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About Cynus

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    In the Matrix
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    Unraveling life.
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  1. It depends entirely on my mood, the time of day, the nature of the project I'm working on, and many other parameters. Sometimes stories get a playlist on YouTube if I find that there are a lot of songs I like which fit the same tone as the story I'm writing. The same has happened with individual characters before when I'm writing from their perspective. Vladimir from "From the Cup of the Worthless" had a set of songs I had to listen to in order to write him at all, for instance. But usually I prefer the ambiance of clacking keyboards and the hum of machinery. If I could write at the laboratory where I work with all our sorting equipment running nearby, that would be heaven for me.
  2. Granted, but in order to unlock the new area, you are given an escort quest. The NPC moves faster than your walking speed, slower than your running speed, and routinely repeats himself with annoying dialogue while constantly complaining about how slow you're moving. I wish there were more things to do around here
  3. Cynus

    Chapter 4

    I agree! The secret to progress is movement. We get nowhere by standing still, except for where the world takes us as it hurls through the great black. I appreciate all the support. I appreciate your analysis on the chapter. This last decade has, of course, had plenty of things happen in it, but mostly it was lots of little things, and it would've taken me quite a long time to get them all down and connect the dots. Speaking generally and focusing on the big points seemed like the smoother course. Thank you for your support! Thank you! I do think I'm going to be okay, though there are still a few areas of my life that need some tremendous work. I'll get there, though, if I live long enough to do so lol I am a bit strange in the fact that I enjoy sharing my intimate mental spaces with practically anyone, if they want to be there. Some people mistake this as romantic interest, however, and that's usually the only thing which prevents me from sharing with many people. As an aromantic/asexual person (who is also gay, and yes... that is confusing even for me, but it is definitely accurate), chances are I'm not romantically attracted to a person unless I directly say so.
  4. Cynus

    Chapter 3

    I don't know why this didn't get included in my original multiquote, lol I'm sure I would have if any of them had been my type. There were a few that were cute, but those ones didn't have personalities I cared for, as most missionaries didn't. It's hard for me to be attracted to religious zealotry, hah!
  5. Cynus

