My Past, Present, and Future

I should be sleeping. It’s 4:00 AM in the morning (or do people classify this as night?) on a Wednesday. I have to finish up preparing all my travel and paperwork for my travels to the World Championships that start next week. I have a lot of pieces to write about in the coming week about teenagers playing video games for millions of dollars. I should be sleeping.

But I can’t. I lay in my bed, listening to the same music I’ve listened to a thousand times before. I try a few of my favorite podcasts, and their words, regardless of how loud I turn up the sound, are a mishmash of incoherent mumbles. So I sit here in my broken down reclining chair my grandma gave to me when she died about seven years ago in November around my birthday, typing on my laptop while staring at the blank alley outside my apartment’s first floor window.

I haven’t been happy recently. Nothing to do with my career or work: I love working for ESPN, and I genuinely like everyone I work with. I’ve met some true friends traveling to events, and my social anxiety, which I’ve touched on before, has come leaps and bounds from where it was a year ago. Still, even with success in my career and the people around me, I’m often melancholy over my day-to-day business in my personal life.

Maybe writing a bit about my life and what’s on my mind at now 4:16 AM in the morning will let me look forward instead of back. I don’t know. So I’m going to write and see where it ends up, for better or for worse. If you’re interested in learning something about video games, esports, or anything I do professionally, please stop reading this now. This is just about the guy behind the dumb Twitter and the professional articles, and he’s not nearly as exciting or interesting as the former would lead to you to believe.

Growing up, I didn’t have a normal life. When I was born, my father and mother weren’t together. She was already seeing someone knew, and so was he. I was brought up by my mother and so-called step father for the first four years of my life before my mom was arrested and sent to prison for a year. I believe she bounced a check or something — I honestly have never really had the motivation to find out what crime she committed.

Long story short: she got cancer in prison and died before I really got to know her. The only real memory I have of her is visiting her in prison before I even turned five. All I really remember are the glass dividers you talked through when you talked to a prisoner and my grandparents giving me some sort of candy in the car going home. Aside from the miscellaneous sweet and the line of people talking to their loved ones behind glass, I don’t remember anything about her.

My life for the next few years wasn’t too bad. I recall bawling when I was told that I’d be living with my grandparents from now on, but after the readjusting, I went through a happy spell: friends, grade school, birthday parties.

My biological father tried to come into contact with me when I was eight, but I was already shy and sheltered from the world by my loving yet overbearing grandparents. He wanted a relationship with me and even bought me an overpriced present when we first met, but he was too foreign and scary for me to truly open to. I’ve never been good at telling people my feelings or being honest. So while he would show up once and a while to give my grandmother child care payments — I only realized in my teenage years that’s the white envelope he always gave her when he visited — and take me out to eat to talk about sports, I eventually distanced myself completely from him. He actually works in the media industry as well but with an entirely different last name, so no one will probably ever know he’s my father.

I haven’t talked to him in probably seven or eight years, maybe more. I wonder if he knows how far I’ve come in my career. I remember him taking me to his work when we first started going on our semi-regular outings. While I didn’t really have a connection with him, I always thought it was cool he worked in Hollywood and was able to work on productions people got to see for entertainment. I hold no ill will against him; from all accounts, he’s an amazing guy who tried his best to have me meet and become part of his own family. I was the one who chose to stop responding to his phone calls and separate myself completely from him.

When it comes to school, I was never amazing at it. I was always told I had an IQ, but I never liked doing homework. The day I was tested in 5th grade to see if I could possibly be in gifted classes in middle school was on September 11th, 2001, and I totally bombed the quick-thinking questions. Every time I heard something from outside I thought we were going to die by a terrorist attack. So when I entered middle school, I was just an average student in average classes, and I continued on my trek of mediocrity in terms of results.

It’s kind of hard to talk about (or, in this case, type) but I was bullied endlessly in middle school. I was weird. I was always one year younger than everyone I was in my grade with, so I was an easy target. While my grandparents were good people, they coddled me and stopped me from really hanging out with other kids. The times I did hang out with my friends outside of school, I was a mess and usually cried until my grandfather picked me up in his old El Camino that smelled of stale crackers and refurbished leather.

So through my three years of middle school, I had the worst experiences of my life. I was ostracized by classmates and laughed at from friends I took to see Pokemon: The First Movie years earlier for my birthday party at the local movie theater.

