The Greatest Show in Church

Intensity

I’ve always struggled at fitting in.  Whether it’s been school, work, or outside of those situations in daily life I’ve never been adept at conforming to things.  Even in kindergarten I didn’t like being forced into doing things.  My kindergarten teacher called on me once for whatever reason and I felt like it came out of the blue so I said what was on my mind which was nothing.  Later I told her that I didn’t like being called on when I wasn’t prepared and she agreed to never call on me if I didn’t have my hand raised.  One day when not a lot of students were participating she called on me when my hand wasn’t raised and I pointed out to her and to the rest of the class that she had said she wouldn’t call on me if my hand wasn’t raised.  She moved on and called on someone else.  My mother used to tell me that story growing up to remind me that I was always fairly confrontational with authority figures.  That has been one of the few constants in my life over the years.

When I got to high school my parents put me in a private school.  It was a whole different experience compared with the public schools I had grown up in.  This should have been apparent to me before my first day of classes when we had to show up and buy our books.  I never had to buy books when I went to a public school.  In eighth grade in fact, my history book was in such poor condition that it was a joke among my teachers and classmates.  Indeed, there was one string holding the pages together at the end of the semester.  My teacher tried to have fun with it.

“We can throw that away at the end of the semester,” he said and it was a nice feeling tossing that book in the dumpster, but it was not nearly as fulfilling as I had imagined it would be.  In the lingering final weeks of the eighth grade my parents made the surprise announcement that I would be attending a private school in the fall.  It was a shocking announcement to me as I had never been consulted about the matter and didn’t even know that this was something that was being considered until the decision was announced to me.  All my friends were being split up into the four different high schools but it felt monumentally unfair that I had to make all new friends at a totally foreign place to me.  Even the system was unfamiliar.  We didn’t have a “homeroom” concept in public schools.  We had this ridiculous notion of “pods” in middle school which basically dictated which teachers you would have for your primary subjects and what time you’d eat lunch at, but the homeroom idea was a bizarre idea that I had never really seen before.  Prior to my first day of high school the only time I had seen a homeroom concept employed in a school was on Saved by the Bell and from my vantage point it hadn’t been terribly effective at neutralizing the shenanigans of Zach Morris although Screech seemed a bit worse for the wear as a result of this.

My homeroom teacher was a man who went by the name of Senor Laing-Martinez.  This was just another perplexing chapter in an already confusing situation.  The Senor was a Spanish teacher, but he had also adopted his wife’s name into his last name.  How whipped was this guy?  To make matters a bit stranger he was also a white man.  I hadn’t known any Caucasian men with Spanish last names before and I grew up in an area with a fairly large Hispanic demographic.  Senor Laing-Martinez was just many in a line of very strange fellows.  The school’s priest had left the previous year so we had a creepy middle-aged man named Father Frank as the school’s head pastor.  Father Frank was perhaps the most peculiar individual in school.  He was a very boring person to listen to which is unusual to see in a pastor because they’re usually supposed to have at least some ability to orate.  Father Frank led the school in prayer at our all-school assemblies, which was how every first Monday of the month began for us.  I remember thinking that not only was Father Frank a poor speaker, he was also not very good at praying.  I began to think that if I was God I probably wouldn’t answer Father Frank’s prayers, in fact, I’d probably do the exact opposite of what he was asking me to do.  I started thinking that if God judged everyone based on their ability to pray well then that might explain why so few people seemed to have their prayers answered.

God had never been a very big part of my life.  My father wanted my family to be religious for whatever reason so as a kid we usually wound up going to church on Sunday, but my mother was not a fan.  Not only did she not like going to church because she didn’t like religion, she didn’t like going to church because it was a social event.  My father is an extrovert and but mother is very introverted.  I think it was after sixth grade that we didn’t have to go to church anymore although it may have been earlier.  A few houses down from us on the other street lived one of my closest friends and his mother was very religious.  She even volunteered at the church.  My friend had lost his father when we were in grade school so he had to accompany his mother to a lot of places that most kids would rather not go.  I used to go with him to the church’s youth group on Tuesdays.  I didn’t tag along because I was a true believer or anything.  I thought religion was a waste of time.  I went to the youth group because I got to hang out for a few hours before the youth group met at the church’s awesome athletic facilities.  They had a full-length basketball court and we used to play football before and after the youth group met.  I was never a very good football player.  I was however very good at designing plays and outsmarting other kids.

