When I was a kid, I was bullied, beaten, and pushed around and aside from everyone I knew at the time. Like many other kids who were different looking/acting, I wasn’t very well received. It started in the third grade, a time when most children are stereotypically immature, making fart jokes and straying away from the opposite gender for fear of the dreaded “cooties”. I was always a little smaller, a little quieter, and a little smarter than everyone else in my classes, while also being a year younger (the perfect recipe for emotional destruction).
As time moved on, I flirted with homeschooling, went back to my private school, tried football (it was a failed experiment), excelled at martial arts (which didn’t help my school cred), and dove headfirst into the burgeoning world of the mystical, ethereal place known as “The Internet”. It was also around this time I discovered anime (by way of Toonami). I was already a video game wizard, both PC and console.
When I was about thirteen we left the hot, humid, and all around “icky” state of Florida and moved to artsy Nashville, TN. I was sad to leave my family in my home state, and longed to return for a couple of years, but I figured being away from the memories and having a fresh start would be exhilarating. Maybe, I once thought, I could find some people to share in my artistic nature! It was a long time before that would happen. I started in the private school game again (which turned out to be a mistake). Once again surrounded by the same types of people (only these were bolstered by puberty-enhanced strength and southern mentality), I began retreating into the only things I knew: anime, video games, and comic books.
I had always been a fan of comics (Spider-man was my first), but there weren’t any shops where I grew up, so you had to buy them from the local bookstore, or the grocery store (if you were lucky to have one nearby with a rack). I picked them up occasionally, when I could, but mainly focused on novels and Star Wars at the time. By the time we moved up to Nashville, I was excited about the prospect of a larger city. Maybe there’d be a REAL comic store! I was NOT disappointed.
The first comic book shop I set foot in was called The Great Escape. It was a combo comic/vinyl shop, that also sold collectibles (such as rare Pokemon cards and limited edition Batman statues) and tabletop games (my first D&D experience happened here). When I walked in, it felt like the sky had parted, blue skies were above me, and for the first time in my life: I was happy outside of my home. I felt I had truly found a place where I could belong. I would spend time reading old Thor volumes, devouring manga at an unhealthy rate, and lusting over rare, holographic, first edition Team Rocket Meowth’s (I was a BIG fan of the Pokemon card game). Of course, once word got out of my secret hiding spot, the bullying and teasing amplified, but I didn’t care. I had found my place.
As time wore on, I found myself with less and less drive to visit The Great Escape. I had fallen deep into depression and anxiety, and all the actions that can tend to come with those emotional states. I still played video games (I was a Sony convert at this time), and avidly destroyed RPG’s on the reg, but my desire to leave the house was at an all-time low. It would be a couple of years before I fell out of this funk.
Before that would happen, though, something else took place: I changed schools. For the first time in my life, I tried a public high school. Needless to say, it was the first breath of fresh air I’d had in my eleven years of schooling. I met some incredible people, started the first Hillsboro High Anime Club (we were awesome), and met some of the coolest people ever (my comic creating partner-in-crime, Chelsea, came out of this group). While I still struggled with my emotional issues, I finally felt like I had a place to belong. It was the same feeling I had the first time I stepped into that old, grungy, welcoming store, only directed towards people.
Years later, I look back on those times with fondness. I’m still struggling with depression and anxiety, but I take steps every day to curb those feelings. I have forgiven all those people who made my life a living hell, and even gotten some apologies along the way. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is my love for all things geek culture. I still read comics (although I must admit…I avoid my local shop, for undisclosed reasons), I still play video games (although a little less, being almost thirty with an adult job and adult responsibilities), and I still LOVE anime (introducing my daughter to Miyazaki is one of the best things that’s ever happened in my life).
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wouldn’t go back and change a thing about those times; they made me who I am today! It solidified in me the desire to stay true to who you are, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. I’m now almost thirty, and I still own fourteen Star Wars shirts (and counting!), and wear them almost every day. My wife isn’t all that fond of it, but like I say to her all the time: “Hey! You married this” (I throw down a smug smile as well).
In a way I guess I could thank all those douche-tools who made my life hell for so many years. Without them, Nrdly wouldn’t exist, and I’d probably be a douche myself.
So yea….thanks. Jerks.
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