The worst days were when a teacher would ask for people to partner up to grade papers or to work together; I would sit silently at my desk, scratching at the worn-out wood underneath. People would pair up, eventually one person would be stuck with me, and the class would snicker as the teacher prompted the last boy (sometimes girl) standing to be my partner. They would whine, the teacher would usually just shrug, and I’d have to sit next to someone who rolled their eyes at me while pantomiming to their friends every other minute to show how much they hated working with me.

There are a lot of similar painful memories, but the one that still sticks vividly in my brain to this day is a week or two after my 13th birthday. I didn’t have any friends, so I spent it alone in my house watching television like usual. My grandparents who didn’t have a lot of money did their best to make me happy, so they bought me the newly released Nintendo DS. I brought it school, excited to have something to be proud of in the face of my classmates, and played it by myself out in the courtyard during breaks to get my mind off the horrors of what lay inside the school buildings.

Two kids from a few of my classes came up to me probably the third or fourth day I had the Nintendo DS, sat down next to me, and showed interest. They didn’t bully or ridicule me. Instead, they asked where I got it, what I was playing, and how I liked the system. Me, happy for any positive attention, went on about how much I enjoyed it and how they should get one if they could. The bigger of the two asked me if they could try out mine, and I agreed, smiling and thinking I finally made some actual friends.

The kid said thanks, took my game system, and the pair left. I never told any teachers. I never saw the game system again. I never told my grandparents, too ashamed of wasting their hard-earned money. That’s the last time I stopped thinking about making friends in the real world for a long, long time.

The first and only romantic love of my life came from, to the surprise and shock of everyone reading this, the Internet. After getting my own computer from my grandparents sometime at the tail end of middle school, I primarily used it to read articles on ESPN.com — I swear this is true — and play little sport games on websites that probably contained millions and millions of viruses.

With no actual friends or anyone I could talk to, I submerged myself into the online world. Of my interests, the easiest to find kinship in was in the world of anime. I joined an anime forum about a decade ago, and for the first time in my life finally felt like I belonged to something that accepted me. No one could make fun of my flaws because they couldn’t see me. They couldn’t hear me. They just saw what I presented to them: some terribly made avatar and banner created from one of my various favorite anime series at the time.

While I’d be lying if I said my suppressed self didn’t talk to many nerdy girls on that site, only one really went anywhere past personal messaging back and forth in the forum’s inbox system. Let’s call her Anne. She was around my age. She lived across the country. Anne was even shyer than me, and I’m pretty sure while she liked me and my personality, she thought I was probably a serial killer behind the computer waiting to abduct her.

Days became less harsh while talking daily to Anne. I would survive the end of middle school and start of high school because of Anne. Our conversations over text eventually lead us to talking on the phone for the first time. I remember me nervously talking about myself while she sheepishly answered back. I think the first time we ever talked on the phone it went about three to four hours long, but most of the dialogue was me being an awkward moron while she didn’t know how to respond. “I don’t know” was her response to most things in the early days, and I was just happy to have someone who didn’t know things with me.

Anne is a genius. She’s the smartest person I’ve ever known, and she’s the complete opposite of me when it comes to school. While she was equally sheltered and nerdy, she had friends and went out with them. Anne had a best friend she did everything with. When it came to school, she got straight A’s and knew she wanted to do something in science when she graduated. I, on the other hand, had no clue what I was doing in school; I apathetically lived through my days in class so I could go home, disregard my homework, and talk to Anne some more while escaping the hell that was reality.

For Christmas one year, after months of her begging me, I finally bought a webcam. I decided to let her in a bit to who I truly was, and probably a year or more of conversing and talking every day for hours on end, we started to webcam and become more serious. She said she loved me. I said I loved her. I thought, really thought, that this was the woman I was going to marry. I was 15 or 16-years-old, but she was the only person I had ever been myself with, and she accepted me fully. Her nervousness subsided over time, and we helped each other become more comfortable in our bubbles separated from the rest of the galaxy.

For the next part, let me preface this by saying: I’m an awful human being, and I know it.

Over the next few years, I would promise her countless times I would visit her in Maine. I promised her. I told her, repeatedly, that I would get a plane ticket and I would meet her face to face. I would take her out, we would go on a real date, and we could start our lives together for at least one weekend before I had to return home.