It was during sixth, seventh, and eighth grade that I spent most of my time drawing up and trying out various plays.  I loved thinking up offensive schematics.  I put together an entire playbook in my notebook.  On Tuesdays I’d go with my friend to the youth group and get their extra early so that I could run some extra plays before the other kids showed up.  I just wanted to see what they would like executed in real-time.  By the time the other kids showed up I had been working with our quarterback and designing an audible system so whatever ideas the kids that played us had never really stood much of a chance against my superior playbook together with the extra time I got to spent in teaching it to other kids.  That was the thing that I always enjoyed doing: teaching.  I loved teaching people things.  Since I was usually interested in some subjects that weren’t all that popular with most kids my age I was constantly made fun of for my advanced knowledge of obscure subjects.  I was frequently called Rain Man and made fun of because the only time I’d go out for recess was to try out some new offensive plays I had been working on.  The rest of the time I enjoyed staying inside and talking to my teachers or reading.  I hated recess which is why a lot of kids made fun of me.  I didn’t understand why everyone wanted to go outside when they could have so much fun losing themselves in a book or learning some interesting new information about the Civil War.

I wasn’t disappointed when I got to middle school and I found out that they had done away with recess.  I was disappointed however that the school did not have a football team.  We had a flag football team that was composed of amateurs and run by the school’s math teacher.  Designing plays for a game where blitzes weren’t allowed was about as much fun as playing the latest Madden game with the CPU sliders set to zero.  You could run whatever play you wanted and the defense had to deal with an offensive gameplan that allowed every offensive player to block downfield.  I felt bad for the defensive players because they never had a chance.  I didn’t even bother disguising what I wanted to do on offense.  I just told the quarterback to run a trips formation on one side of the field and a two man route on the other.  No matter which side the defense decided to defend we could just use a system of wave blocking where everyone cleared a part of the field for the runner.  It was an unbelievably easy offense to run and even the dumbest quarterbacks could run it effectively.

When we got to church on Tuesdays things were different.  A man started showing up early to our youth group events and took an active interest in what we were doing.  I explained it to him once and he didn’t seem all that interested.  We continued to run the same offensive plays but many times some of our key players were missing and on design plays that I put together for certain players this was a real problem.  We started having significant injuries to some of our key players and one church was able to come in and run up and down the field with our offense.  I was shocked.  The last person that was able to keep up with one of my offenses was my sixth grade teacher who I later found out had been going through my playbook.  I didn’t understand how these different church groups could possibly match our personnel packages during games until it was revealed that this man who had been showing up early to our youth group events was there molesting kids.  I never knew anyone that was molested by the guy, but a few years later he locked himself in a hotel room and put a shotgun in his mouth.

My freshman year of high school I had no interest in playing football.  I was never a good enough player to play for a team as good as our high school’s.  I had hoped that they would take a look at my playbook however.  Our football team’s varsity coach was just returning from hip replacement surgery.  He did not like having his toughness tested.  When our gym class was doing our wrestling unit he threw his crutches to the floor and showed students how to properly pin a man after watching too many of us fail.  We made fun of his faux-toughness after that and I think it was my participation in these activities that kept my playbook from getting a serious looking over from anyone on the team’s coaching staff.  Eventually I simply stopped going to the youth group and stopped designing elaborate football plays because at this new school I was actually pretty popular.  People thought I was funny and smart; two things that had never seemed to matter to anyone else before.  What really lit a fire in me was the confidence that many of my teachers had in me.  I had never been pushed the way that these teachers were pushing me before – not since elementary school at least.  My parents really wanted me to do well.  They enrolled me in an after-school tutoring program to help me with the increased workload.  I was never a talented student.  I simply didn’t care if I did well or not.  This was something that wouldn’t change until my junior year of College.

My tutors always seemed to enjoy talking to me.  I am and always have been a fairly resourceful individual.  I was good at finding ways to pass the time, which is something that I’ve always been good at now that I think about it.  If I can find a topic of mutual interest I’m able to connect very well with complete strangers.  I used to try and do this with my tutors because the last thing I wanted to talk about what was school.  One guy liked to talk about books so I’d spend a couple hours talking about books with him.  There was one lady who was really interested in dogs and that was great because my mom loved dogs and knows more about dogs than anyone I’ve ever known.  Then there was this one lady who said she couldn’t help me with my religion project because she was a Pentecostal.  I had no idea what that meant so I asked her about it.  She explained what was unique about her faith and she was very passionate about it.  We talked for hours about the history of religion and the differences between faiths.  She asked me if my father was a deacon or other high-ranking church official and I was taken aback by that question.  I told her that I wasn’t religious and didn’t care that much for religion in practice.  She just kind of looked at me with this bizarre look on her face.  She asked me why I spent all that time defending Christianity if I wasn’t a true believer and I simply said that we had to pass the time one way or the other.  I’ve always been a very good debater.  Everyone always thought I should be a lawyer growing up but I never had to patience to put up with something like our legal system.  I also have never been able to get along well enough with people to be able to walk into a court room with the belief that I wouldn’t be thrown out of there in handcuffs.  Plus I have this distaste for authority that no one seems to understand.  I just don’t like people who think that they’re more important than everyone else.  That’s always seemed pretty basic to me.