    Chapter 3

    My current mask is very different than anything I've ever done before. I am trying to put me into it, but for the time being it feels like a mirror. I try to give back to others that which is given to me, but with a bit of flair from my own experiences as well. I don't hold on to hatred; I think it's a waste of energy, especially when it's directed at people who simply don't know any better. Anger, on the other hand... I can't keep that from surfacing sometimes. Thank you for the support! And thank you for reading and commenting, because it shows you care as well. I think, for most of my experience with Christianity (I skipped a brief period in my history when I pursued Catholicism. It was only a few months, and didn't really register with me, but I had friends there so that was interesting. I also investigated a few Protestant churches and found that they matched my tastes even less than the Catholics did) there is a guilt attached to all of it. There's a guilt in certain sects of Buddhism as well, and likely the majority of religions use it in some way. It's because if you can guilt-trip someone, you can get them to do things in order to alleviate that guilt. I don't think there's any way this could be justified, since it's outright manipulation, but sometimes religions do use this improper technique to accomplish actual good. But then that gets into a whole conversation on whether or not the ends justify the means, and I already wrote an entire series (The Trial) on that philosophical note, so I'll just leave the topic there, lol Thanks!
  6. The Crumbling Temple I'm going to cover an entire decade in this chapter. While there are many different experiences I could address, I'm going to focus exclusively on the things that pertain to my trauma and my healing from said trauma. I will try to keep things in order, and I hope I don't lose you on the way. At twenty-two, I officially came out to my three closest friends. As I stated before, Glen already knew, but it was necessary for me to secure the understanding of my other brothers. They accepted me and supported me without hesitation. It was a great way to start my coming out journey, and I'm grateful to them for that. I started a new job shortly after that and came out to a couple of people there. They were fairly understanding as well, though I was still a bit nervous about living publicly with that identity. The scars the church had left in me ran deep, and despite my best intentions to ignore the voices in my head, which spoke of my worthlessness, they instead grew increasingly louder as the months wore on. Yet I had begun to accept myself for who I actually was, and not who others told me I had to be. For a brief period I was agnostic, then atheist, then back to agnostic until I finally decided to start exploring other spiritual traditions and philosophies. I developed a strong attachment to Nietzsche, and rediscovered Taoism simultaneously, and many of my core beliefs became shaped by both philosophies. The nihilism present in Nietzsche's work corresponded well to my understanding of the world as being an illusion, as well as his thought process on becoming better versions of ourselves. He also often alluded to the otherness of those outside societal norms, which spoke to my often convoluted sense of empathy. Taoism offered me a potential path to harmony, both within myself and with others. Although I didn't really know how, I have always wanted to be better than who I am; Taoism presented the path that seemed to lead to there. It helped me address the darker parts of me, and find good in places which I thought were wholly evil, and vice versa. This would become the method I would use to continue to work through my trauma. Every new season seemed to bring another piece of the puzzle. It began with the end of the job I worked at for the better part of 2010, a temporary gig at a call center working for the Census Bureau. I landed another job immediately after leaving that one, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn't for me. I left it shortly after, certain I'd find something else. I then worked for two weeks selling Kirby vacuum cleaners. Thankfully I never sold one. I found that work even more distasteful than missionary service. It was a better product but a terrible business model, and we were abused as employees more than anywhere else I have ever worked. Thus began my longest period of unemployment, nine months without knowing what I wanted to do or who I wanted to become. Spring of the next year, I borrowed money from Glen to get my commercial driver's license, but the anxiety of being behind the wheel of such a large vehicle made it impossible for me to do it professionally. Now several thousand dollars in debt, I was still unemployed, and hating myself more and more with each day. The voices screaming at me in my head were so loud now that I could hear nothing else. Now twenty-three, I already believed that my life was over. I had wasted my youth, or had it stolen from me, depending on my perspective at the time. I was angry at everyone, but most notably myself and the church. I had not yet come to understand the extent of the damage Jackson had inflicted upon me, nor that my codependency with Glen was keeping me from addressing some of my issues. I was lost, without knowing where to find direction. I finally managed to get a job at a pizza place due to some previous experience in food service. I didn't really want to spend any more time in food service, but I was desperate to have an income and to stop relying on my dad and my best friend, so I fought hard for the position and won it. The people were great, but the job was only temporary. Shortly after getting the job, I had the opportunity to have a few therapy sessions with a psychologist who helped me gain some new perspective. He stopped me as I was explaining some things about my life and told me, "You keep using the word 'should'. You think that you should have done things differently, or that you should be in a different place in your life. For the next week, I want you to try replacing 'should' with the word 'could'. Try viewing everything as a possibility rather than an absolute." This fit in rather well with my nihilistic worldview, and I slowly started to come to terms with some of my life choices. I still wasn't anywhere near happy, but it stabilized me, at least for a while. I started a new job in October 2011 at an ice-skating rink. Initially, it was only for events, and I worked concurrently with the pizza place. It was where Glen worked, as well as my two other closest friends. The pizza place soon went out of business, and I began working at the ice rink part time, and eventually full-time. The next six years were spent there, and because of the nature of the work I was often able to get by with little pressure on me at the job itself. This allowed me a lot of time to think and work through the many issues still weighing heavily on me. Being around my friends again helped to center me, and I made a lot more friends as well. Glen and I were roommates during this time and managed to heal a lot of the issues we had between us. I was able to overcome the last traces of my obsession with him, which opened me up to the possibility of other romantic pursuits. Both of my other two closest friends got married during this period as well, and started their families. This created a bit of instability for me, and led to me seeking more codependent relationships to fill the gap. This is what led to my most recent string of follies. Like a bird trapped inside a building, I can't see the glass in the windows until I run into it, and no matter how many times I do that, I still think the next closed window is my escape route and dive headfirst into the glass again. The majority of the relationships I had from my mid-20s until now have been attempts to form codependent bonds to replace the ones I've lost. This wasn't true in every case, only most of them. I have genuinely been in love twice during that time, and thought I was in love during all the others. I did not intentionally mislead any of them; I just didn't understand my addiction. This didn't stop me from accidentally hurting people I cared about, and I did care about all of them. I found all of them intelligent, interesting, and enjoyed their company. But infatuation became my newest drug, and I'd soak up the intimacy of new romance only to become disenchanted as soon as the initial feelings dulled. Each one taught me something new about myself. From one I learned the necessity to address my depression. From another, I learned the need to communicate better than I had been. A third broke up with me when his infatuation faded first, but only a day or two before mine did, and that's when I started to understand what was happening, but still hadn't completely grasped it. A couple of them genuinely loved me, and one of those I certainly loved back. We were both a little bit lost in our lives, and we helped each other get back on track for what we wanted to accomplish. I believe that is the only relationship I have ever had which didn't have a trace of toxicity, at least not one that I noticed. Unfortunately, getting back on our respective correct tracks meant we were headed in different directions, and we came to a mutual understanding that our time of traveling together had ended. That experience is warm, and smells like petrichor. Most of this happened while I was still working at the ice-skating rink. I also started writing while I was working there, which formed another great catharsis for me. I was able to put emotions into my characters, which I did not feel courageous enough to express outside of fiction. I was able to talk about situations I'd gone through, using the filter of illusion and storytelling as I had learned to do as a child. The skill Jackson had taught me, despite all the wrong he had done me, became a tool that I could use to overcome him. The one who loved me as much as I loved him was the same who helped me pursue writing with conviction. For the first time in many years, I set a long-term goal and worked towards it. I left my job at the ice-skating rink in order to write full time in October 2017, thanks to the encouragement he had offered me. We were no longer together by that point, but he still supported me in my goals, as I had supported him in his. Since then, my journey has had a bit of turbulence, but it has all been for the better. I continued to lose myself in misplaced infatuation, though each one brought me closer to seeing the glass for what it was. I fell in love one more time as well, though it was not meant for me. Perhaps I will love again, should I ever be able to fully trust myself. In August 2018, a treasured friend showed me the glass for what it was. The window I kept flying into was in fact a mirror, and I couldn't see it because I refused to see my own reflection. The last things keeping me from overcoming myself were my own self-loathing, and the last mask I refused to take off, because I was scared of the flesh beneath. When I looked at the mirror within myself, I found Timothy's face. When I finally peeled that away in September 2018, I was surprised that another layer came with it. It was Jackson's; the face of a boy screaming at the world that he didn't want to do the work. I wasn't him anymore. The temple to false gods had crumbled along with all their illusions. I was free. But I didn't yet know who I was. 2019 was a year of self-discovery for me. It was full of a tremendous amount of growth and new challenges. The first half of the year was spent in a somewhat disoriented state, for I had finally dismantled the masks I'd worn for over twenty years and that left me with a nearly blank slate. Who was I? Who was I supposed to be? What was left of the boy who had first put those masks on in the first place? These were the questions that weighed on my mind and continued to guide my meditations. I had entered a relationship while these questions were still pulsing within me, and I quickly came to realize that outside forces would corrupt my answers. This realization cost me that relationship, and nearly ended the friendship at the core of it as well. I needed to escape all the voices other than my own, and that meant self-isolation. I couldn't explain it to most of my friends, and I believe some still resent me for the distance I placed between us. It wasn't and still isn't because I wanted to remove them from my life. On the contrary, I wanted their presence more than ever, but I needed to separate myself from what everyone else expected me to be. This led me to finally understand my codependency, and the way it has shaped my life. It is my core addiction, the one which led to the toxicity in all my relationships, and disrupts my ability to behave rationally. It is something I developed to cope with the trauma I suffered from Jackson's abuse, and the abandonment I felt from my family, friends, and community throughout my youth. Regardless of the cause, the maintenance of that codependency is on my