While I said these words, I always knew I was lying. I was too scared. I said I wanted to meet her, and I truly did, but in the back of my mind I always knew that I would make up an excuse not to go. I would say that my family needed me to do something, or I’d lie and say that my grandfather forbade it. Every time, Anne would feel hurt, but she never left me. She continued talking to me every day even after telling her I couldn’t meet her for another six months before I made up another excuse.

During this time, my family life was falling apart. My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after almost killing me one night when he forgot how to drive and swerved into the opposite lane. He would get pneumonia a few years later and die around the time I was starting to get serious with Anne. Despite never being close to my grandfather, a stern man who used to scold and hit me if I acted out, it was another part of my life ripped from me that I couldn’t control.

To say Anne helped me get through my teenage years would be an understatement. Without meeting her, I would be dead right now, through own means or by withering away. Back when I was only writing my own stupid stories for myself and her, she always said I would succeed as a writer. She believed in me, without a shadow of a doubt, that if I committed myself to writing, that I would someday do amazing things with my talent. I didn’t think so. I thought I was a waste of space, and my writing, usually of the fiction nature, was just another avenue for me to run down when I didn’t want to think about the realities of my life.

Looking back, I was terrible to Anne. I was selfish. I was whiny. If something happened in my life that set me back, I would completely disconnect from her, and I would just lay in my bed for days without letting her know where I was. When I came back from my depression spell, I would message her like nothing happened, and I would make up a lie about how I was too busy with something that I couldn’t talk for a week.

By the time we were both ready to leave high school, that’s when everything fell apart. My grandma, who had been the closest person to me my entire life, had become incredibly depressed since my grandfather’s passing. When I wasn’t talking to Anne on the phone and imagining a better life, I was in my grandmother’s room, talking to her when she was over 90-years-old and losing her mind every day.

“No one loves me,” she would tell me regularly when I sat next to her in the same chair I sit now writing this. “It would be better off if I was dead.”

It became a daily occurrence. I would go to her room, sit down to talk to her, and she would talk to me about how she was old, lonely, and how the family would be happier if she was dead in the ground. She could barely walk, needed help getting around, and missed the man she had been married to since she was a teenager.

I was doing awful in school, and even though I became taller in high school and didn’t get bullied much at all, I still didn’t have any real friends. The friends I did make in passing were quickly brushed aside by me due to never wanting anyone to ever visit my house where my grandmother stayed. Every day my grandmother would get more sick, and I would get more sick along with her. She became severely depressed, and so did I.

One of my last conversations with her was about Anne. I told her I wanted to go to the same university she was going to, and that I wanted her to meet Anne. I wanted my grandmother to meet the person I thought I was going to marry before she died. My grandmother declined, saying that she didn’t want me moving away, and that I shouldn’t anchor myself to one person before I even became an adult.

Years of frustration broke away from me, and I threw one of the plates on the table at the wall. It broke. She threw a plate at me in anger. I got hit in the face. She started to cry, telling me once again everyone would be happier if she was dead. I calmed down and hugged her, reassuring her that she was right in what she told and that no, in fact, everyone wouldn’t be happier without her.

She died one morning not too long after when I was on my computer talking to Anne on Skype. My cousins were also living there at the time to help out, and apparently my grandmother wanted to get a bowl of cereal for herself, had a stroke, and crashed down on the floor, dying instantly. When I heard the wail of my aunt and screaming voices saying, ‘IS SHE MOVING!?’ I knew she was dead. I had always known she would die sooner rather than later, but it still broke my heart when my family told me she was gone.

We had an outdoor poor that I swam regularly in when I was a kid. That day I walked around it probably a million times, shaking my head and wondering what I would do in my life. She was gone, and so was I. After walking around in circles for probably four hours, I went aside, went asleep, and slept for an eternity before waking up and watching a college football game in my room with the sound muted.

I had promised Anne I would meet her that winter. I told her that my grandmother had died and that I wouldn’t be able to see her any time soon. Anne cried, I apologized like I usually did, and I slipped into a depression that would not dissipate.

Over the next two years, I was a dead man living inside a husk of a human being. I still talked to Anne, but everything had changed. She was off to college on a scholarship for science, and she was making her dreams come true. Anne was quick to make friends, and I was earnestly happy for her. She was beginning to live her life finally, and I was hanging on by a thread, watching from my room I never left. Anne eventually told me she wanted to find herself at college, and our relationship or whatever you would call it was put on hold.

