Ch 3: The Crucible

I know I sound dramatic at times. Perhaps even a little melodramatic. I am not prone to dramatics in general, but when I crash, I tend to do it hard. I’m skipping ahead a little, but I know I have brain chemistry problems. I have theories as to the specific variety, but I lack funding to see an appropriate specialist and confirm anything. Mostly I just want to convey how dark and overwhelmed I became. I thought about the situation on a near-constant basis.

I rearranged my room four times that year. I stayed up until late hours, often anywhere from two am to five am. If I decided to go to class the next morning, I got out of bed at eight am. If I didn’t have class or decided not to attend, I slept until three pm. Afternoon naps curled in the sunshine on my bed became routine. Sometimes when I laid down to sleep, I would lie awake, staring at the window curtains. I would remember feeling Cereal’s arms around me and it would be all I could think about. I would get up and read more fanfiction. I would turn on the television, clean my room, and try to get tired. It was a process repeated nearly every day.

I simply could not stop thinking. I could not shut off my brain. The guilt was crushing and all-consuming. I emotionally broke another human being. I hurt him. I hated myself so intensely and so often. Walking to class, I’d be thinking about it. In class, I would wonder how he was doing. School became more difficult for me. Homework and grades slipped in importance.

All that mattered was what I had done.

I doodled art of maimed bodies and looked up violent artwork. I watched gory movies. The violence was calming. I started pinching the skin on my hands and lower arm with my fingernails. Nothing that left a mark, just enough to feel something. To punish myself. I moved up to biting. I punched the cement walls sometimes. Not hard though. Nothing that broke skin, just enough that I could feel it.

I expanded on my suicidal ideas. I moved on from the gun vision. I thought about walking in front of a truck. It wouldn’t have been hard. They drove past the road next to the dorm all the time. Just step out into the road. It would be so fast, I wouldn’t feel anything. Unless I survived. The thought that I might live through it and have to deal with family and hospital bills was enough to stop me. And really, it wouldn’t be fair to do that to the driver.

I thought about cutting a lot. I didn’t. And really, slitting wrists is not a one hundred percent method. Many survive and again, I did not want to deal with the consequences of surviving a failed attempt. I had always liked bladed weapons like swords and knives. The more curved and stranger the shape, the more I liked them. This intensified as I attached the daydreams to the object.

I hate swallowing pills, so that wasn’t really a consideration for me.

I thought about walking down alleys late at night and getting jumped by thugs. How they might hold me up against walls and threaten me with knives. I could get raped and stabbed to death. At least I wouldn’t die a virgin. The thought was a little peaceful.

I was maybe a little fucked up.

When I was younger, I had always been interested in stories with tortured, angsty characters. The characters with tragic backstories and death and torture. As I grew older, this fascination grew stronger and more detailed. I became interested in both physical and psychological torture. Dismemberment, knife-cutting, being tied down and especially the anguished screams. Family members dead, betrayal, abandonment. The best torture is the kind that utilizes both emotional and physical pain.

The only way I can really describe it is like a hunger. I wanted, I craved to know and understand what it was like. I don’t know why. I don’t think it was my strange childhood. Although the feelings intensified after Cereal, they existed before I had met him. It was a part of who I was that I’d never thought about or addressed. It had just existed, emerging slightly in my artwork and more so in my reading choices but otherwise unnoticed and ignored. Until those first few months.

I never drew blood, never marked myself, never planned any kind of suicide. I just fantasized about it. I don’t think I would have. I was not suicidal; I was in a dark place. If someone had tried to kill me though, I’m not sure I would have stopped them. Looking back, I think of myself as passively suicidal.

There were two reasons why I was not active. One was that, my being a naïve, Christian, good girl, I had always disapproved of suicide. It’s giving up on life and therefore wrong. It was weakness. It was selfish, leaving family members behind to grieve. So easy to say and think when not feeling crippling despair. Now that I was experiencing it, I thought about how it would break my family, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to stop feeling more than I cared about their feelings. The short of it was, I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I didn’t want to be the person saying “Suicide is wrong,” and then kill myself. The second reason was Twin. If I died, self-inflicted or otherwise, she would be sad. This was unacceptable.

Twin had always been the happiest person I had ever known. We had a running joke that if she ever got depressed, it would be a sign of the apocalypse. When surrounded by depressed people who always wanted something from me, she was my safe haven. She was not blood family and she was the only consistent person outside that that I knew, unquestionably, loved me. As a friend, sure, but it was love. A connected bond. Making her sad was unacceptable.

So I stayed alive to suffer. I still believed things would be easier if I were dead, but I didn’t pursue it. But I thought about it.

I made friends with Quirky, the girl in the room next door and one of my residents. She liked to read vampire romance novels. She leant me her Anita Blake books.

This was a pivotal time. It was a dark, gory series, featuring an angry heroine slowly losing her faith. She started out very close-minded and gradually became more open. I know it’s a popular fiction series and should therefore be taken with a grain of salt, but it was also my first real introduction to BDSM. Dominance and submission were a large feature of were-animal groups and the wereleopards in particular were into the BDSM scene.