shoulders, and it is time for me to be rid of it. I wrote this piece and released it publicly in order to hold myself accountable for the growth I seek. This is the next step in becoming who I really am, and I believe it is the last major knot to untangle in the web of all that was done to me. Since beginning to address this, I've experienced more happiness in months than I had in the twenty years prior, including the peace I found among my closest friends in high school. The shadow that weighs upon me no longer feels menacing. I can stand to be alone with myself for the first time since I was a child, then making up stories with my Legos. I finally enjoy my own company, and I'm learning to love myself. I'm not there yet, but I will be. I need be with no one else to be happy, though perhaps someday I would enjoy having a warm body in my bed at night, and the conversation of someone who loves me beyond the platonic. For now, I have my friendships. I have Glen, who still lives with me and with whom I share wonderful, invigorating conversations. I have many other people who also engage with me on a regular basis, with whom I share games, coffee, or walks in the woods. I'm not lonely, even when I'm alone. This is the first time I have ever felt that way since I crossed into adolescence. And I have my work. I haven't been this excited to write in years, even when I committed to writing full-time. My mind is brimming with stories, and this time they're not about escaping my life, but about fulfilling it. I want to build a better world, and hope that my words will make it more beautiful in the eyes of at least some who read them. I suspect that I still have quite a bit of growth left to do, but I have finally cleared out the clutter preventing me from doing so. For all the wrongs I've done to others, I deeply apologize. I was not prepared to receive guests in the house of my soul. I hope you know that I appreciated your visits anyway, even if I was a terrible host. I hope in time you will visit again, and I'll be able to show you the hospitality you deserve. Peace and love, my friends. ~Samuel
  7. Becoming the Mask My middle adolescence to my young adulthood was a time of me finding my footing in a world which no longer had Jackson in it. He had been, in many ways, the figurehead of my ship; the compass needle pointing the way to go. But I still had Timothy, and we were, in many ways, a pair of survivors trying to catch their breath. With Jackson eventually moving out of his parents' house, getting a job and being around less and less along the way, Timothy and I started hanging out a great deal more, just the two of us. There was not a shred of anything intimate between us in any way that matched my fantasies. I want that to be abundantly clear. Despite my attraction to him, he did not reciprocate. We never talked about what happened between us, or with Jackson. I don't know if we avoided the topic on purpose, or if we just assumed the other one knew what would be said and didn't want to address it. Possibly some of both, though I really can't be certain. It was something I needed, however, and I think the same was true for him. He'd lost some friends along the way as well and lost his anchor, Jackson. As much as we'd suffered from him, he had been our leader, and now we were forced to fend for ourselves. Timothy and I continued to play Dungeons & Dragons a bit, and other roleplaying games, recruiting other people when we could. It didn't really matter who we could find. We were desperate to hold onto stories, because those illusions had helped us find something good in a harsh world. We played a lot of video games together, often cooperative, and I learned a new way to cope with the loneliness; as that became a metaphor for my life. Codependency. Timothy was my first codependent friend; for as much as he had been my bully, he was also the one person who had the understanding I needed for me to have emotional stability. He understood my need to withdraw, to put the world away and get lost in fiction. He helped me do it willingly, because I could give him the same thing. As time wore on, his personality bled into mine in many ways. I started noticing that I was picking up traits of his, but I wanted to be like him anyway. He was attractive—at least in my eyes—and funny, and he had a certain confidence about facts and data, which made me want to be smarter than I was. That's one of the first points of positive encouragement about something I was actually interested in that I can remember. My parents did it on occasion, about a couple of my interests, but the pursuit of information has always been a passion of mine, from the time I was very small. I picked up personality traits like a sponge, oozing them out of me whenever I was pressed by some new source. They were similar to Jackson's personality traits, in some ways, but they were a bit better. There was a cognitive empathy to them, as if they at least understood how emotion was supposed to work, even if they didn't always understand how to feel it. This was a much more comfortable place for me than the emotions I'd been feeling previously. Where before there had been nothing but pain, at least now I had something more than that. Simply being understood by someone was refreshing, and something I had only experienced in short stints throughout my life. While I do not know, nor do I imagine I ever will know, whether or not Timothy considered me a true friend, during that time when he was practically my only one. School remained a challenge, at least the social aspect. I was still a loner, though I did have a small group of kids I walked home with. The three of them were friends, and I'd known them in elementary school, and been friends with them at various points, though I was not close with any of them now. They mostly tolerated my presence on the walks home, though eventually they did engage me in more conversation as we continued to share space. It's difficult for me to imagine what trajectory my life would've taken, had I not begun walking home with these people. While forming friendships during class time was still difficult, getting to know these three was a different experience altogether. Timothy, being a few years older than me, did not go to the same school as me, and that meant I was completely anchorless socially. These three peers gave me a shred of the stability that I craved. But after I made it home from school, it was still Timothy I would turn to. I didn't know how to do anything different, and there I felt safe. Plus, I was able to be close to the person I was most attracted to. My hormones were rather single-minded at that age; my fantasies were as well. Of course, time and age change everything. When Timothy reached an age that he could get a job, he eventually did. I saw him less and less in my afternoons, though I still often spent time with him before he left for his night job. Unfortunately, I knew what was coming, and that he would inevitably abandon me like everyone else did. Meanwhile, the three friends I walked home with were changing as well. One moved across the city, so he was never with us anymore. The other two had a fight that ended their friendship, and they stopped walking home together. That left me with only one of them, and suddenly I was needed again. I believe that's at the core of my codependency. If the other does not need me as much as I need them, it doesn't work out. Timothy had found other means of stability, through his job and friendships with a couple of his coworkers. They were closer to his age, so it made sense, but it meant he was starting to move away from me. But Glen wasn't like that. He, as well, had been abandoned by people his entire life; close friends especially seemed to be in short supply. As we hadn't gone through the exact same traumas, as was the case with Timothy and me, the way Glen and I related to each other was different. Since we had gone through many similar emotional challenges, however, we had something to talk about. And so we did. The conversations I had with Glen privately became much more personal than they'd been when we had others with us. We talked about life, about meaning and purpose, and what might exist outside of the illusion of society. It was the first time in my life that someone had genuinely wanted to hear what I had to say, about anything of any importance. Glen kept inviting me over to his house, and I kept refusing. I didn't want to risk forming yet another deep friendship when I feared it would fall apart. Finally, on Halloween of our freshman year, he started pulling me toward his house, and only when I refused yet again did he let me go. No one had shown me such eagerness to have me in their life before. When I went home that afternoon, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do next. Eventually, I put on my coat and walked to his neighborhood. It didn't take me long to find his house, as he had described it to me in detail. We spent the evening together, and I ended up sleeping over at his house. It was only the second sleepover I had ever had at someone else's house, and the first with people who actually enjoyed my company. While I would love to say that this was the friendship that healed me of my trauma, and which fixed everything that was wrong; unfortunately that friendship was a two-edged sword. While Glen did finally become my truest anchor in this life, and still is today, there were certain ways in which our friendship locked in some of the things I still struggle with. It began with my codependency, as so many things have since I developed it. I wanted to spend all my time with him, because he made me feel like I wasn't alone. It was to the point that I spent every afternoon at his home, slept over at his house most weekends, and when my family went on vacation, I called him every night because I didn't know how to be alone with myself anymore. I was attracted to him, and unlike with Timothy, I let him know fairly early that this was the case. Glen welcomed my company, but not my attraction. As I continued to obsess over him, and he continued to reject my advances, it became a major sour point between us. Every behavior I had learned from Jackson about how to control others was brought to bear against Glen. Thankfully, he resisted them all, for he had dealt with controlling people his entire life. And, when I finally crossed the line, he let me know with certainty that I had fucked up, and that my abusive behavior would not be tolerated. This was when things started to change for me, the beginning of a path that would take nearly 17 years to reach a point of freedom. It began with a single decision, when faced with losing the only friend I'd had, who wanted to stay in my life and actually could. I apologized, and made a firm decision and commitment to change. It definitely didn't happen overnight, though some of my behaviors I managed to stop right away. My attempts to control him through pain, for instance, were let go immediately. That I had even crossed that line at all was sickening to me, as soon as I realized the similarities to how Jackson had treated me. My obsession took longer, nearly a decade to disappear completely, but it did fade bit by bit, and I constantly strove to do better than I had before. Glen bore it all because of our mutual codependency. We gave each other exactly what we craved, when it came to emotional needs. Mental stimulus and understanding filled all our conversations. We'd often spend the last hour of our daily hangouts sitting in his living room simply talking about things. This is still the cornerstone of our friendship. It is why, even though we have enabled each other's habits throughout the years, I would never think of leaving him. He offers me a level of understanding I have scarcely found elsewhere, especially in such abundance. What Glen offered me was stability, the ability to work through the masks I wore, and to wear the one in which I felt the most comfortable without any judgment. Without him, I'm certain I would've deteriorated into chaos, or become so consumed by apathy that I would have willingly fed myself to the void of my depression. I'm going to speed up the tale a bit here. Much of this is important, but the specific details less so. In high school, Glen and I became close friends with another pair of guys who were similarly bonded due to their trauma. The four of us together became a family of sorts, a brotherhood linked by a shared distaste for authority, an appreciation of mental exploration, a lack of emotional understanding for most people, and an insatiable desire for stories. It was Dungeons & Dragons that brought us together at first. The four of us—the two separate pairs—came together at a party for a mutual friend and learned that we had all played the game before, but we each did not have enough people in our lives to keep playing. We decided to get together to remedy that. The four of us became inseparable, and for a codependent like me, that was the greatest experience I had ever had. In addition to Glen, I had gained two people