state that though I don’t actually believe in Judaism, I don’t blame it for this one teacher. Judaism has it’s good points, and my reasons for disbelieving it have nothing to do with disliking Jews. Every faith has its assholes. I’ve never met anyone else quite that sociopathic in all my experience with the religion. Usually the ones that crazy get filtered out into one of the extremist sects.

The other event happened maybe a few weeks later, in May. I was finishing out the year in my secular studies, and not taking the Judaic half of the curriculum so as to not deal with that teacher ever again. During school hours, a friend of my brother’s jaywalked across the street in front of the school and was hit by a car. I remember hearing a siren, and walking out of the building to see an ambulance zooming away. All that was left was a huge puddle of blood, rivulets streaming to each side of the street, and a single sneaker lying in the gutter, soaking in the blood as it flowed past. I remember seeing that, and wondering at how red the blood was. I think I might have been in shock, or just not cared. I was a just little indifferent to the needs of other people, in case that wasn’t apparent. I walked home, and followed my routine. The only change was that I stayed updated on the boy’s condition. He was in a coma for about a week, during which his sixteenth birthday passed, and then he died. I think that this is about when I actually started seeing other people as people, rather than objects. I was struck by the finality of death, by the grief of his family at the funeral, by the horror of every parents who attended, imagining how they would feel if it was their own child inside the casket. I cried the night after the funeral, for the first and last time I can remember. Suddenly, the world had massively shifted. There was a point to other people, and that point could end. The enormity of it, and the sudden ability to feel grief, was more than I could handle. I sobbed, and for the only time I can remember, my mother was there to hold me. I cried, none of this going through my head, just thinking of how this boy, this boy who I knew, who often came to our house, was gone. I don’t even think I knew why I cried.

The fact that I actually learned to care for people as a result of an event that dramatic has absolutely left its mark. Over time, that trait, that sense of desperately needing people to be ok, needing to make things better, has defined me more than anything else. I suspect that it also stems from my reading material. We model ourselves after our peers, and I didn’t have any. The closest thing I had were the protagonists of my books, who were all heroes who saved people, who cared. I think I just got it in my head that being a hero was the way to go about caring for people, and it never really left. I had no idea of this at the time, but that side of me progressively grew, slowly but surely, until I could actually notice it about 3 years later.

One other thing of note happened that year. I took a focused science class for the first time, and discovered something I enjoyed other than reading. Though I left science behind for the next year, that relatively insignificant event also has played a major role in my development.

The next year, my mother, who had stopped working as an art teacher about a year prior, decided to homeschool me. This is when my education really took hold. I read the original article of Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority experiment, to help me understand why my friends had betrayed me. I began exploring literature, history, and psychology, using them all to develop an ability to write. One thing fell by the wayside, and that was science. My mother was unable to teach me science at my own level, and had no idea what to do. At the end of the year, shortly after my thirteenth birthday, she came up with a plan. That’s where the story starts to get a little bit difficult to believe, and much, much, more interesting.

Book 1- Chapter 1: Beginnings

Part I- The Innocent

From birth to age 13.

Chapter 1- Beginnings

This time period is by far the most boring, but it seems like that’s true for everyone. We start developing as people during our teenage years, and the same was true for me. I’ll try to move through it quickly, but it’s important that I lay some groundwork for later developments. There are probably also plenty of insights into my character from my early childhood that I’m just not perceptive enough to notice. Oh well. Maybe that will come with time. Either way, bear with me for this section, and I promise it will get a hell of a lot more entertaining afterwards.

My life did not have spectacular beginnings. The child of so many years ago is so far removed from the man he became that sometimes I can’t even recognize him. I was born on the east coast, near a major city, and immediately brought to a suburb to be raised. I was a normal looking baby, blonde, happy, and apparently extremely difficult for my parents to keep track of. I had a habit of climbing anything and everything, including the walls of my crib, neighbor’s fences, and trees. My wanderlust, and my curiosity, began to show themselves at a very young age.

I retain a scattering of memories from that time. Being read to, one particularly traumatic incident (or at least to a toddler) involving being sent to preschool in my pajamas as punishment for oversleeping, and an occasion during which I apparently flooded my preschool by smashing a toilet. I can’t really remember the flooding part, I just remember being particularly curious about what the interior of a toilet tank looked like. Apparently I lifted the lid, dropped it, and the impact was more than porcelain could handle. As with all other children, though, most of the escapades of my earliest years are lost to me.