I wasn’t going to kill myself, but once I found out it was an option, I wanted someone to hurt me. I wanted pain. Pain was calming, steadying. But, there are different kinds of pain. For me, there are at least three distinct types. The calming type is punishment pain. It doesn’t feel good or bad, it just helps me calm down. The second is pain for pleasure. The third is pain that just hurts. Stubbing toes is still unpleasant. But I knew pain could feel good. I needed someone to inflict it on me. I could only achieve the calming pain on my own. I needed someone else for pain to be pleasurable. I wanted it so badly. I wanted, like Nathaniel, to be taken care of. I could have been a housewife and happy. Someone to keep me and hurt me.

Vampire and were-animal dynamics naturally mimicked aspects of this dynamic and I became obsessed with them. I caught up in Anita Blake and went through several other series.

My death fantasies now had sexual fantasies to keep them company. Well, BDSM fantasies would be more accurate.

I scraped by in my classes. I completed my RA responsibilities. I did enough to get by, but little else. All extra time and effort was spent on the crippling guilt and reading up on my new interest.

To be fair, this was also my first exposure to polyamory, although I didn’t have a name for the concept at the time.

Cereal applied and was accepted as an RA for the spring semester. There were only a couple of positions opening, so he was placed in my dorm. Strange. I don’t remember which floor he was on. Maybe four? I now had to see him at all meetings and watch him interact and become more popular with the rest of the staff. I don’t care about popularity, but it did hurt that they didn’t give a shit about me. Not a lot, since I don’t have appropriate feelings, but mostly function as an extension of the self-hatred and worthlessness I carried around.

I was able to visit Twin at her college maybe once a semester. I didn’t own a car, so it was whatever ride I could procure at a given time. She was an animation major and her floor was the art kid floor. Everyone knew each other, no one locked their door and they all liked playing videogames together. When I came, I got introduced around (and probably forgot all their names—there were just too many) and went to the dining hall with the large group. It was different. Safe.

I held her hand as we walked down the street and didn’t worry if anyone would guess my secrets. If they did, what did it matter? They knew no one I knew except Twin. When I spent the night, we would squeeze together on the tiny dorm bed and I would snuggle my head in the crook of her shoulder. We hugged and snuggled on a regular basis. It was peaceful. It was only ever for a weekend at a time.

I don’t know if it was isolation and loneliness, but when I was still at my college, I started to feel like I was destined to lose everything I cared about.

I wondered if my family would die in a car accident. Maybe they would all be traveling somewhere and I would be going to meet them, but they would die en route. And then I would be truly alone. Maybe we would go to visit my extended family in another state and everyone would die except me. Unlikely, sure. But I thought about it happening. It would have been awful, but then at least what I was feeling would make sense. I mean, sure, heartbreak can be crippling, but this was ridiculous. Other people had experienced worse tragedies and handled it better. What excuse did I have for drowning this way? If something happened to my family, then it would fit. Then I could make sense.

I didn’t want it to happen, but I fatalistically expected it.

The one that really got to me though was Twin. She was the one I couldn’t stand to make sad. She was the most important person to me. So she was in the most danger. I became convinced that she was going to die. That one day I would get a call from her mother informing me that something had happened. I didn’t know for sure what, but the more I thought about it, the more I expected her to be stabbed to death in an alley. Two thugs. They’d try to rob her, maybe succeed, stab her and then leave her to die.

Sometimes I imagined I was there to defend her. She might still die, but I would have seen their faces, so I could avenge her. I thought about how I would torture them for taking her from me.

I would need a soundproof basement somewhere deserted. I would chain them from the ceiling and to the floor so that I would have access to the whole body. I’d keep them alive for as long as possible. I would use a knife. Cut the skin and see what sounds the person would make. If they’d groan or whimper. Or maybe stare defiantly. I could practice skinning. I’m not a hunter and I’ve never hurt anyone like that, so I would not be good at it. I’d start with the legs and peel layers of flesh until I reached muscle. Slowly filet my way down to the bone. See if he would scream or beg. I would bottle his tears in a vial. Break fingers, cut cheeks. I would satisfy my curiosity and experiment. Listen for guttural or high-pitched tones. Revel in sobs.

You see, I rejected Christianity. I was lost, with no God. I was not going to heaven. But Twin was. If she died, then that would be the last time I would have with her. We were destined for separation in the afterlife. Anyone who took our last moments away in this life, I would punish.

I was still good, still following society’s rules, but if something happened to her, why should I bother? Or at least, that was my logic.

I thought a lot about torture, pain, suffering and being alone.

Everything about me flipped upside down. I rejected Christianity. God had rejected homosexuality, so he could not embrace who I was. I hated the rules, the obsessive demands and control. How everything should be his, but failure was mine to claim. I could not take the system. Every social interaction was a nightmare of: Does this make him angry? or Should I step back to help? They’re upset; do I stay silent, offer assistance or just leave? My every move was brainwashed control. That was the road God wanted me to follow. To recruit others to his cause and show interest in only his work. I felt like an empty shell. Someone who wasn’t even real. It stopped having deeper meaning and felt like a prison that siphoned away the essence of me until nothing was left.

But without God as a compass, what was I? My whole life was spent following his rules and his purpose? Now I was bisexual, suffering from guilt, surviving through violent fantasies and entirely without purpose.

What was the point of living without purpose?

I mention this because it wasn’t only heartbreak. It wasn’t only an ended relationship. I slowly erased all the pieces of myself accidentally. All the important cornerstones of a personality—religion, sexual orientation, moral values, romantic relationship—had changed.

How did I survive?

The truth is, I didn’t.

