When I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher assigned the first essay of the semester. The topic was “time I felt different”. This proved to be a surprisingly difficult topic for me to write about. Why? Then, I had no idea what it was like to fit in. I had no frame of reference.
It’s not so much that I had trouble getting along with people. No. I generally got along fine with kids my age. But ever since I was little, I knew I was different from these children. There were several obvious hints. None of the other kids had to use various aids to help with their handwriting. The kids I knew in the regular classroom didn’t have to go to the special ed room like I did. But most of all, the kids in the regular classroom seemed fundamentally… different from me and the other kids in the special ed room. Nobody told me about autism, so I couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly separated me from the kids in the regular class. But even then, I knew there was a difference.
Out on the playground, there was another thing that made me different from the other kids. I didn’t get diagnosed with cerebral palsy until I was 18. But the cerebral palsy has likely been there since I was born. The other kids’ movements were smooth and effortless, while my movement was clunky and difficult. I never did well in sports and PE no matter how hard I tried. There’s actually footage of me at age 12 during my sister’s wedding, squirming because I had to stand for longer than my legs could endure.
As I got older, the differences between me and the other children grew. Everybody developed a sex drive and had romantic relationships, while I could not do either of those things. They were comfortable with their gender identities, which coincidentally happened to be the same as their assigned sexes, while I had far more questions than answers. Most of the kids had good relationships with their families, uncomplicated by grief and abuse. My depression became yet another thing that separated me from the other kids.
I suspect that a large part of the reason why I fell so easily to the Shadow Man is he made me feel… not so different. He gave me a feeling of fitting in, which I had not had in a long time. He knew all the secrets I couldn’t tell anybody. He thought the way I thought. And since he lived in my head, he moved the same way I moved. And yet, this man became another secret, and another thing that separated me from the others.
I wouldn’t truly get any idea of what it was like to fit in until I was hospitalized at 16. Sure, none of the other kids in the mental hospital were autistic. They all moved better than I did. But we were all in similar situations. We all knew what it was like to be alienated from everybody else. We knew what it was like to have secrets nobody else should know.
However, when I left the hospital, I was back to being different. I was back to having secrets. Even in my senior year of high school, when I did relatively well and got along well with various groups, I was still different. None of the kids at this online school program I was in, intended to help students who fell behind catch up to their graduation date, could figure out why I was there. After all, how would somebody so seemingly intelligent fall behind in their classes? The kids in my AP calculus class were from fairly rich families with big houses, while my parents were in the last year of their marriage, and we were losing our much smaller house to foreclosure. Even the kids in the special ed room had different disabilities than what I had.
Even now, I still haven’t found any place outside the internet where I’m not different. I feel like everybody else my age is more functional than I am. They’re going off to do great things, while I’m lazing about the house watching childish cartoons and anime and playing video games, waiting for various things to happen.