I could rely on and trust. Having a true friend had been life changing, and having three finally helped me find a place in the world where I wanted to be. This, as well, did not solve all my problems, of course. While I trusted these friends in almost every way, there were still a few things that I held back from them. Many were the insecurities that I had learned to hold against myself due to Jackson and Timothy. Glen knew about my sexuality, but I didn't tell the other two until we were in our early 20s. I had told Glen about the abuse, but I kept it from the others. From the age of five when Jackson had first introduced me to the world of illusion, which he had weaved out of his words, I had learned to create false selves. While I gave more truth to my three best friends than I had ever given to anyone before, I still felt the need to create a persona by which I engaged with them. I pretended to be wiser than I was, to present myself as some moral being who understood the way the world was supposed to be. I bluffed my way with much bullshit during the course of my later teen years and young adulthood. All four of us wore masks, even around each other. There were moments when we gave each other glimpses of what lay beneath, tiny flickers of vulnerability which are the true reason why we stayed together. We knew there was a real connection between us, even if we still kept each other a layer away from whom we really were. But they gave me an understanding of what I wanted in life. The three of them helped me see that I wanted a life of emotional intimacy with a small group of friends, who would have my back as much as I had theirs. This was the case for a long while with them, and in many ways it still is, although some distance has grown between me and the two who came later. They've gone on to form families of their own, and I'm happy for them. All of our priorities have shifted, and thankfully I learned and accepted that this is simply what happens in life. People often grow apart, despite best intentions. They remain my brothers, even if I don't get to see them as often as I used to. My world would be a much darker place if I had never welcomed them into it. But as it was, I was the first one to leave. I can't say I fully understand my own motivations at the time. It seemed necessary, from a sense of self-preservation. Over the course of my adolescence I had learned to keep my opinions to myself around my family and community. While I did not believe in their religion, I was still forced to participate in it. In high school I investigated Buddhism and Taoism and loved them both far more than the religion of my youth. I was a self-proclaimed secular Buddhist while attending Mormon seminary, and told others that I found certain aspects of Buddhist philosophy peaceful and applicable to my Mormon life. But there is a point in a Mormon boy's life where he has to make a certain decision, which will affect his entire future. Every Mormon male is expected to give two years of his life to missionary service, immediately after high school. They leave their homes to travel either across the country or to other parts of the world, to recruit others into the Mormon faith. If someone decides not to go, they are often ostracized by their community and put at odds with their family. Fearing the repercussions of declining to perform my expected duty, I decided to pursue missionary service. I made a mental decision that if I did not get sent somewhere interesting to me, then I would decline and leave the church. As fortune would have it, for better or worse, the church sent me to South Korea. I could not give up that adventure, no matter how little I wanted to be a missionary. But it meant saying goodbye to my three closest friends, for two years, and thereby being unable to see them or even communicate outside of letters and emails. That was the hardest part, and it nearly destroyed me. Completely without any of my codependent anchors, I entered Mormon boot camp (the MTC, or "Missionary Training Center") where I spent the first three months of my missionary service. All three of them wrote me letters while I was in the MTC, with Glen writing me once a week, and the other two writing me sporadically. But, as I had grown used to spending the bulk of my time with them, it was jarring to no longer have their presence. As I have always done when being separated from those who stabilize me, I sought something else to satisfy my need to be needed. The brainwashing techniques used on missionaries in training proved to be quite effective for my mental state at the time. By the end of my three months of training, I was a zealous disciple, ready to get to Korea and teach and baptize as many people as possible. It was another persona, a means to survive a world that didn't make sense to my true self. I buried the things about myself that would cause the most trouble in my religious service. My sexuality, which only Glen knew for sure, was the thing I tried to suppress the most. Being surrounded exclusively by males during my missionary service made that difficult at times, though thankfully I was never particularly attracted to any of my companions. When I arrived in South Korea, the now current president of the Mormon church, Russell Nelson, was visiting in order to speak at a conference for the Mormon membership in Korea. Due to certain circumstances, he was staying at the home of my mission president. At that time, he was part of the leading Council of the church, but not the leader of the church itself, and thus was well regarded by all of my missionary peers. We were honored by the opportunity to eat breakfast with him, but to say it was a lackluster experience for me would be putting it lightly. By the end of the meal I had been reminded of all the reasons why I did not believe the doctrines of the Mormon church. And yet, there I was, in a foreign country where I had committed myself to teach about the church for the next two years. I allowed the persona I had constructed in the MTC to dominate me. My true self, the one beneath the masks, was still yearning for the codependent bliss of my friends back home. It would do me no good, being over there, and so for the next two years I gave everything to the role, and I was an excellent actor. But the war within myself went badly for who I really was. I ached to be true to myself, and at times this manifested in unexpected ways. I hated attending required church meetings, and hid it by simply falling asleep during them and claiming that I wasn't sleeping well at night. The method I would use to proselytize was to advertise for our free English class, above teaching anything about church, because I found such teaching sessions to be far more interesting, and satisfying, than anything to do with church doctrine. I had a brief romantic affair with a young man who was a member of the church in one of the areas where I lived. He was a couple of years younger than me, but not so young as to be inappropriate as I was only nineteen myself. This was, at that point in my life, the only mutually invested romantic relationship I had experienced. For the two months that we met in secret it was wonderful, and certainly confirmed my sexuality, but the relationship was impossible to maintain. Neither of us could ever go public, and I'd be leaving eventually anyway. Sometimes, I would climb up to the top of the tallest building I could find, and look out over the city. This was especially therapeutic for me at night, when the lights from all the windows would shine, to remind me of all the different people living their lives. It made me feel less alone to see the world lit up like that. I loved the culture of the Korean people, though I know that my experience is somewhat tainted by the fact that I was a white boy and a foreigner. I likely would've had a different perspective on their culture had I been born Korean. For me, there was a serenity there, which I have never experienced in my homeland; I felt as if I could live there forever. The misty, green mountains of Icheon felt like the most magical heaven I'd ever seen. Some of the people I met offered me perspectives I sorely needed and had been lacking for the entirety of my life. A Buddhist potter, and farmer, taught me humility and showed me what unconditional love looked like in a family. I have often remarked to others that this man in particular exemplified more Christian values than any Christian I had ever met. Another man, toward the end of my time in Korea, had been a minister for twenty-five years. His old Bible was so worn from the many times that he had flipped through it that some of the words were missing from the edges of the verses on the outer margins. He had read the book many times, every time hoping for a conviction to confirm his faith, but never found it. He'd been an atheist for well over a decade when I met him, and he could spot the hole in the logic of nearly any religious argument almost as soon as it was said. He would listen patiently and respond with reason. He saw right through me; my mask meant nothing to him. I met a pair of Muslim friends studying at a University, who openly discussed religious theory with me without any desire to prove me wrong, or get into any arguments. How refreshing it was to have people who enjoyed learning about diversity of humanity without any desire to prove that there was only one way to be human! I cherished our discussions for many years afterwards, and truthfully, I do still. Korea confirmed what I had learned at ten years of age. The world—the real one, not the illusions I constructed—was full of magic. There were people in every culture who were good, and that the willingness to explore the differences in our perspectives was the true secret to peace. I doubt I could've articulated that at those times in my life, but it was a core tenet of my soul then and remains so today. And through it all, I was forced to continue to wear the mask of the missionary; the mask of the straight boy, come to preach the God-fearing doctrine of some arrogant white man from the time before the slaves were freed in the United States, and the West had not yet been stolen from the people who lived there. I am bitter about Mormon doctrine, and the Mormon church, and I apologize for my inability to remain unbiased. When I was young, Mormon doctrine convinced me that I was an abomination for the feelings of love I had for other boys I knew. It has hurt others I have known in a wide variety of ways, from homophobia, to racism, to the theocratic influence they have upon the governance of Utah. They have done some good in the world, and there are certain things within their culture that have impacted some people for the better. But this is my story, and in my life they are the antagonists. When I returned home, I slowly began my transition out of the church. I could not leave immediately, for I still believed I needed to preserve some stability within my family. Glen was there to aid in my transition out, for he wanted out as well. It took a while for us to have that conversation, but eventually we started going to church less and less. By a year after I came home, I told my parents that I didn't want to go to the church anymore, and that I didn't believe in it at all. I also mentioned the abuse that I had suffered, but refused to give them any details. They wouldn't have understood anyway. Once again, telling my parents something serious about myself resulted in their complete lack of respect for my true self. My mother would constantly make passive-aggressive remarks about my decision to leave the church, or to try to manipulate me into going back. My father went behind my back to my mission president and told him that I was leaving the church, to ensure that my mission president would meet with me and try to pressure me back into it. Months later, my father gave me printouts of all the emails I'd sent him in which I had declared my faith. He didn't understand they'd all been written by my mask and not by me. I suppose I should be grateful that I at least had parents who cared enough to try to save my soul, the way that they saw it, but I can't muster up the gratitude. It was then that I stopped caring what they thought of me, or at least what they thought about my actions and beliefs. For the entirety of my life, every time I had tried to tell them who I really was, they had ignored me and tried to convince me that I wasn't who I said I was, or that I shouldn't be that person. And so, by the age of twenty-two, the foundations of my prison had all begun to weaken. I had escaped the religion, though traces of its dogma still hung on me like cobwebs. I had escaped familial pressure, but the wounds I had suffered on the way out still burned like hellfire. I still bore the weight of Jackson's tyranny, and the codependency that had been shaped from that trauma. I hated myself then, more than ever, but at least I was looking in the mirror. It had been a long time since I'd done that. Sometimes healing is every bit as painful as the sickness.
  8. Cynus