So much guilt and miserable self-hatred. Waking up every day and wondering, again, what the point was of getting out of bed… It ground me up like a mortar and pestle.

When I look back and think about that first year apart, my junior year, and who I am today compared to who I was, I think of the girl I used to be as dead. She doesn’t exist anymore. I am no longer the sweet, innocent, naïve girl who believes in everyone’s potential and wants the best for everyone. Who believes that something being wrong is reason enough not to do it.

I became someone new.

After a semester of Cereal on the same staff as me, I went home for the summer. I worked my same summer job with Twin. The only place I had sanity or smiles was with her. I don’t really remember much else from that time.

Just that the guilt was as crushing as ever. That I hated myself as much as ever. My thoughts continued circling in their horrible, constant spirals.

I remember towards the end of the movie “Serenity,” River falls to her knees in the square at the dead city. She spouts out a string of Chinese and ends with “Please God make me a stone.” I thought a lot about how much I identified with that. I wanted more than almost anything to stop feeling.

But somehow, I kept breathing.

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Ch 2: The Descent

My old dorm was closing down, so I was moved to a new building. It was a co-ed dorm split into two wings per floor. The top floor was all girls, the second floor was all boys and there was only one wing on the first floor which was also boys. The four floors in the middle were one girl’s wing and one boy’s wing. Each wing had one RA responsible for it for a total of fifteen RAs and two GMs covering the building. I was one of the two RAs on the all-girl top floor.

This training was different for me because it was spread out over two weeks instead of crammed into three days as it had been for the spring semester. More time was built in for unpacking and doing door decs, bulletin boards, etc. A lot of it is fuzzy for me now. There were many types of training sessions and team building within the time frame. I know some were about dealing with racism, some were health related, first aid, sexuality, dealing with resident issues (like homesickness, depression, coming out, roommate troubles and on and on), fire extinguisher training, breaking up parties, dealing with cops and the judicial system and on and on. The point is, most of it was talking sessions or activities with fellow RAs for each dorm. It was an opportunity for team bonding with people we’d be working with all year.

The person on the opposite wing of the same floor was called the wingmate. Mine was a girl I’ll name Flirty. It’s not an insult—she was just naturally friendly and flirted harmlessly, not seriously, with her close male friends. She was fun and loved Bruce Willis more than any other actor.

I should mention that making friends is horribly difficult for me. I’ve always connected better with teachers than students. I don’t know why this is, I can only speculate. I share hardly any interests with others my age. Fashion, chick flicks, sitcoms and looking pretty are not large priorities for me. I don’t enjoy passive aggressive behavior and games. I don’t want to stereotype and say all women are like this, but honestly, these are things that come up often and I just go silent because I have nothing to say. I also theorize that my obsessive reading tendencies and father issues contributed to and early emotional maturity that disdained the “drama” frivolity that is often a high school and sometimes college feature. But I don’t think I have a particularly accurate view of myself, so it’s difficult to say for sure why others frequently have no interest in me either.

Making friends is hard work. Getting to know new people is a chore. But I did it. I worked at because I did want to expand my horizons, try harder and grow as a person. So I worked at bonding with Flirty. We watched Die Hard movies and talked action films while working on door decs. I worked to make friends with a nerdy guy, Tech, from the all-boys floor. We talked fantasy series, women’s rights and videogames. I have no high interest in them, but Cereal did, so there were some things I knew. There was a “Steve Urkel” nerd type from another floor that was more softspoken, a little more derp, but loyal. His girlfriend was brash, loud and slept around a lot before dating Steve monogamously. Her first real relationship.

When I think about people in a physical sense, I’m not really attracted to physical appearance. Overly muscular guys are creepy and kind of gross. I’m more interested in personality and character. That said, I do have a physical type—it just isn’t that important in comparison and it’s not a requirement for me to be interested.

Tech was the definition of my type. He wore glasses, was lanky skinny, slightly taller than me with soft brown hair and he loved to smile. He was incredibly easygoing until someone broke his principles. He had a tendency to complain but not to lash out in a temper. He babied his hair and liked helping girls pick nail polish colors and make fashion decisions. He used to say it was too bad he wasn’t gay because he had no gag reflex. He was fun.

This was a problem.

No, we were only friends. He was in a long distance relationship with a girl from back home. He was happy. Only he wasn’t happy. He spent hours every day on the phone with her, often filled with her complaints. Sometimes he just wanted the freedom to have a normal night with friends and she didn’t understand. It was only a matter of time.

But we were friends.

I knew Tech and Cereal would be great friends. I was right.

Once training was over, Cereal returned to school and the semester began again. I think he was a little jealous at first—maybe he could tell—but they did become good friends.

Although the emotions were less intense than with Charisma or Twin, this was worse because it was occurring mid-relationship. I had no excuses, no “it happened before I knew him, I just suck at fighting things off.” This was who I was. There was no running from the monster in me.

I looked at Cereal and saw my flaws, all the ways in which I would always disappoint him. I looked at him and saw all our incompatibilities, our dissimilar interests, the way he thought of my friends as freaks.
What should I do? What should I have done?

I contemplated, I wondered and I churned with guilt. I thought a lot about the gun. I thought about what it would mean. I thought about our plans for our perfect future.

I thought about Christmas. His father had been transferred again—still in the military—and now he would be stationed in a more exotic location. I knew he planned to fly me to his family. What if he bought the plane tickets? What was I to do?