During my freshman year of high school I enjoyed a popularity level that I had never experienced before.  I got elected to student council and worked on the homecoming committee.  I started planning my campaign to be sophomore class president midway through the year.  I had gained steam based on my publication of a series of what were a cross between pulp comics and newsletters.  One of my close friends decided to date a woman who I thought was ugly.  So in a move that was both bold and mature I started writing about her peculiar habits and odd social demeanor.  I was jealous more than anything that she got to spend more time with him than I did but after circulating the stories for a little while I found that they were becoming popular even with teachers.  I named the stories: The Travails of Lavender Pete which was a play on her hair color (which was a Fushia like color) and her gender identity (which can at best be described as gender neutral.)  It was really just a glorified form of bullying, but since she didn’t go to our school it didn’t seem that much like bullying.

I wrote the stories in study hall and my study hall teachers used to let me stay after to finish writing the stories.  If I let them read it they’d give me a pass to my next class.  It was a pretty sweet arrangement.  Before long I was able to circulate the stories among several different sub-groups of students and teachers.  I even managed to turn sophomores and juniors into fans and they promised that with a little back door politicking my sophomore year would see me getting circulation beyond our school!  I was psyched.  It was not to be however.  After having a less than stellar campaign as a freshman my parents decided to pull the plug on the private school experiment after just one year.  I was devastated.  For the first time in my academic career I had not only avoided being made fun of but actually managed to gain notoriety and respect from my peers.  I didn’t understand how they could do this to me, but alas the following year I went to the public high school and everything went back to normal.

The bullying ratcheted up to an even higher level and I barely bothered going to school at all.  My junior and senior year I had a remarkable English teacher however who told me that I had a unique talent for analyzing literature and writing original stories.  I began studying film and my friends encouraged me to start writing screenplays.  Just like that I had found a useful avenue for my talents.  The summer of my junior year we made a short film and prepared to shoot a feature the following year.  I wanted to shoot a short film my senior year over winter break called: Born to Raise Hell based on the story of the one nurse who survived the awful mass-killer Richard Speck, but we never found the time.  One of my friends suggested that we experiment with point of view and shoot the entire project from the first-person point of view.  I wrote the script in two weeks but when it became apparent that we would be unable to shoot the project I began work on the feature film: The Twilight Hour.

Each of my friends decided to do something different after high school and we never got the chance to shoot the Twilight Hour.  In many ways that was a good thing because that was an absolutely terrible script.  It was my first script however that I had written in pure script format.  I learned all the things that a screenwriter had to do and it gave me the experience of putting scenes together that have proved immensely valuable to me over the years as a writer.  It amazes many people now that I never considered a career in writing but you have to understand that I was a completely different person growing up than I am now.  I didn’t become the person I am now until after my twenty-fifth birthday.  The main reason for this is the fact that I have Asperger’s.  In terms of maturity and social development I am at least three to four years behind my actual age.  I believe I have the emotional maturity of a twenty-three or twenty-four year old.  It’s difficult to tell with people who suffer from Asperger’s because the social awkwardness and difficulty never goes away.  I have been preparing myself for the life that I intend to lead since I was a child.  Some people go through life wishing that they had done things differently but I do not.  Every single thing that I have gone through in my life has prepared me to become the person that I am going to be.

I’m lucky in many respects.  Most people never realize what they were put here on earth to do.  I’ve realized that I have several things that I can do very well.  My Asperger’s made much of that happen.  Had I not been socially awkward as a child I probably would not have thought to start drawing up football plays.  Had it not been for my inability to deal with my friends girlfriend in high school I would have never started writing.  Teachers and psychologists often refer to young kids with Aspergers as “little professors.”  That was a title that I was given in my American history class in high school because often times I knew more about certain historical periods than my teacher.  It’s one of my favorite titles not only because it is one of the few titles given to me during my early academic career that was not derogatory but because it describes how I see myself.  People suggest at times that my Asperger’s has limited what I have been capable of doing in my life but I think that exactly the opposite is true.  Everyone always knew I was different.  From my second grade teacher who thought I was mentally retarded to the tutors I spent three hours discussing theology with.  I’ve always been a very unique person and I don’t think that my social awkwardness limits what I am capable of doing.  It changes how I look at things, how I look at people, and how I look at the world, but it doesn’t inhibit what I am able to do.  That’s the thing about having a disability be it mental or physical; it only limits you as much as you allow it to.

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