When I really begin to remember things is from the time I could associate memories with books. This shows itself in the first memory that I can actually tie to a year. I was four, we had just moved from our old house to one five minutes drive away, and I was desperate for my mother to read me some chapter book I had just chosen from the library. Unfortunately for me, and all involved, I decided upon this pressing need at something close to eleven o’clock at night. By this time, all of my brothers but one had been born, and one of them recently. Needless to say that with a newborn in the house, my mother was not even remotely interested in anything other than sleep. She promised to read to me the next morning. Stubborn even then, I refused to accept this and sat down to struggle through it myself. To my great surprise, I did, and thus began a hobby that was so constant that my parents had to regularly take away my reading material to get me to do anything, including eat.

A few comments about my family are necessary at this point. As the story goes on, their characters will be further explained, but some details are necessary to begin. I am the second of four boys. My mother desperately wanted a daughter to balance the gender ratio in our household, but after the fourth boy in a row she stopped trying. My father is a doctor, and some of my earliest memories were of him being paged and having to run to a medical emergency. That probably influenced me more than I realized as I developed. He’s also the most overtly affectionate of my immediate family. I can remember him carrying me to my room, wrapped in a towel after a bath, and putting me to bed. I remember how scratchy his beard was when he carried me.

My mother was an art teacher, or at least she was on and off for the first decade or so of my life. She was very reserved, never inclined to displays of any kind of emotion. She left me to my own devices, save for when I caused trouble. For almost all my memories of that first house, I was alone save for my older brother and occasionally the children in neighboring houses.

My older brother, Doug, was my idol. Three years older than me, he could build better lego models, read bigger books, had better taste in toys, and was always the one that would come up with the ideas for our various adventures. I worshipped him, but at the same time I was incredibly selfish about our time together, which slowly drove him away. That distance still characterizes our relationship, though the rift between us has begun to heal over the years. By the time I began reading, at 3, he hardly spent time with me. He had friends his own age, and my refusal to admit my faults had given him no reason to make the effort to maintain our friendship.

My next brother, Ethan, had been born at this point, but only just. Younger than me by four years, it took a while for him to enter my then incredibly self-centered field of awareness. He was shy, rarely spoke, and incredibly absent minded. All of those changed, leading to the strongest bond I have with any of my family members. I will, however, admit that he’s still completely unable to focus.

It is also worth noting at this point that my parents were, and still are, orthodox Jews. I was always vaguely skeptical of religion, but I was still to young to question what my parents told me, so I followed along. Often grudgingly, seeing as it took me away from the wealth of information I had just discovered.

Despite my social gaffes, my earliest years were happy and simple. My parents were happy, both doing what interested them, and I had all sorts of places that were perfect for a small boy to explore. Unfortunately, something new took the place of the outdoors, and I quickly left my aspirations towards real adventure by the wayside.

Reading had quickly become an obsession. I spent half my time at the library, and reread books so frequently, and for so long, that I almost perpetually owed late fees. I developed a taste for fantasy and adventure, craving the possibility of mysterious new worlds waiting to be discovered, and the possibility of my life being particularly unique and significant. I had already noticed that I was less capable of befriending other children, often being included as an afterthought or ignored altogether. I can say little to explain this other than the fact that for much of my life, I had little in the way of traits that would allow me to connect with my peers, or to even be likable. In turn, I was shunned, and teased mercilessly. I wanted to be special, or to have some fascinating adventure to go on that would make me not care about it all. I was enough of a realist at the age of four that I expected it was never going to happen. Deprived of that hope, I settled for exploring the worlds that had been placed on the pages for me to find, and I rarely left. I grew distant from my family, never really developed the ability to act as part of a group, and often forgot to eat and sleep. I can remember staying up all night for the first time to read the fourth Harry Potter book when it was released. I was either 5 or 6 at the time. That was the first of countless nights spent doing things that were much more interesting than sleeping.