Cereal stayed in my room on weekends and we cuddled on that tiny twin bed. He lived in my old dorm which was co-ed for a semester while they finished the newer dorm buildings.

My new RA friends, Cereal and I started watching movies on a given night a week. I don’t remember which night or which movies anymore. But we had dinner, ate snacks, played games and hung out together. Flirty painted Tech’s nails rainbow colors. Sometimes a resident or two would show up but not always.

Things kept twisting and agonizing inside of me. I knew the right decision, the thing I had to do, but what if things changed? I honestly just didn’t have the guts. I was a coward suffused with guilt. So I began to hate myself. For hurting him, for being too weak, for trapping myself in an impossible situation. But all internal. I did nothing.

Well, okay, I tried to talk to him about the disparity of our interests. I think he received it as an “okay, I have to try harder thing,” when really, it was more like “it’s so hard to show him even the tip of the iceberg.” But that was all.

A week passed.

He slept over in my room again, so it must have been the weekend. I fell asleep in his arms and dreamed about kissing Tech. It was chaste and innocent. It was a dream, not reality. But I woke up in Cereal’s arms and knew I couldn’t delay any longer.

My stomach was wrestled so tightly into knots that I knew better than to try eating. I might have thrown up if I had. I met him at his class. I walked back to his room with him. We sat down on the bed. I couldn’t look him in the eyes. I sat in his desk chair. I spit out the words.

I know. I should have told him everything. I should have. The bisexuality, my horrible thoughts about others, my doubts about Christianity, the differences between us… There were so many things. And I wanted to. But I was terrified.

I could barely say the words I said. That we should break up. That my mind had become a strange place that felt a little insane.

The weird thing was, part of the reason I was so nervous and wracked with guilt was my concern over his reaction. I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want him to cry or yell or be disappointed. I was expected it. I was expecting him to argue with me, to try to keep me from leaving but he was mostly silent. We went to dinner.

He didn’t say much. He acted fine. I think it hadn’t set in yet, that maybe he was sinking inside himself. But I had done it. I had managed and succeeded. He hadn’t freaked out or scared me. I think the relief and the unknotting of my intestines were why I became a little tactless.

I look back and can’t imagine why I was so stupid. I started babbling a little, mostly about how I hadn’t eaten anything and how I was relieved. Very tactless and unfair. He didn’t say anything and it’s never come up since, but I still feel bad about that.

That was the primary emotion of the next two weeks or so. Relief. I felt a little freer to talk, to relax. I wasn’t bound up in someone else’s life. He was still friends with my RA friends so we all still hung out. He was depressed. It was evident in every expression on his face, every word he uttered when he spoke, which wasn’t as often. I felt guilty. I didn’t know what to say. Did I have to right to even try to cheer him up? It wasn’t as though I didn’t love him anymore. I made the decision based on right, wrong and practicality, not on my emotions towards him.

I still liked Tech though. His relationship with his girlfriend grew rockier and rockier. We talked late at night sometimes. He was so nice and so interesting. Nothing happened and nothing happened and as all of us continued to hang out, I realized that nothing would. I didn’t know if I wanted anything to. On a base level, I liked him so I wanted things to happen. On a practical level, I didn’t want to hurt Cereal further. I didn’t want to jump into a new relationship right on the heels of a two-year one. Seemed irresponsible. I hadn’t really dealt with my emotions yet.

As those couple of weeks passed, I started not getting those invitations to lunch and dinner with everyone. Flirty and Cereal became closer and closer friends. Cereal and Tech were closer friends. They became the standard trio. Flirty was in a long term, long distance relationship with another guy who visited now and then, but she was very close to Cereal and Tech. They went to all their meals together, watched movies together and went to the gaming club together. Tech and Cereal talked videogames and building computers. They went to see chick flicks together.

I was… happy for him. Really. I was glad that he had someone to talk to, to rely on since he no longer had me. I wanted him to have friends and stability. I wanted him to be ok. He was not ok.

I felt like a rubberband. When a relationship ends, it needs a clean break to separate the two. The distance allows for better healing and the releasing of emotions. It’s easier to let go. But Cereal was best friends with my wingmate. All his friends were my colleagues. And all of them had kind of picked him over me.
I shot out as hard as I could and tried to let go. But he was there every day, every time I turned out. But I didn’t break. Within a month, I rubberbanded home with a snap.

But I had rules. Toying with people’s emotions, on and off relationships were wrong. I couldn’t do that to him. All the reasons we broke up were still applicable. I missed him, but that meant nothing. Principles trumped heart always.

I don’t think I’m perfect. I don’t think I handled things well. But the facts are, I loved him and had to watch him suffer every day. He stole my friends and I was alone, watching him suffer and knowing I had only myself to blame for every moment.

Sometimes I think I only ever have myself to blame.

Although I never got confirmation, it was clear to me that Cereal talked things out with others. Because they stopped saying hi when I waved. They stopped acknowledging that I exist. When I talked, no one looked in my direction. I was not invited for anything. I became the pariah.

I know he said more than once that he didn’t understand. It had come as a surprise to him. Out of nowhere. He was hurt and upset. I think he blamed himself, that he wasn’t good enough and that’s why I left. I dissected him emotionally and knew him inside and out. Every micro-expression was an indication of a deeper thought or feeling. I knew what each one meant. The guilt, the self-hatred, the despair, the hatred—I knew he felt them in equal measure to me.

