Step 1: Assimilate. Step 2: Try not to appear so damn shifty-eyed.
I think you would hard-pressed not to find someone who, at some point in their life, has felt this way. For me, I feel it constantly. With my friends, my job, my hobbies--this never-ending feeling in my gut that someone is going to catch on and see what I really am. Now I think it's safe to say it comes from deep-seeded lack of self-confidence and a loss of proper positive enforcement in my formative years, but we're not talking about that right now.
There's a difference between feeling like you don't belong and then actually not belonging--being an actual fraud.
In my junior year of high school I started to really notice that I had feelings of--shall we say--a lesbionic nature. While on the surface I did have crushes on boys my age (who subsequently came out of the closet), I harbored deep sapphic feelings for my poetry teacher...and my creative writing teacher...and my Sci-Fi and Fantasy teacher...did I have a thing for English teachers?
Ooo, yeah girl...I'll iambic your pentameter...
I, as many kids my age in the 90's who lived in small conservative towns--or anywhere for that matter--struggled with these feelings. Having been raised a good Christian girl these feelings were a very bad sign.
I would lay in my bed and pray to God to lay me down to sleep and to forgive me for that one time I stole a lipgloss, I would also pray that God would take it away--please, please, please, take these feelings away.
Don't make me like them.
Don't make me struggle with this.
Don't let my family hate me.
When the day came in my study hall our teacher passed around a sign-up form with extra-curricular groups to join, I spotted among the foreign language clubs what I hoped would be a promising beacon: Staying Straight.
My inner dialogue was the following, "Staying Straight? Amazing! They can help me with these feelings. They can help me, you know--stay straight! Sign me up!" Check the box, sign here, and promptly forget about it.
Weeks later I was sitting in class and one of the office aids came in and dropped one of the dreaded pink slips with my teacher.--the pink slip that was usually a call to go to the principal's office for a "chat". If you ever eyeballed that kid and felt a sense of doom, you probably did something naughty.
As for me, I felt that sense of doom because I ditched constantly, so it was no surprise when the teacher called my name.
For me there should have been a box marked Indefinitely.
As I started my march to the principals office I noticed it wasn't an actual principal's pass, but a pass to see the school resource police officer in the student counseling center. That sense of dread was replaced with a sense of "Oh fuck, I'm dead."
As I walked in the small conference room I saw him sitting at the table next to the school nurse and other kids I recognized from around school. Everyone in the room was warm and inviting--I assume it's what it feels like to walk into your own intervention.
I sat down next to a very pretty girl who was a year ahead of me. If you asked me to define which high school clique everyone fell into, I would say it was a diverse representation of my school--jock, preppy, skater, theatre nerd (me), uhh...nice kid, weird kids, fat kid, skinny kid, even kids with chicken pox--I'm really struggling to remember my school cabals.
The nurse--who we'll call Ms. J to protect the innocent--started by having us go around and introduce ourselves. She was lovely and warm, and clearly talented with created safe spaces.
She was creating a safe space because she made it clear that this was a group for kids in our school to talk about struggling with staying off of drugs and alchohol--staying straight. As in: on the straight and narrow. Clean. Off drugs.
Full disclosure, at the time the only addiction I struggled with was my Phantom of the Opera and Titanic soundtracks.
I don't really remember if I said anything other than my name in that meeting. I just listened. The kids talked about their struggles with actual drug and alcohol abuse, and wanting to stay clean. They shared deeply vulnerable stories about their personal lives and home lives.
Ms. J told me that I had an open invitation every week to come back and talk, if I wanted to. As I left the meeting I resolved that I would never return, that this group isn't for me.
Here's the thing:
I kept going back.
You will never judge me as harshly as I judge myself.
Mostly, I would listen. I never really shared anything about myself. What I got out of sitting with these kids was a feeling of belonging and safety--nobody judged anyone. We were all capable of making mistakes and coming back from them.
I never told any of my friends about this group--it was too precious to me. The secrets told and the lives they belonged to were just meant for that room and the people in it only. That is until...
The school resource police officer offered the group a chance to come talk to middle-schoolers at health day about our personal experiences with drug and alcohol abuse. Did I have to say yes? No. Should I have gone? Absolutely not.
As I stood with my peers in front of kids marginally younger than me, it occurred to me that we would all be required to share some kind of personal story. I guess you could say this was the start of storytelling for me, with the only exception being that it was completely made up.
I told a bald-faced lie. I said that I struggled with alcohol abuse and I would steal alcohol from my parents and blame it on my brother.
The truth? Up until that point the only alcohol I'd ever had was communion wine and sips of my mother's white zinfandel. My parents really didn't keep alcohol in the house much at all--they just weren't big drinkers. One time Ms. J gave me a ride home after school and she insisted on coming in and meeting my mother. They sat and chatted and my inner monologue was praying to God that she didn't casually ask my mom about my alcoholism and that my mom didn't actually ask her how we're associated.
I continued to tell that story throughout the day, each time adding more details and drama, to be honest with some altruistic intent--hoping that maybe it would have an affect on someone. The kids who told their stories were wonderful and brave, and honestly had more of an affect on me than I've ever been able to express to them.
We were invited to do this again the following year. I stopped when I started seeing familiar faces, and to be honest the middle school resource police officer was kind of a creep--he was a little too interested in the specific details of the link between using and sexual promiscuity, and I don't know why he was so interested in hearing about the sex lives of teenagers.
Alright OfficerMcCreepafeel, that's enough of THAT.
Everyone eventually all graduated and moved on--well I didn't graduate, I just dropped out and took my GED. Close enough. Don't ditch class, kids.
Years later I ran into the pretty girl when I was working at the music store. She looked the same--radiant and kind. We caught up and eventually she asked me how I was doing with my addiction. I confessed that I drink with my friends. She seemed relieved when I told her because she told me she had started using again--but she had it under control.
In that moment I wished I had told her that we should get together and talk some time, or offered to go to a meeting with her--or even offered some kind of truth--that I didn't actually struggle with alcoholism and I just drank at parties on occasions with my friends, and that I was worried for her and that I was there for her if she needed it.
Instead I shrugged and told her not to feel bad. We laughed it off. She told me not to tell Ms. J. I gave her my number to call me some time. I never heard from her. I wish I hadn't let her walk away.
I know the obvious moral of this story is: don't fucking lie. I regret not being honest with why I was there to begin with. I regret telling tall tales.
I don't know if I regret going back.
Oh, and I definitely did not stay straight.