Around now my fourth brother, Andrew, was born. I was in kindergarten at the time, and by and large ignored him in favor of some chapter book I was bought (bought for me) to read while in the waiting room for the maternity ward. My parents spoiled him constantly, and it caused me to develop a resentment towards him that lasted even when he was finally forced to deal with things on his own. It has taken me years to overcome that irrational jealousy from so long ago. As time went by, he tried to demand my attention. I ignored him in favor of my books, which grew longer and more complex at a rapid pace.

My addiction to reading grew, and the fact that I constantly had my nose buried in a book became my defining characteristic, along with my antisocial nature. I remember my first book report being the only assignment I enjoyed in first grade. I read Lord of the Rings in second, trying to follow in my older brother’s footsteps. He gave up halfway through, and I was so enthralled I immediately reread it.

My prodigal talent for processing information on the written page became so apparent by third grade that my parents decided that I needed a more advanced education in order to study at my own level. At the time, I was enrolled in a religious private school, but my parents pulled me out and enrolled me in a gifted and talented program at a local public school. This was my first experience with the outside world, and I was even less capable of managing it than I had been at my relatively insular private school. I was driven even further inwards, though I did make a few tentative friends. This is also when I was first introduced to nerd culture. I had seen Star Wars, and loved it, but I was introduced to trading card games, manga, and video games when I was about nine. I was instantly hooked on all save manga, and in the course of playing card games discovered an incredibly competitive side of myself. This carried over to schoolwork, and I read the unabridged Odyssey cover to cover just to outdo the rest of my class.

My love of nerdiness was somewhat central to my preteen years, and slowly faded as time went by. There are still remnants, but most of my attention has been redirected elsewhere.

Introduction

Note: All names and places are concealed to maintain the author’s anonymity. The given names are all pseudonyms. If you are able to discover my name, please keep it to yourself. I am laying my soul bare, and while it doesn’t bother me to have the story known, I would rather not have every person I meet judge me based upon it.

For B.H.- I owe her more than she could possibly realize. My mistakes have been many, but when everything falls apart she has been there to pick up the pieces more than anyone else. Thank you so much.

Introduction

As I sit here at four in the morning, unable to sleep, caught up in the past, I wonder at how much my life has varied from year to year. I’ve done so many different things that I never imagined possible for me, and lost things I never thought I would even have. I’ve bounced from focus to focus, achieving in all of them then dropping them for some other pursuit, not resting in a single place for years at a time. I’ve loved, lost, betrayed others, and been betrayed myself in turn. I’ve seen people die, and seen people return from the brink of death. I’ve skipped more grades than I knew I could skip. I’ve gotten into bar fights with soldiers and seduced religious extremists. I’ve debated theology with hippies in Jerusalem and I’ve argued economics with a German while lost in the mountains. I’ve gotten accidentally high from sharing a drug filled hookah with random people I befriended in the street. I’ve performed original scientific research, I’ve published short fiction, and I’ve taught people both of those skills in turn. I’ve saved lives and I have ruined them. I’ve seen things that even now can bring me to the brink of tears. I have made more mistakes than I can count, some of them drastic, some minimal, and have done things that still give me pride years later.

The bizarre thing about all of this? That it all happened before the age of twenty one. Sometimes, it seems impossible to keep track of all the memories of that period at once, and there is certainly no one who has ever heard my story in it’s entirety. They hear of the sex, drugs, and alcohol, or of the science and academic awards, or of the absurdly varied interests I’ve pursued. No one has all of it, and no one who knew me as a child knows me now. I suppose I like it that way. Probably because it means that I’m never entirely vulnerable, which is something I’m relatively wary of ever since the “been betrayed” parts of my life. All pretentiousness aside, I feel that putting it on paper will organize this in my head. Also, if anyone ever reads this, it means they’ll understand my motivations entirely. It would be nice to have someone in see the whole picture, to judge me in possession of all of the facts. Some of my choices will never be clearly bad or good from my perspective. Maybe from the outside, someone else can see more than I ever could. Many, many morally ambiguous choices have been made over the course of those twenty years, and some of them have had major impacts on my life and the lives of those around me. Explaining that, though, would be giving spoilers about the rest of the book. Where would the fun be in that? Having all these events, these stories, fleshed out is what gives worth to actually reading the no doubt absurd number of pages this will end up being.