It’s my gift. To get to know others entirely and see how they think. I break down personalities into parts, into reactions, emotions and motivations. I can understand analyze and read people better than any other. This is because I empathize. I see it and experience it and therefore understand them. I don’t have emotions about most things. Events don’t affect me. Knowing that someone had died or experienced loss means nothing to me. I’m flat, almost sociopathic in that respect. It’s not negativity, it’s apathetic neutrality. But grief, sadness, rage, happiness, I can share. Part of the reason I love books so much is that I can actually experience feeling vicariously through the characters. I can immerse and become. The dark abyss inside me finally had meaning in context of the suffering of others.

So I knew how he felt. I experienced it. I shared it. And I felt all my own guilt, anxiety and despair piled atop it.

So much hate. I drowned in it.

Ch 1: Meandering Through the Woods

I think most people have a fascination for the things they’re “not supposed to want,” but for me, that interest is multiplied, almost compulsive. It’s like if a child is told not to think about elephants. Well, obviously, they instantly think of elephants. Now imagine that a child is told that elephants are evil and should not be discussed, drawn, read about or thought about. In my case, this means that I now want to know everything about elephants. I will wonder and consider and think. What makes elephants so bad? Why shouldn’t they be appreciated as beautiful hulking animals?

I’m getting a little bogged down here, but I think the analogy makes sense.

There was a boy I met in high school. Let’s call him Charisma. I had stronger feelings for him than I’d experienced before but I fought hard not to feel them. He was angry, depressed, clever, intelligent, hated God and had been kicked out of his last school for getting into fights. So obviously, I was fascinated and intrigued. But I fought against the attraction. He wasn’t interested in me and he was obviously the antithesis of my Christian principles.

I graduated high school and found out that both of us were attending the same college. He was going to be the only person I knew. I didn’t know what I wanted. I actually entertained the idea that we might date.

I should mention that we were good friends and talked often about fantasy, books, nerdy movies and our bizarre senses of humor. It wasn’t weirdly stalkerish or anything.

Anyway, that summer, he started dating my best friend. Go figure. But it was fine. I shut off the emotions more effectively than I ever had before. He was off limits forever. No big deal. Not even using sarcasm.

I went down to college. I met his roommate. Let’s call his roommate Cereal.

Cereal was a military brat, moving every two years his entire life. He had no long term friends and more tragedy than most ever saw. He was lonely, but snarky, intelligent and full of strange, unusual stories. There was something interesting, strange and sharp-edged about him. His dark tan skin, his soft hair… he was interesting look at, to think about, to dissect.

Best of all, he was Christian. I got to know him a little better and liked him more. I had an internal schema, a system of instinctual intuition that was my guiding light for determining what I should do in a given situation. There had never been anyone that my instincts approved of me dating. Cereal was the first one.

I stayed late with him and Charisma often, watching movies and listening to stories. Sometimes I took naps. It was late at night when I woke after one such nap. Sunday night into a Monday morning. He was there, arms wrapped around me.

It was a very open-mouthed kiss. Kind of sloppy, like we didn’t know how to fit lips together.

Not surprising given it was a first for both of us.

We got better quickly. Dawn was rising by the time I finally climbed down from his top bunk.

Charisma complimented me on the lateness of the hour. He enjoys mockery and rule-breaking that way.

Cereal and I were inseparable. Ate every meal at the dining hall together. Played videogames together. Wandered around campus, walked to Wal-Mart, sometimes met to walk each other to classes. When we walked places, we laced fingers and our conjoined hands fit in his jacket pocket. I loved him. Finally allowed to be in a relationship, I jumped in wholeheartedly. Boundaries were nonexistent and we were addicted to each other.

We didn’t have sex, but we planned our future retirement home. We made all the first relationship mistakes.

Bonus feature: I figured out how girls orgasm! This was fascinating to discover since at age eighteen, I didn’t even know girls could masturbate or how it worked. Given my general discomfort on the subject of sex and the state of sex education in America, this is not horribly surprising.

Cereal and I did a lot of making out. And I do mean a lot. But there were some times… A movie would be on and I’d be watching it over his shoulder while we made out. Nice things were nice, but they weren’t distracting. Not that he was a bad kisser, because he really wasn’t. Everything we did was enjoyable, it was just… mild sometimes.

Charisma flunked out of his freshman year of college. This was a good thing in the long run. His girlfriend dumped him and, given his depression, he spiraled down and out. He took a lot of his negative emotions out on me because he was jealous of Cereal and me. At the time I was thinking it was because we were in a happy relationship that wasn’t long distance, but now I realize he had at least some feelings for me so it must have been a little of that as well. Anyway, he belittled me constantly and called me stupid. I was kind of glad to see him go since I had become so frustrated by him.

Cereal ended up with a new roommate in sophomore year and we continued on happily. I became an RA in the spring semester. This meant I had to spend much more time in my room and that Cereal could only spend limited time in my room (I was in an all girls’ dorm).

This meant I had a lot more time to myself.

I should explain another dynamic of our relationship. Cereal didn’t like to make friends. Given his constant moving around growing up, it just didn’t make sense to befriend people that would inevitably be lost. He preferred to concentrate on classes so he didn’t get distracted.

