On the edge of autumn and summer, a baby born to a sapphire birthstone came into being. An earth sign and a premature baby, the first entire month of my life was spent viewing it from inside a little glass box in the hospital. I thought it strange how quiet this new world I’d just arrived in was. The images around me moved in slow motion and high speed at the same time. Born mostly deaf with a blood sugar level so low that blinking was essentially killing me, my little baby body didn’t quite know how to work together. The aliens in lab coats spent an entire moon cycle trying to keep me alive. “Jonathan,” the aliens whispered one day as if I was one of their own, “it’s time to go home.”
Home found me the son of a growing financial advisor father and an artsy kindergarten teacher mother. My 2 half siblings and one full-blooded sibling were all born on the 16th of different months across 2 different decades while I was born on the 6th of September marking the 3rd. I was officially a 90’s baby and 90’s babies did things a little bit differently.
Tigard, Oregon was a small suburban town outside of Portland. That’s Tigard (Tie-GERD.) If you pronounced it like a certain orange bouncy Disney character, I can’t be responsible for the looks you get. Back then, the population was a little over 30,000 but that nearly doubled over the course of the following 30 years. Most of the unpopulated areas were farmland or forest. When I was little my house was one of 5 in my neighborhood. A uniquely laid-out city placed between many others, one quick 5 minute car ride would land you in Beaverton, Tualatin, King City, or Lake Oswego. 15-20 minutes in the car would find you in Portland or Vancouver, Washington. Everything and anything was “just off of 99,” the highway that pierces straight through the city like a lightning bolt.
Yes, it was the 90s and the turn of the millennium. Technology was beginning to boom, every tech gear becoming see-through. If I wasn’t playing with my Power Rangers or Beetleborgs I was on my Gameboy playing Pokémon. My Nintendo 64 also saw much use when exploring the paintings in Mario 64 or the temples in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. When I needed a break from those it was time to explore the outside catching butterflies, playing in the grass, or jumping through the sprinkler as if it were a magical veil to another realm on the front lawn. Sometimes my Power Rangers and Pokémon figures would join me in such quests to alternate realities. At one point I even wrote up full length TV shows with my Power Rangers and Pokémon in spiral notebooks. In greatly detailed kindergarten chicken scratch, I carefully etched out every plot line. I liked the way a story came together and the way a pencil felt in my hand. Somehow it felt like I had control of the narrative; like there was nothing I couldn’t do. I watched the toys in my hands behave as real as the world around me, each one having their own backgrounds and character arcs. I was just the omniscient narrator in their truth and discoveries.
As I grew, I poured myself into my schoolwork. My parents never had to worry about my grades because I simply did the work and took pride in it. The adults in my life praised my work ethic and making people smile made me feel good. Plus, I had a nice little ability to naturally form an essay with a clear beginning, middle, and end that came in handy quite often. I rarely read through my essays or papers after I typed them and almost always got an “A” regardless. Because of this, my friends loved having me correct their papers even in elementary school so their grades would improve. Seeing other people succeed also made me feel good inside too.
However, as the early 2000s approached and puberty began to show itself, my peers stopped asking me to review their papers. In fact, they stopped asking me to do much. The conversations became cold and I’d find myself alone at recess or during free moments in classes. If people did speak to me however, they certainly didn’t want to hear a response. After one girl decided that the way I spoke was also unacceptable by persuading all of the friends I once had to snicker at my every word for 5 years for “sounding like a girl,” I learned very quickly that for my own protection, my voice was better left silent.
This behavior confused me. How could I physically look like everyone else and be nothing like them? I was a boy but the boys thought I wasn’t athletic enough to hang out with. I could talk easier to the girls but the girls just made fun of me and kept their distance. The schoolyard hierarchy made no sense. The things I enjoyed too, quickly became uncool and unacceptable. My passions turned into secrets. If I loved it, the cool people hated it. If I opened my mouth, people would embarrass me. The only place I seemed to do anything well was in my schoolwork. After a while, I craved the time alone with my pencil. The more I excelled however, the more ammunition the bullies had. Who knew being labeled “smart” had negative connotations? My teachers would approach me about advanced classes but I always said no because saying yes put me on the losing side. I felt insecure and confused about it all.
In hindsight, the world my toys existed in often mirrored the human interactions I saw. The red ranger would be friends with the pink ranger until the blue ranger swooped in and took that friend away. Suddenly they’d be on Survivor and someone had to be voted off. In and out they’d rotate until one stood alone. It’s as if playing with my toys and writing their interactions down helped me understand how people could be so cruel. I was on the outside looking in, permitted to enter the room the characters existed in but not allowed to not have an opinion on their communications. Maybe I was the alien in the glass box and the lab coats weren’t? The difference now was that I could step between both worlds but never belong to either of them.
Much later in life, I learned that the second world I could step into wasn’t actually my imagination. It wasn’t a physical place I could go to either. It was bigger than that. Full of more possibilities than any fantasy land. My toys and their lives were simply the product of it. This second world was vast and powerful. It had storms with winds more damaging than an F5 tornado. More sunshine than the golden west coast could ever dream to be touched by. Stories and imagery so rich it was like the most delicious chocolate cake on the tip of your tongue.
I was afraid of that world.
I was afraid of my reality.
Luckily, there was one place I was never afraid of. A sacred temple in the sea of loneliness. This special sanctuary was filled with people who loved and accepted me and my voice. When I was at war with my reality world, this place granted me peace. When my second world was closed off, it brought me in with open arms. An oasis when I couldn’t bare one more day in the heat of it all. A special yearly program that took my imagination and curiosity to somewhere I hadn’t yet physically ventured to.
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