One Is The Loneliest Number

“In fewer than three years I had changed from a scared boy into a strong woman. The ability to be happy had been with me all along. All I’d had to do was trust and accept myself.”
-Katie Rain Hill, Redefining Normal

For the longest time, I grew up searching for a place to belong. When I began meeting some of the musicians that my uncle knew, I thought that’s where it was. I started pursuing a career in church music and piano, and even befriended several of the recording artists and composers when they came through town. The annual Religious Education Congress was the highlight of my year – the time when I would be able to meet like-minded people who encouraged me in my musical goals. By the time I was in high school, I was finding myself on stage in the main arena of the Anaheim Convention Center, playing the piano with the rest of my friends in front of 40,000+ people. It was a huge rush, especially the year when I got to perform a piece that I composed for one of the youth liturgies. I had finally found acceptance and a place to belong – and it was wonderful. The hardest part was the huge letdown after that weekend would pass – back I would go to my home parish; away from my circle of success and belonging to the mundane life of a regular high school student. Which, in and of itself was its own circle of hell.
I grew up in a small suburb of Los Angeles in a city with a high population of Asians, namely highly academic Korean families. Not excelling in academics myself, I found myself on the outside of that group at our local public elementary and junior high school. Which, among other reasons, may have been why I was so adamant when I pleaded with my parents to allow me to transfer into the nearest Catholic school for my high school education. After all, I was an up-and-coming star in the Archdiocese, right? How hard could it be to fit in – the Catholics were my people. But I couldn’t be more wrong.

The school itself was an all-boys school, and I soon found out that faith and religion was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. Looking back, I can honestly tell you that academics weren’t too far behind, and music was the school’s ugly stepchild. The big thing in the school was their football team, and, being one that never aligned myself with sports, once again found myself on the outside of the crowd, wanting and hoping to belong somewhere. It would be here that I found the depression starting, but as a person of faith in ministry, I could never let that show. Yet I can still pinpoint the early beginnings of my depression to the day when our school principal reprimanded me for trying to organize a school prayer rally before classes one day. (For the record, it was the youth minister at the church next door that hung the flyers I had been accused of hanging around campus.)

The bright points in those first three years of high school would come when I found myself connected to the local all-girls school for their spring production of the musical, “Nunsense.” It was the first time when I - surrounded by high school girls - felt like I belonged. We giggled and laughed and had an amazing time, and I was sad when it was all over. Many of the guys who found out about my involvement would tease me, telling me that I just wanted to “score big” with the ladies. How could I even begin to express that those were my friends they were teasing me about? I began to resent the boys on our campus and all that they stood for – looking at women as objects of sexual objects; oftentimes teasing them about any physical flaws and imperfections; without a care for the person inside. I felt outnumbered, out of place, and oftentimes ashamed that I couldn’t stick up for my friends in the way that I wanted to, and I vowed to myself that I would NEVER be that sort of man. I learned from that point to value my friends for who they were and began longing for a relationship like that of my own – one that saw beyond the outward appearance and into who I really was. Problem was, I don’t know if I really knew either.

The few times when I actually DID stand up for my friends, I found myself labeled as too soft-hearted, and the rumors started flying that I must be gay. And so, in my high school brain, I developed an imaginary girlfriend that I had, intending on using her as a tool to help my classmates “see” what a true honest relationship was. The problem for me was that the deeper I delved into my imaginary relationship, the more I realized two things: how lonely I really was, and how much I really wanted to be loved in the way I loved my fictional girlfriend. I often would find myself daydreaming not only in my view of the relationship, but in the development of who this girlfriend was. And, while I hadn’t named her Ellie at the time, it was the beginning of who Ellie would become.

Now one would think that I would give up my make-believe world when I finally transferred out of that school, but I found that my fascination with my fantasy world was only growing. I became an early adopter of the online world and found myself composing stories that I would share in message boards on Prodigy and AOL. Stories about a young teenage girl growing up misunderstood in the small imaginary town of Cordelia. I began to not only write stories about the saga of her teenage life, but I delved into the idea of writing a musical based on her life (I think I made it two songs into the show before I gave up), and soon I found myself journaling as her. The funny thing was, I really found myself in love with her – and longed to love someone the same way in real life. Not only that, but I longed to be loved in the same way I imagined Ellie loved me. It was a weird romantic entanglement to say the least, but it was fun while it lasted.

Though Ellie’s world became a more distant memory after graduation and into college, (I met my first real girlfriend towards the end of my senior year) I never really forgot her. And even though I had Ellie in my life, I also found myself lonely quite a bit. I had people I hung out with during my three years of Catholic school, but I couldn’t talk to them about my feelings. They didn’t want to have the deep emotional talks that I longed to have. I sometimes found myself drawn to the youth ministry next door to my school as a way express my thoughts, as well as to the priest’s residence on the other side of the campus, but even then, especially since I began to question my sexuality, I couldn’t bring any of that up with them – after all, I was still the guy up front on Sundays playing piano and wanting to be a church leader. I couldn’t let on that I was struggling. So my answer? Ellie was a good listener. Best yet, she always told me just what I needed to hear.

But it was never enough. My senior year, my parents finally gave in and allowed me to audition for the high school of the arts, where I was accepted into their piano and musical theatre program. I met a new group of friends, and, not surprisingly, most of them were all girls. They accepted me unconditionally into their group, and I loved them. We hung out together and had a ton of fun, even if it was only for a short year. I had the time of my life, and for once I felt like I really belonged.

I guess now would also be the time to point out that even though I started to make male friends in the musical theatre department, many of them were either coming out as gay or working through it. For a fleeting moment I considered that I might be gay, but as I tried to imagine myself with one of them in a romantic way, I couldn’t. The rumors continued to float out there, but I wasn’t bothered too much any more. Ellie had helped me understand that I wasn’t, as crazy as that may sound.

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