My time to myself was spent reading a lot of manga online. I also read a lot of fanfiction. At the time, I was primarily into Bleach. One of the fun things about that story is the plethora of characters. As a result, there were a HUGE variety of pairings and ships. There were crack pairings galore, which I found fun to read. The more ridiculous the couple, the more interesting. Especially if the author found a way to make it sound credible.

I discovered an author who wrote a series of crack fics all in an alternate universe. I’ll call her WriterGirl. I left her several comments on her chapters and fics. She was the kind of author that responded to all her comments and we struck up conversation. She talked me into reading several of her other fics, to branch out into new fandoms.

So I read her Harry Potter fic. It was a Marauders fic focused on when they were at school. It was focused on James and Lily as characters and a pairing. Her other pairing on the side was Remus/Sirius. Now I know it’s weird to say, but I had never read any yaoi or shonen ai fics before. I know, how did I read so much fanfiction and somehow avoid it? Looking back, I’m not really sure. But the way she wrote those two together was… intriguing. It wasn’t my thing, but I was curious.

My usual stance on homosexuality was: It’s not my thing and I don’t agree with it, but other people’s choices don’t have anything to do with mine, so it’s fine. So I had avoided fanfiction that included it up until that point.

Curiosity piqued, I looked up more Remus/Sirius fics. There were several kinds. Some were steamy, sexy and toyed with the idea of Sirius actually being evil. Others were cute, Marauders at school fics filled with adorable puppy love. I liked both.

It was like accidental exposure therapy. I slowly adjusted to the idea. I slowly thought about it more and more. What was really wrong with gay love anyway?

The Bible makes clear why most things are wrong. Stealing, murder, kinslaying, they all destroy society and create anarchy. They are logical things not to do. But gay love? Granted, I didn’t go all out in a research frenzy, but the best I could get was, “It’s gross” and “God says not to.” Those aren’t reasons. Isn’t love a beautiful enough thing that should be respected and embraced in all its shapes and forms?

Why didn’t God like homosexuality?

I puzzled and puzzled over this question. I read more fanfiction and pondered and pondered. I couldn’t find an answer.

As an RA, I worked with a staff of other RAs in the building. There were three guys from the all guys’ dorm next door, four other girls and a female GM. And they were obsessed with sex. They talked about it all the time. Their past history, partners, questions about our GM’s sex life. I learned a great deal about lesbian sex while going on rounds with a bisexual RA and listening to her talk to the lesbian RA on the top floor. It was very educational although I wasn’t sure it was an education I wanted.

I didn’t want to be the kind of person who hid from the truth, especially any truths about myself. Maybe I had trouble confronting or facing others, but I should at least be able to face myself.

I had a running joke with one of my close friends in high school—let’s call her Twin—that if I ever ended up liking girls, she would be who I wanted to date.

I started wondering what it would be like to kiss a girl. I’d be sitting next to a female friend, just hanging out, and find myself staring at her lips and wondering what they would feel like. I never followed through, but I didn’t know what it meant that I was thinking about it.

I looked up pictures of girls kissing online. Just generic google image searches, nothing too sleazy, just makeout pics. They were… pretty. I saved my favorites in a file to look back on and reflect about. I searched videos of girls kissing. Again, very innocent—I left my Google SafeSearch on. I just wanted to know how I felt about it, and if I would have any reaction. I pursued my curiosity in secret.

After all, Cereal had made it clear before we started dating that homosexuality was high on the list of Christian “No’s.” He made comments like, “The Bible says a man shall not lie with another man because it is disgusting,” and so on. My family was definitely out of the question. My hometown being an hour-and-a-half to the north and me not owning a car, my high school friends were just too far away to help.

Maybe halfway through my spring semester, I realized I was seeing Charisma everywhere. I mean, he wasn’t literally on campus, but every time I saw a guy on campus with a sweater vest, it was like seeing him again. I hadn’t seen him much since he dropped out, but I knew he was talking a lot with one of my sister’s friends who was still in high school. They weren’t official, but I knew they were essentially dating.

Anyway, he went on a journey to “find himself,” walking a trail down the East Coast to change himself or something. This began the summer after he flunked out and continued into the fall semester. After he returned, he was “officially” dating my sister’s friend, Redhead. I wasn’t really talking to him, so this interim is a little vague to me, but I believe he moved in with her and another couple he’d befriended in college. Not sure how much downtime there was before they moved to this phase.

I realized, painfully, that I still had feelings for Charisma. I missed him. This was horrible. This was guilt-inducing. I hated it. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t see him, we weren’t talking, what did it matter if I had feelings for the guy? He was not in my life. I didn’t have to act on them or do anything. I still had a niggling piece of guilt, but I was dating Cereal and it was fine.

It took me another month to admit I found girls attractive. There was something beautiful and soft about them I liked looking at. I also liked the idea of running fingertips along smooth skin.

Acknowledging this, embracing it, meant acknowledging that I was in love with Twin. I had known her for five years, knew her inside and out and we had so much in common. She was fun and lovely to hang out with. She had always been my safe haven among the emotionally distraught minefields of my other friends. It was so natural to think about.

But. I was in love with Cereal. We were dating. We loved each other.

I rationalized things. I justified. I wasn’t trying to get to know Twin; she went to a different college. This was something that occurred before I’d even met Cereal. I wasn’t falling in love with her, I was realizing feelings I’d already had. It wasn’t my fault and I hadn’t done anything to betray him.

