“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
In the spring of 1998, I was a twelve-year-old child on an island to myself even though at one time that same island had a populating of more than one. On that sunny Monday morning in 1998, I reflected on the fact one year earlier I stood alongside kids I had known mostly my entire life – talking video games and imitating pro-wrestlers when our teacher left the room or after school. But now I was alone; unwanted and unneeded. Simply put, I was the new kid.
A few months earlier I entered Luther Memorial School for the first time. There I befriended a small, white kid with sandy blonde, bowl cut hair named Jason Ross (I’ll give Jason a better introduction in a later story). At Luther, Jason and I was the Batman to each other’s Robin. Though I was the bigger of the two, I guess on that pensive day I wore Robin’s trademark mask because I was lost without Jason “Batman” Ross. During the weekend, Jason ate something that didn’t agree with him and ended up bedridden for a few days. Thus I walked into our seventh grade classroom friendless. At the time I got along with everyone in my class, but the only person I could call a friend at that time was Jason. Before I became a LMS student, I ran in a pack of at least four daily. Changing schools caused that number to drop to two. On that Monday I stood alone, but wanted … no, I needed to change that.
I wasn’t the only new kid in the seventh grade that year, though. Barrett Snow – a foul-storytelling white guy who enticed classmates with his tales of sneaking to watch porno while his parents slept – acclimated to his new environment like a fish to water. The seventh grade guys accepted Barrett as one of their own before the first week of school ended. On the other hand were Jason and myself, the outcasts. Without Jason, being an outcast equaled a loneliness I never experienced at school before.
So I made it my duty on that Monday to literally stick my head into their group. Rather than give me a chance, everyone rose from their positions and walked to the other side of the field. Similar to a lost puppy searching for his new master, I trailed the guys until one of the kids – Cody – said, “Don’t you get it? We don’t wanna be around you.”
At that point I stopped moving. Cody’s words immediately took hold and forced me to rethink things. Turning around, I sadly walked to the wooden jungle gym some fifty feet away, taking a spot on the bridge. I watched the guys laugh and enjoy each other’s company while doing my best to understand why I couldn’t be a part of the festivities. Then it struck me. For the first time in my life, I finally realized what it meant to be an individual, not an outcast or a loner. Unknowingly, my mindset had never been one of conformity. Throughout my years before LMS, my friends and I worked as well apart as we did together. We didn’t need each other to justify who we were, but enjoyed the friendship. Being in a foreign environment like LMS made me forget who I was/am until that spring day.
Twenty-four hours later I found myself in the same position as Monday – alone. But on Tuesday I was happy to be isolated as an individual instead of being the pathetic puppy chasing a crowd. With my WWF magazine and a nice spot on the swing set, I enjoyed that time under the bright sun before having to drudge through another day of schoolwork.
I’ve been blessed over the years that my sense of individuality hasn’t wavered – even when those same LMS guys started warming up to me. Though I’ve found myself in crowds of friends twenty deep, I remember that I’m one of a kind that could be just as happy by myself. It’s amazing the think that my appreciation for individuality started by chasing after a group.