    Chapter 2

    Out of necessity, I was forced to leave out a great deal of detail due to the fact that some people I know very well will be reading this at some point, and the inclusion of those details would have damaged the anonymity. As you can likely imagine, I don't care much about ruining Jackson's reputation, but the impact to Timothy and others is something I'd rather avoid. However, I doubt that any of them will be reading it here, nor read this comment, so to give you an additional anecdotal detail: When they were younger, Jackson tried to cut off Timothy's hand with his mother's sewing scissors. He did not stop despite his brother screaming, and only his mother interceding stopped Timothy from losing his hand. Jackson regularly delighted in the pain of others. He would often hurt me and Timothy just for fun. I am obviously not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but in my mind, the wealth of experiences I had with him indicate at least a level of psychopathy. He had no morality. The only thing which kept him from doing worse things was knowing that he would be punished.
  9. Cynus

    Chapter 2

    I'm glad it's benefiting people! And it's more like the difficulty had mostly passed by the time I got around to actually writing this. Obviously at one point this was all quite difficult to talk about and get through, I've just already been through a great deal of healing, and thankfully it allows me to share my story/stories with others in a way that hopefully will help people.
  10. Cynus

    Chapter 2

    This particular version wasn't so difficult. It's a story I've told to some before, in bits and pieces, over the past decade. Consolidating it was the more difficult part, and laying it out in a way that connected the dots was definitely cathartic. But it was time to let it go, and as a writer, there's only one way I know to do that. Thank you for your support!
  11. Cynus

