I am not exaggerating when I say that I didn’t have any friends growing up.

The vast majority of my grade school classmates lived in one of a few subdivisions in town, close enough for them all to walk to and from each others’ houses. I, however, lived 7 miles outside of town, which meant that any hanging out involved getting one of my parents to drive me. Most of the other kids didn’t seem to think I was worth the bother of inviting along, knowing that I would take a long while to get wherever they were playing.

Additionally, I was, for lack of a better term: a weird kid. I hated wearing jeans, as I thought that the denim flap around the zipper, when sitting, looked too much like a penis (as the denim folded – seriously, wear jeans and sit down – that tiny bump in the fabric? Yeah, it used to drive me nuts). I’d wear sweat pants or any other zipper-less pants whenever possible. My early education fashion sense didn’t do me any favors in winning over any friends.

Eventually, my classmates who played together in first and second grade began to solidify childhood friendships with those closest to them. As I hadn’t been involved with those early-year play dates, there wasn’t anyone there to build a friendship with. No matter, though, high school is sure to level things out.

This wasn’t the case. High school left me every bit the social pariah that I was in grade school & junior high, as my “weird kid” reputation followed me. Had there been empty tables, I’m sure I would have eaten alone during lunch hour. Instead, on a daily basis, I had to look for any single open spot in the cafeteria, asking to sit there. “*sigh* fine,” someone would say. “Um, no, I’m saving that spot,” others would answer (though, after looking back at some of those saved spots, it was remarkable how many of them remained empty throughout the lunch hour). Generally, it would take me at least 4-5 minutes to find a spot to eat, where I’d be forced to sit in silence.

Following lunch, rather than being in study hall, I’d spend that period alone behind the stage in the auditorium, practicing classical guitar. This was the one time in the day where I didn’t feel self-conscious and afraid. This was the one time in the day where I didn’t have to worry about a teacher asking the class to get into groups of 2’s or 4’s, etc.; as that was a dreadful experience (generally, I’d ask around until there was only one group/pairing left, and the group was forced to take me). This was the one time I didn’t have to worry about trying to be “normal” in order to keep negative gossip about me to a minimum.

The closest thing to friends I had in high school were my teachers. Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, a wonderful husband and wife teaching duo in our music department, were just genuinely nice to me; and in all honesty, their friendliness with me may have saved my life, as there were some very dark days in high school. Same with Mr. Nedzel, who unfortunately, passed away a few years ago. His friendliness helped, too.

Students, though? Not so much. Shoved into lockers, laughed at, ostracized; that was me. I played soccer during high school, and while I didn’t make any friends, I did learn how to blend in and just pretend to be okay. I learned how to float in a more socially palatable persona, just being nothing but background noise to their company. This still didn’t protect me from bullying from others. The football players would should things like “field fairy!” and “field faggot!” at me.

Over time, I built up my defenses. I learned how to pretend to be okay. I learned how to drown out emotion to avoid harm from bullying.

I didn’t learn how to be a friend. And that’s my current problem. The years of learning how to have a social relationship with someone, interacting with others, developing as a healthy member of society; I missed those years. I spent those years just learning to drown out the bad, learning to fake it.

Now that I don’t have to fake who I am anymore, I honestly do not know how to make friends or develop and sustain friendships. As a result, I feel like I’ve inadvertently pushed people away or annoyed them to the point of repulsion.