This was more complicated than Charisma. I was still friends with Twin. We were super close. We worked the same department at our summer jobs. I could never cut her out of my life. But as long as I didn’t act on it, it was fine, right? The guilt was stronger, but I still shoved it down. Still not really my fault as long as I didn’t act on anything.

I started daydreaming about running away with her though. There was no world where the two of us would be accepted as a couple, so we would have to run. We could live as hermits in a fancy house in the country. It would be large and white with floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere. I would write books and she would animate things and we’d be together. We wouldn’t need anything else. It was impractical and I knew it, but just the thought of it was calming.

Summer came and I returned home for my summer job. This summer was different because Cereal came with me. His military brat status meant his parents lived several states away. He had no nearby relatives, so it saved on plane fare, my parents liked him… It was a good, practical solution. I got him a job at my summer job, though a different department and he slept on a mattress in the basement.

Things spiraled. He was so different than me. He played videogames at least a couple of hours a day. When the other players were stupid or caused things to go wrong or he lost too often he would get so angry. I didn’t know how to deal with it because he wasn’t angry at me, he just turned moody and sulky. So I went silent. He was a computer programmer and this was very boring to me. He tried to explain his projects and programs with enthusiasm, but it was like listening to a monotone professor. It was difficult to stay attuned to the conversations. Sometimes we went to the movies with my high school friends that I kept contact with. He would walk ahead of the group because he thought they were freaks.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m perfect, I’m not. I should have said something, talked it out with him, but, because of my childhood, I couldn’t talk about it. I had gotten better, but I still couldn’t figure out how to break past that wall.

Either way, I kept thinking that I just couldn’t live this way. We had planned on forever, but how could bind myself to that kind of forever? More and more it was sounding like an option I didn’t want. How could I even explain thinking I might be bi? It felt like an important thing to share in a relationship.

I thought about all the ways God had set rules for people to follow. The illogic behind the stance on homosexuality. I thought about how, by giving him glory for successes and blaming the self for failures, he created a recipe for low self-esteem and despair. I took no pride in things done well, but hated myself for all my failures. God wanted me to be perfect. Interact with people correctly. Each interpersonal interaction was like a scripted performance. If they said or did something, there was an ideal response from me. If they were caustic or rude, there was a prescribed response I should follow. I started to feel like an automaton, following through on the motions of living, but never being myself.

I didn’t know how to share or talk about any of it with Cereal. I was beginning to think the best thing to do was break up with him. We were just too different. But how could I do that to him? He knew what it was like for people to die around him. His family was not close to him, physically or emotionally. He had no old friends or anything. I was the most important thing in his life and if I ripped it away… I could break him. I loved him. I did not want to hurt him.

I was caught in swirling dichotomies.

I started fantasizing about hurting myself. Or rather, killing myself.

Maybe that sounds extreme. But hurting him would be wrong and that went against everything I was inside me. But it was the right thing to break up with him because we were essentially incompatible and sooner was better than later, yes? I had to follow my principles. I had to.

My main fantasy was me, sitting on a white day bed. There was a wall of windows behind me, afternoon sun streaming in. The bed frame was metallic gold and gleamed in the sunlight. I sat in the middle, tilted slightly away from the mound of white, lacy pillows. I had a silver pistol in my hand with a black grip. I put the barrel to my temple.

Guns seemed like a certain option, especially aimed at the brain. No worries about medical expenses or long, drawn out comas. I didn’t own a gun, so it’s not as though I planned a suicide. It was more like an internalized masochistic fantasy. It was punishment for what I was thinking about doing.

The truth is though, I was a coward. I hadn’t had the strength to face him or talk about anything else, so how would I be able to do this? The idea of his reaction, his pain, was crippling. And he was living in my house over the summer. What was I supposed to do?

I moved down to school two weeks early for RA training. Cereal stayed at my house.

Fall semester of my junior year began.

Prologue: Who I Was

It’s been a long journey to find my way here.  Who I started as is not who I am.  I don’t know if there’s any value in trying to understand it now or if my focus should be looking forward, figuring out the future.  Let me start, maybe not at the beginning, but somewhere closer to it than here.

My father was the kind of Christian who believed rigidly in rules, in the letter more than the spirit of things.  He felt the need to punish often and was frequently internalizing all his minor irritations only to express them in passive aggressive form.  I don’t think he ever held down a job for long because he was simply too unpleasant.  I don’t want to give you the wrong impression.  He wasn’t fired for bad behavior.  Often he would quit out of hatred for his environment and coworkers.  Sometimes he was encouraged to leave.  He was clever though and an intelligent manipulator.  With a degree in engineering from West Point, having graduated valedictorian and obtaining several patents, he was qualified for most engineering positions.  So there was never a lack of work.

My father was the parent responsible for meting out discipline when it was called for.  He typically also decided when it was called for.  His discipline method of choice was a piece of wood he used as a paddle.  It was an inch thick, a foot long and two inches wide.  If I or my two siblings “misbehaved,” I would be pulled over his knees, pants pulled down and paddled until I cried apologies and my behind turned red.

Perhaps it’s not so surprising that I have so much trouble disobeying rules today.  I honestly haven’t thought about those moments in a long time, but fear is the most powerful learned response (I’ve studied psychology and have a degree in it) and my subconscious, possibly even my body, remembers this feeling.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Needless to say, I was an obedient child.  If I thought about whether to speak up or stay silent, I erred on the side of silence, just in case.  I observed the behaviors of those around me to an obsessive degree.  I had to know what they were thinking, how they would react.  I was always careful, always safe.