    Chapter 1

    I appreciate all the encouraging words. I've already come a long way. Thankfully, the majority of this is actually behind me, and I'm doing pretty well. Overcoming my bad habits is still a struggle, but the weight of the past doesn't weigh on me the way it used to. Thankfully, I've had the chance to see some of that past through the temporal mirror of present behaviors, and fix my hair a bit. I appreciate the support.
  12. The Changes of Adolescence My tenth year was a very formative time in my life. While this part of my story will largely be about my early adolescence, the changes which took place for me began in my tween years. Along with the biological changes of puberty, which I will not address directly as I believe it's largely unnecessary to establish what those changes are, there were simply changes to what was happening in my life which need to be addressed. I will also have to backtrack a slight amount, if only to include a few details which I previously left out, which are more pertinent to this phase of my life than they were to what was happening with Jackson and Timothy previously. Up until the age of ten, and even after, friendships were quite rare for me. It wasn't for lack of trying, but largely due to circumstance. The children my age in my neighborhood who lived near me had a habit of leaving. Two were children of divorced parents, who often spent time with the parent who didn't live near me (they belonged to two different families, for clarity's sake). A third moved away within a year of becoming friends with me, and I ended up in an irreconcilable fight with another boy my age. Unfortunately, though I knew other children through my local church, I was not close with any of them. I don't know why I never really connected with them, but I nevertheless often felt out of place among them. This is as good a place as any to describe my religious upbringing. I was raised in the Mormon church, also known as the LDS church, or by its full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The purpose of telling my story is not to malign the church, despite my many disagreements with its dogma, culture, and doctrine, but there are a few things which I must make abundantly clear. The central focuses of the Mormon church culturally are family and community. While these are great principles to focus on in general, there are certain approaches that the church takes on these matters that can be disorienting to a nonbeliever. I was always a nonbeliever. Even at the point in my life when I was most dedicated to the church, it was in an attempt to prove to myself whether or not the dogma was true. I sang the songs as a child because some of them were fun to sing. I attended class, because at least I could be around other children my age. I didn't fit in with them, but because the church fostered community, at least they were amicable toward me, for the most part. But never as a child did I pray with sincerity, nor did I find the concept of God to be anything that I could relate to. While it may appear that my story jumping around a bit too much, I promise you that it all connects. There were many different things going on for me at that young age which created a turbulent atmosphere for both my physical and mental wellbeing. The bullying I suffered from Jackson is just one aspect, though it is a cornerstone of the foundation of the prison I built for myself. Religion and family were both cornerstones as well; with the changes that I undertook as a developing tween forming the last corner of that foundation. Every negative behavioral pattern I developed was built upon these four things. I first discovered an attraction for boys when I was ten. While I can't say I fully understood what it meant at the time, I didn't know that it meant I was different from my peers. I can't say for certain who the first person was that I found attractive, but I'm certain he was male. Despite the current complicated climate between the Mormon church and Boy Scouts of America today, there was a time when the two were very closely linked, and a significant portion of scout troops throughout the western United States were Mormon troops. To say that it was a regular part of my development from the age of eight onward is an understatement. Attendance was mandatory in my family, and expected from my religion. If you know anything about the history of either the Mormon church or the Boy Scouts of America, you know that neither organization has a spotless history with members of the LGBT community. Certain things have changed in both cases, though when I was a child it was not okay to be gay in either organization. When I was ten, I met a boy through Cub Scouts who made me question a lot about myself. We'll call him Bryan. I met him at the church house, which is where most of our scouting events took place. It was his first week there, as he had come to live with his grandmother over the summer while his parents worked out some issues. It was the first time I ever experienced that feeling of kismet. I met his eyes and instantly knew I would like him, like he understood some fundamental secret about the world which I had also unlocked, and we were the only two who knew it. We became instant friends. As time went on, we hung out together at every scouting event. At a particular event, which involved washing a neighbor's car as part of a service project—an activity which seemed incredibly boring to ten-year-old me—Bryan and I decided to ditch the activity and head to his grandmother's house. Despite our friendship, it was the first time I had ever been there. He showed me around, introduced me to his grandmother's dog, then we went up to his room to hang out for a while. It was nearing the end of the summer, and Bryan was telling me excitedly that he'd asked his parents if he could stay with his grandmother during the school year and attend school with me. They told him he could, and the enthusiasm between us continued to grow. For the first time in my life, someone was going to be sticking around. This was the first moment I can remember ever wanting to kiss someone. I didn't, but there was an energy in the room, which started making both of us a bit nervous. We shared subtle glances, spoke awkwardly about how cool it was going to be to hang out all the time, and then finally decided to go outside to play. We wrestled a little bit on his front lawn, and then paused to rest. This was the moment where things truly started to change. In the most innocent form of "I'll show you mine if you show me yours", we crossed a threshold of intimacy and revealed our parts to each other. It was playful, but more than that, and we made jokes about the experience, though not each other. We continued to play, but there was a lot more of jostling into each other, making unnecessary physical contact just because we could. Our explorations grew more serious as the day stretched on, and it soon became clear the direction we were headed. He made a move on me, which I wanted but, in my surprise, I initially pushed him away. It was just for an instant, and I tried to make things right, but in his ten-year-old mind, I had rejected him outright. He left in anger and tears, running back into his house and slamming the door. Not wanting to make matters worse, I went home. I hadn't intended to go into great detail here, but I thought some of the nuance was important. Bryan and I had formed a genuine connection, and in many ways I think he could've become a prominent fixture of my life if things had gone differently. My parents grounded me for skipping out on my scout activity, and for failing to let my sister know where I was, as she'd been responsible for me that afternoon. I was not allowed to see any of my friends for a week, and this week led directly into a family vacation during which we left the state. There was one week left before school started when we returned, and this was filled largely with back-to-school activities. I was excited to begin the school year, as I would be able to see Bryan there. When school began, I couldn't find him. A couple of weeks passed, and I continued to look for him, but he didn't seem to be attending the school like he had originally planned. I finally went to visit his grandmother's house, looking for him, and learned that he had decided not to attend school with me after all. While I don't hold extremely strong feelings of regret for this experience any longer, for nearly 20 years, it was something that weighed on me. Not only had I lost yet another friend, but this time I couldn't shake the feeling that it was my fault. This fed directly into the self-loathing that Jackson trained me to, and I withdrew even more into myself than I already had. That was when I began to construct my prison. On top of this, I was starting to receive more of the instruction at church that pertained to young men going through puberty. They preached against the exploration of sexual urges, condemning acts such as masturbation or even entertaining the concept of lust. I had already discovered masturbation significantly earlier than this, a direct result of the abuse from Jackson, and this increased the negative pressure I felt towards myself. While I didn't believe in the church, they and my parents formed the basis of what I understood to be right and wrong, and I hated myself for the dirty little habit I had. As my lessons began to include condemnations of homosexuality, and I came to realize my unquestionable attraction to my own gender, my