Talking to people, opening up, was dangerous and stupid, something I learned the hard way when I was nine.  There was a popular girl–blond, rail-skinny, whose parents were quite wealthy.  She “ruled” the fourth grade, the kind of thing expected to happen in high school.  She had a game with the rest of her popular clique:  befriend a different person a day, but lay ground rules on the interaction.  For example, I could be her best friend, but only if I wasn’t friends with someone else.  Or if I did everything she said.  Or maybe both.  The next day, I was the pariah and the other girl would be the new best friend–so long as she pretended I didn’t exist.

I didn’t understand.  I was nine; I expected good things out of people.  I tried to ask her why I was no longer her friend; she wouldn’t speak to me.  I wrote notes, something all fourth graders engaged in.  I look back, embarrassed by my complete naivete and lack of understanding.  I wrote things like, “I love you, why aren’t you friends with me?  What did I do wrong?  Can’t we get along?”

I suppose it wasn’t a surprise that in middle school, the popular way of mocking me was calling me “gay.”  I wasn’t, but when you hold hands with the uncoordinated, socially awkward and unpopular girl at an all-skate so she doesn’t fall over, then that’s the insult you get.

My mom managed to get a job teaching drama at a different local elementary school, a miracle considering her lack of college degree, so I was able to transfer schools for fifth grade.  This was appropriate timing because, before that, my mom had no job and lived as a housewife, taking care of the kids, the house and volunteering at the school.

A month into fifth grade, my parents finally split up.

I know, looking back, that he was abusive.  Honestly, it was more emotional abuse than physical, since the physical was only in the context of “punishment,” and I know my mother took the brunt of it.  It had been a slow build and probably should have occurred much sooner, but my mother was firmly Christian and believed in trying to make a marriage work.  I don’t blame her for this, because once things reached a certain point, she did what she had to do to protect me and my siblings.

The day the split occurred is kind of an epic story and I may write about it at another time.  For now, I’ll just say that we ended up at a women’s shelter for a week and that I didn’t even have my shoes.  My mom went to court a couple of times and they ruled in favor of her for getting the house and custody of us kids.

Living with my father and dealing with popular kids at school—these were the agonizing events of my life. Deep sadness and constant self-questioning were born there, in those years. The rage that still simmers deep inside, occasionally boiling to the surface, was born in the two years after the divorce.

His “custody” was visitation every other weekend, no overnights. He would pick us up and sometimes we went to his apartment, while he had one, sometimes to his job, until he quit. There was a hardly a weekend with him where, at one point, we were not trapped in a room while he lectured. He was an adult with the ability to drive; where could we go? He ranted about the unfairness of his life and how evil my mother was. She had ruined everything and was destroying his life. He tried to teach Bible lessons that illustrated this even further. Nearly every visit ended with one or all of three of us in tears.

What’s the point of all this?  I guess that despite my father’s persecution version of Christianity, faith survived in the four of us that were left.  I don’t think I ever hated my father, but I hated being around him.  It was just easier not to be, even before the divorce.

I reflected a lot on Luke 6 of the New Testament, the section about forgiving enemies.  I ruminated on it, and came to a conclusion.  My father was our enemy.  What rule was there that excluded him from this forgiveness?  None.

Don’t get the wrong idea.  I don’t advocate staying with abusers or making excuses for them or that Christianity supports those concepts either.

I don’t want the negativity of his lifestyle to influence my emotions or my choices.  I don’t have negative feelings towards him today.  He’s my father by blood, but not by heart or choice.  I haven’t seen him in nearly nine years.  While I wouldn’t mind seeing him again, I have no interest in a relationship with him.  He’ll never change and I refuse to subject myself to that.

So, takeaways:  sublimated fear of consequences and ability to let go of grudges through forgiveness. As you might guess by now, I’m fairly even-tempered as a person.

Fast forward: My mother remarried and we moved several states north. My father was no longer in the picture (for the most part) and I started high school.

I continued reading obsessively, books being far safer than people, and observing/cataloguing the world around me.

I learned to talk, but only in lightweight conversations about common interests. I reflected more and more on the deeper nature of Christianity. God is the kind of deity that wants everything from his followers and I wanted to give it. This included things like: no swearing, no drinking/drugs, dating only with intention, no premarital sex, dating guys only, choosing a career to glorify and serve him, having interests that reflected his principles but abandoning those that didn’t, being respectful of everyone, learning to interact appropriately with others, and on and on. If I failed at a task, it was my fault; if I succeeded, it was to God’s glory. I was nothing without him.

It was also important not to judge others. Everyone has flaws, Christian or not. It was none of my business what they were, only to befriend people and look at their “heart attitude” and find their redeeming qualities. It didn’t matter whether others followed my principles; I could be friends with them if I figured out their true self.

The more I thought and considered, the more I threw myself into these ideals. Listening to non-Christian music made me uncomfortable. Reading books that contradicted the Bible made me want to throw them. The idea of sex was unbearable. I could only think about dating if it was the “right” kind of guy, aka a Christian who was respectful and followed all the same extreme principles I had. Needless to say, in high school, I never met any such person.

This was who I was before I went to college. As with most people, it was college that changed everything.