morality-based self-loathing increased tenfold. Now, in addition to considering myself not only worthless due to Jackson's perspective, I considered myself evil. It was the only logical way I could understand what I was being told. My entire youth was spent under the influence of the church. On top of weekly Sunday meetings, there was a weekly church-themed family night, and a weekly youth group I was forced to attend. My parents believed in daily Scripture study as a family, and insisted upon morning and evening prayers. Sundays themselves were enforced days of spiritual activities, when we were not allowed to see friends, or engage in anything which my parents considered 'worldly'. My only escape was school, where I had no friends. The few kids I did know to some degree were all Mormon as well. They knew I was weird, and I didn't fit in with them. In fifth grade, my closest friend was my teacher. She had a very worldly manner about her, and spoke of exotic places, and exposed us to new ideas. I can say with certainty, that had I been placed in any other class available at the time, I probably wouldn't have made it. She was the one who exposed me to the idea that there could be something greater than the life I was being exposed to; a way to escape the oppressive dogma and find a place in the world. On a brief side note, at the beginning of the school year I met another boy who had an impact on me for a long time. His name was Kevin, and I had an instant connection with him. Kevin was bullied every day, and shortly after I joined his class, he moved schools in order to escape the abuse he was suffering. I ran into him in middle school, where we had a repeat of that same scenario. Years later, in high school, I was misinformed that he had committed suicide. For most of my adult life, he was another weight on my shoulders, because I had always believed that I had not done enough to help him. Learning a few years ago that he was alive and well did a lot for my healing. But in my fifth-grade year, he was just another failed friendship. My fifth-grade teacher also put me in touch with a part of myself that I retain, and in which I take great pride. I have often been disenchanted by the notion of nationalism; that anyone would ever be better than anyone else due to the borders within which they were born. My family, including my parents, was quite patriotic, as it turned out. They were the kind of people to say the pledge of allegiance and sing the national anthem without any regard for the troubles the country has caused. They've grown a bit since then, but at the time they did not take kindly to the disparaging remarks I made regarding the country of my birth. A notable experience, one which I will always remember as the moment I learned I could never trust them with my full self, was when they sat me down to watch a movie. I was told in no uncertain terms that this movie was mandatory, and that I would be severely punished if I didn't sit through it. It was a movie about Benedict Arnold, to whom my mother compared me. She made it abundantly clear that, if I didn't like the country, I was, most certainly, a traitor. I was guilty of treason, and that I would regret feeling that way some day. To this day, I don't regret my viewpoints, only that I bothered to confide in my parents at all as a teenager. It's no wonder I never told them I was gay. Desperate for some escape from the pressures of family, and the overwhelming loneliness I felt, I returned to Jackson and Timothy. They welcomed me back surprisingly easily, though not exactly with friendliness. I had some similar interests with them, and that was really what allowed me back into their lives. They had only recently begun explorations into Dungeons & Dragons. If you've ever played the game, you know that it's very difficult to play with only a few people, and my interest brought their number to a good-sized group. This was, however, nothing more than the natural evolution of Jackson's storytelling. It would become his new mechanism for influencing how I thought about the world. The same aspects of his control permeated everything in the game. He was the dungeon master, the person who told the story and kept the rules while the others played their roles as characters. I once again became enamored with the concept of Jackson's superiority over me. Many of my opinions about anything at all were sharply influenced by him. He continued to belittle me, specifically about my weight and appearance, both of which had continued to worsen as I dug deeper into my depression. Yet, at least with them, I had company and stories to keep me entertained. With them, the world made sense, even if it was negative energy. Plus, there was Timothy. In the wake of my newfound predilection for males, Timothy became my new obsession. I thought he was the most attractive person in the world, and I began to look up to him every bit as much as I looked up to Jackson. Despite my other feelings toward Jackson, I had never found him physically attractive, nor did he ignite my lust, in any way whatsoever. Timothy definitely did, and Jackson noticed. Strangely, this was not something Jackson used to demean me directly. I theorized that his own attractions may have been along similar lines to mine, and that making fun of me for being gay would've been one of the few things that would've been distasteful to him. However, he did recognize that his power over me was beginning to transfer somewhat to Timothy, and he used that in other ways. This is one of my fuzzy memories; I'm not entirely certain where it belongs in the timeline. It was either a rare moment that I went to their house during the summer I spent with Bryan (in which case, Jackson knew I was gay way before I did), or it took place during the next summer. It was the Fourth of July, and of that I'm certain, for they were preparing to light fireworks off in front of their house. Timothy pulled me into the garage and told me he wanted to do something fun. He then pulled down his pants and did a little dance for me in his underwear. Then he told me to do the same thing. I did, without question. This was Timothy, after all, and I was both attracted to him and liked him generally. But then he told me to wait while he grabbed Jackson. When Jackson arrived he was smiling, and he asked me to dance for him. I did it several times, all while he watched, clearly enjoying himself. It should be noted that at this point he was either fifteen or sixteen, and I was either ten or eleven. He knew exactly what he was doing, and I, at best, knew that this was something naughty. In looking at it now, I'm certain that Jackson orchestrated the event, and coerced Timothy into putting me in that position so that Jackson could enjoy it afterwards. Memories are fuzzy, but the look on Jackson's face is clearer than most things. No matter how much he made fun of me for my weight and appearance, he wanted something when he looked at me. What it was, I can't be certain. Perhaps he was simply relishing the control he had over me. Perhaps it was lust. I could speculate all day, but I do know that he manipulated those events specifically to make me show him things. There were other points along the way when Jackson used similar tactics to get to me. When he entered high school, he was making a film project and joked several times about how he should coerce Timothy and me into having sex and film that. He didn't do so, though my admiration for him and my obsession with Timothy made me strangely excited for such things. I didn't understand how wrong it was then. I didn't notice the ways he treated Timothy, either. How he encouraged his friends to abuse him, often in sexual ways, though only lightly. How the way he spoke was always to reinforce his dominance. Slowly, however, he faded in my eyes as Timothy replaced him. Timothy did bully me, but not as much. He'd make some of the same jokes, but it was just parroting from Jackson. Timothy never touched me inappropriately, and never encouraged any sort of sexual behavior from me, except in the one incident recounted above, in which I believe he was coerced. I knew with certainty that Timothy was a better person than Jackson would ever be, and at least that small part of me connected with the humanity in Timothy. And in many ways, that's where my mental prison was finally completed, and I threw the key away. Things came to a head for Jackson one day while I was at their home. He'd turned eighteen, and had been fighting with his father for weeks. Having never fought with my parents in the way that I witnessed here, it was one of the most surreal experiences I'd ever been a part of. Jackson's father, yelling at him to get a job so he could do something with his life, and Jackson in his underwear, telling his dad to "go fuck himself". That was the day I saw him for what he really was. I saw the boy who'd never worked a day in his life; the boy who was always in control. The boy who thought he knew everything. And he was just a skinny kid in his underwear, refusing to do his fair share of the work. He'd never had to do it before. What a waste, having spent so many years looking up to him. But I was already broken. It was too late for me to unlearn the lessons before they'd taken hold. I didn't understand how I'd changed, but only that I had. I sided with Timothy from that point forward, and never looked back at Jackson as being the person I wanted to become. Following Timothy, of course, caused its own fair share of problems.
  13. Cynus

    Chapter 1

    I've already finished writing it. There will be four parts in total, and I plan on posting them throughout the week. Thank you for reading and for your support.
  14. This story is autobiographical in nature, but I have made some modifications to protect the identities of those included in it. All the names have been changed, and in some cases things such as gender, locations, and sometimes familial compositions have been altered. All that being said, this is MY truth, and it's time I released it so that I'm free to create from a place other than brokenness and sadness. This will be dark, but there are spots of light in the great black. No void is truly empty when one gazes into it. The light from our eyes illuminates more than we realize. ~Samuel
  15. A Confession I am not a good person. At least, I don't see myself that way. While I have done good things in the past, I have also done more than my fair share of terrible things. Most of the latter have been directed toward myself, but some have been toward others. I have treated many unfairly, to differing degrees, and in some cases I helped make lives miserable as a direct result of the darkness that lives within me. Please forgive me for this side of the story. I don't mention it seeking any form of pity or to play the victim. This section is a true confession of some of the things I've done, in order to provide proper context for who I am. I believe this is necessary, if I am to accomplish what I wish to accomplish here. The experiences in my life led me to become a codependent. This is at the core of most of the harm I've caused others. I only truly came to understand this recently, but it has been a wake-up call for me. I have, at present, an unusual friendship with my best friend of seventeen years. He and I are undoubtedly codependent upon each other, in a strange blend of sociopathy, empathy, and nihilistic appreciation for the other's worldview, while we face the world together. From the outside, our friendship looks quite odd, and it is, indeed, unique in its function. This is the one relationship I will hold onto until my death, for it works for both of us. He and I have already spoken about the need to unravel our codependency as much as possible while preserving our friendship. Thankfully, he and I are on the same page. My compulsion toward codependency has affected the majority of my other relationships, most notably my romantic ones but a few of my other platonic relationships as well. If I ever dated you and acted obsessively, then suddenly closed myself off to you because I wasn't getting the specific things that I needed from you, then I apologize. You all know who you are if you're reading this. I am working on this flaw, and hopefully I will never do it to anyone else, though I cannot currently guarantee that. If you are a friend I reached out to in a time of my need and then wouldn't leave alone… well, you know who you are too. Thank you for the support you so freely gave me. I apologize that I latched onto you too tightly, and I'm working on this too. Please know that, if I have created distance between us, and you fall into either of these categories, it is not because I dislike you or don't want to be friends with you. Instead, it is because I want to be able to address this issue within myself, before beginning to connect to others again, in the hope that I will not travel down these same mental hallways, always past the same rooms I ignore, but shouldn't. I'm cleaning out the storerooms and lighting my dark corners. I'm opening the windows and letting fresh air in while I sweep up the dust. It's time I learn how to be human again. The Beginning I think I was a normal child. I honestly couldn't tell you for certain, as much for the fact that "normal" isn't directly quantifiable, as that I don't remember much at all before I was five, but I do remember being five. There were a few things I really enjoyed, some of them physical and some of them mental. I liked to swing. I'm pretty sure I loved it, actually. I don't remember anything from that time—as well as I would like—except for maybe some of the bad stuff, but swinging was definitely a major part of my childhood. I know I used to ask my parents if I could swing whenever we passed by a playground and I noticed the swing set. When I finally went to elementary school, it was my activity of choice during recess. I remember seeing tire swings in media, either children's shows or just randomly on the TV, and I always wondered what swinging on one would be like. I never got the chance, nor did I ever swing from a rope into a lake or river, which often seemed like fun as well. The irony of that last one is striking to me now. At some point over the course of my childhood, I developed a profound fear of water, as well as a distinct fear of falling. The likelihood of me choosing to willfully swing over and into a body of water in my present state is lower than the chance of me marrying a woman and having children. As a gay man, I'll let you do the math. I also had a very active imagination as a child. I think most children do, though I don't have a great deal of first-hand experience in that matter. Most of my imagination was stimulated during my alone time, which was quite often. I do not believe that my parents were willfully neglectful, nor did any of the harm they caused me originate from any desire to inflict it upon me, but I was nevertheless left to my own devices far too often. In many ways, this impacted my development in social relationships, especially in how I view family and friends. I don't have any particularly strong ties to my family, not the way it's supposed to be according to the common social understanding of the concept, anyway. They are present in my life, but they are distant. Even those I'm closest to geographically, I see rarely, and I do not often reach out to them when I am in need. Instead, I am far more likely to reach out to my friends. When I was young and alone, I had to search outside of my family for emotional connections. This led me into trouble at times, but also into some of the greatest platonic relationships I've ever had, many of which I still maintain. However, it is necessary to begin with one association that came from such exploration, which left me with many of the issues I have today. Enter psychopath, stage left. For the sake of giving him a name, he will be named Jackson. This was also the name of a neighborhood dog growing up; one whom I was somewhat scared of despite his friendliness. It's an apt name for the psychopath in that regard, as the juxtaposition would fit the psychopath better; I was friendly with him, despite the fear. Jackson and his younger brother, Timothy, were both older than me; Jackson to a significant degree, at least when I was that young. They lived in my neighborhood and knew my brother, whom I often tagged along with, no matter where he went. My brother—as do most older brothers when they have younger siblings following them around—tolerated my presence at best, but under the instruction of my parents was often forced to put up with me. Please don't misunderstand; I hold no ill will against my brother for this time in our lives. We were children, and it's difficult to assign blame for a kid wanting to be with his friends without someone constantly following him around. My brother is now the person I confide most in, as far as my family is concerned, and he has been a loving caretaker of most of my family for the bulk of his life. None of what I describe here is meant to malign him in any regard. As previously stated, Jackson and Timothy were friends of my brother, and they also tolerated my presence, at best. They would often prank me, were determined to call me any name other than the one I was given at birth, and made fun of the way I spoke. While I don't remember much before I was five, I do remember a string of incidents when I was three, in which I hadn't yet mastered the 'th' sound and always told people my age was "free". That was my first nickname in their presence, but it was far from the last. I was routinely mocked for the things I said in their presence, yet I kept hanging with them. Quite simply, I had nowhere else to go. At home, my best option was to play by myself with a small collection of toys. I liked to build things with blocks, and later I developed an obsession with Lego. I don't know if the stories I made up as I played with these things came before or after my abuse from Jackson began, but there is a distinct correlation between the two, nonetheless. My timeline is a little screwy. Memories are fickle, but sometime between the age of five and seven, I started to get more attention from Jackson. I looked up to him, as he was obviously the oldest member of my 'friend' group. I'd been taught to respect older people, and since my parents weren't really involved much in my development, Jackson was the de facto authority figure in my life. I trusted him implicitly and wanted to be just like him. He started to notice, and he took advantage of this regularly. It started near the swing set. I don't know if it was a day that there'd been talk of trying to swing over the bar or not, the impossible thing that kids always talk about trying to accomplish. We had many such talks in that back yard, and I thought Jackson was so cool for trying to achieve the impossible. My brother and Timothy were both there as well, of course, but the conversation soon shifted as Jackson said, "I think we should all wrestle." My brother didn't like the idea. He'd seen how Jackson and Timothy had wrestled in the past, and he didn't much care for it. He refused and suggested that they keep swinging instead. I don't know if Jackson pushed him or hit him, but my brother ended up on the ground, hurt and crying. He went home. I didn't follow. Jackson again suggested we wrestle. I didn't really know what the problem was, so I decided it sounded like fun. I'd wrestled with my dad and brother often enough, and it had always been a good experience. But this kind of wrestling was different. Jackson grabbed my crotch and directed me to do the same to him. When I didn't immediately comply, he stopped and grabbed my arm. "I'll break it if you don't do what I say." Those words scared me. I didn't really understand what they meant, but he twisted his hands and it hurt. I knew he'd hurt me more. When I started to make a sound, he threatened me again, and told me to be quiet. Then he reassured me that he just wanted to have a bit of fun. That's all, and if I did what he wanted, we'd all have a good time. I agreed, not wanting to be hurt again. The three of us, Jackson, Timothy, and I, wrestled for a little while, with Jackson repeatedly clarifying that the rules were to grab each other's dicks through our clothing. When he would get ahold of mine, he would squeeze hard. When I got ahold of his, he coaxed me to grip him 'the right amount', squeezing me harder if I didn't do it exactly the way he wanted. I don't know exactly what I expected to come from all this. At my young age, the world still didn't really make sense in a lot of ways. It wasn't until after this moment that I remember the first discussion from my parents about what to say if someone asked to touch my 'private parts', and how to react. By that point I had already been conditioned, because we kept wrestling, and bit by bit, Jackson controlled me through pain. It's ironic that he didn't really need to. I looked up to him so much that I likely would've done what he wanted anyway, if he'd used a softer approach. But that pain came to be symbolic to me, even after the wrestling stopped and he moved on to other forms of torture. He locked me in a crawlspace once, in the dark with clutter and spiders. He kept me in there for the better part of a half hour, and no matter how much I protested, he wouldn't let me out. I don't know if it was before or after the wrestling, but it remained with me for the rest of my life. He wanted me to know that he made the rules, and there was nothing I could do to change that. Timothy wasn't like him. He had some issues of his own, surely, but he was definitely acting at the behest of his older brother. The same things done to me were almost always done to him as well, and I'm certain much worse occurred outside my view. A few things I know about, and I'm certain there are a lot more I am unaware of. That isn't my story to tell, however, but it is important to note that Timothy is a major part of this story. He was older than me by a few years, bigger than me as a result and certainly stronger. He bullied me directly more than Jackson did, at least in our early years, but his bullying was unquestionably the result of what was done to him. Later, he became a source of strength for me, but that is getting ahead of the story a bit. Jackson was the leader of the group. This was, again, an unquestionable fact that we children could only accept. He determined what activities we would do and how we would do them, and he would take no suggestions as to anything different. His rule was absolute. Resistance was met with pain. It was never enough to cause lasting physical harm, only enough to remind us of who was in charge. And he told stories. We went on hundreds of different trips through his imagination as he spun the tales. I know a lot of people who liked to roleplay as kids, and we were no exception. Jackson called it "The Game of Truth", an ironic name for a fictional game wrapped up in dogma of his unquestionable authority. We would use wooden dowels as swords, and fight each other in epic duels. We would walk around the neighborhood as Jackson described fantastical scenes and us as the heroes moving through them. I think I gained my love of storytelling as much from these experiences as I did from my own parents. My mother loved to read and even wrote a children's book, which she never had the opportunity to publish. My father was a writer, who has always wanted to have a novel in print but hasn't yet had that chance either. I certainly gained an appreciation of stories from them. But with Jackson it was different. With him, I lived the stories. I had a chance to escape into them without doing anything other than listen and let my mind wander. It was the most magical experience I'd ever had at that point in my life, and in my eyes, it made the pain worth it. Of course, it wasn't worth it. That was my naivety and nothing more. The pain was unnecessary, and I could've had those experiences without it, yet it was there. For awhile I struggled with the idea that I couldn't appreciate my love of stories while simultaneously hating their source. How could I love something so much that was spawned from someone who abused me so readily? Yet that dichotomy existed within me, and to some degree still does. I've learned since then that just because a situation tore me to pieces, doesn't mean nothing good could come from it. My mind was opened to such creative leanings in those days that I began to see the magic in everything, and I can create characters on a whim. I cherish those gifts. If only they hadn't come at the cost I paid. I spent more time with Jackson than I can possibly recall. For a decade I spent the bulk of my time in his presence when I wasn't at school or at home. He sculpted my development as surely as anyone did, and I learned how to manipulate others as a result. Bit by bit, as he tweaked my reactions, I learned how to be a subordinate sociopath to his psychopathy. When he rebelled, I cheered him on. When he manipulated others, I sneered along with him. He would continue to bully me, as I aged, most notably making fun of my weight. I took all his remarks to heart. He was, after all, like a god to me. Every single thing he said about me became a burden of shame that I carried with me everywhere. I became so bogged down by it all, that I felt bound to the earth, the weight becoming truly physical as I ate myself into misery, the gluttonous appetites of a boy who had a hunger for something he didn't understand, and a hole which would never be filled. The tides began to shift, however, as a small spark within me turned on. It was not a resistance, but a change in the power dynamic. I was certain that Jackson would only give me more shame if I showed parts of myself to him, and so it was Timothy I began to trust more. It was the summer when I was nine, I believe, that we were going to have a water fight. Everyone took off their shirts, but I was starting to feel self-conscious about the weight I'd been putting on. Unwilling to show myself to anyone, I left my shirt on. They bullied me about it, but I pulled Timothy aside and took my shirt off for him. For the first time since I'd begun to hang around them, there was no malice in his eyes. He was confused at first, then told me it was okay, and then said we should join the others. I left the shirt behind and we went to play. That was the moment my perspective began to change, and Timothy moved past being a bully to me. He was now a friend. The next six years were still hell, but at least we had each other.
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