Every day all I did was go onto random websites, watch random television shows, and write. I didn’t want friends. I didn’t want family. I was glued to the bright lights of media and didn’t want to escape this hole of fantasy I dug myself I was hiding myself in. If I ever popped my head out, I would stare the cold face of reality in the face: I was going nowhere in life, and everyone around me would probably be happier without me.

I would later be diagnosed as being severely depressed but so out of it that I wasn’t functional enough to actually commit suicide.

Around the time when my eyes were starting to glaze over, I started to build up a relationship again with Anne. She felt like the only person she could fully trust was me, and I was the same. Even when I was going through my hardest times and going through tribulations that I never thought I would be sharing with people in the public, I tried to let her in as much as I could.

Still, I’d make false promises, and I was still too scared and broken to meet her or let her meet me. She told me she would fly out tomorrow and see me, but I would freak out and tell her no, that I wouldn’t answer the door or leave town. I hated myself, and I hated my life. I truly cared and loved her, but I knew if she met me she would hate me like I hated myself.

As I got better over the years, we drifted apart. She was a top student at her university and was going to make something of herself. I was stuck in the same place I had been since that stupid kid with his ugly grin stole my Nintendo DS: alone, afraid, and avoiding everything.

I got better, and like Anne always told me I would, I succeeded in my writing. I freelanced, blogged, and did everything in my power to make our dream come true. I got lucky and made a name for myself in the niche market of esports journalism, and people actually liked my story-based writing. A hobby that was one of my lifelines when I was at my worse had become my new social circle and where I would make my career.

Since getting better years ago, I’ve dated other people, and it’s always been my fault it’s ended. I’m a destructive person when it comes to relationships. I’m too needy or too cold. I’m too slow or too fast. Whatever way leads to me getting dumped, I usually take that option.

Anne started dating, as well. She couldn’t wait for me anymore, and our lives had completely changed. She had a great job in the science field after college, and I was trying to become a professional writer. We were friends, but things were never the same as they were when we were bright-eyed 15-year-olds talking to the opposite sex for the first time.

A few months ago, after a year or two of drifting, Anne told me she didn’t have any time in her life to be my friend anymore. It hurt. It really hurt. This was at a time where I was in a happy relationship and doing amazing at my job, but it was another gut punch of someone who I entrusted that broke away from me. To be honest, it was the right thing to do. Over the almost decade I knew her, I had probably promised her over fifty times I would meet her, and each time I made an excuse or ignored the expected date.

From what I know, Anne is happy with someone and succeeding in life. You’ll probably see her accepting some too-smart-for-me-to-comprehend astronomy award in a decade for her help discovering aliens. We’re not going to end up together, but without her, I wouldn’t have a chance to be together with anyone in the future. I wouldn’t be here.

If someone is actually bored enough to read this far down without closing it, I’d tell you, especially if you’re young, to not let chances go by. I know you’re scared. I know you think you’re the ugliest, weirdest, stupidest, and worst person on the planet, but you’re not. If an opportunity is ever given to you that you believe will make you truly happen, then don’t make excuses: go for it. You might fail in the end; however, in failing, you’ve been a braver person than I was.

For people like me, we sit here, writing about what could have been and why we regret messing up so much. I think eventually I’ll be completely happy. There are weeks where I am sad and lost in my head like I was in my teenage years, but I’ve grown to a point where I’ve learned I’m strong enough to keep moving forward towards my dreams.

Tomorrow, I’ll look straightforward and not backwards. I have many flaws and even more imagined in my head, but I’m not a special snowflake. Everyone carries their own burdens and troubles. So, I must continue on, acknowledging the cuts that shaped me but won’t define me.

As I finish writing this, it is now 6:30 AM. I need to wake up in a few hours to get my paperwork prepared for Worlds and work for a few articles. I’ll publish this into the world, a piece of myself that I was too afraid to share for 24 years, and hope that it positively changes one person’s life who is going through what I did as a gawky, thought-he’d-make-nothing-of-himself teenager.

I never formally said goodbye to Anne, so I guess this ‘thing’ I’m currently in the middle of writing is the goodbye I’ve been wanting to say for a long time now. I’m sorry I couldn’t be the person you could depend on, and thank you for believing in my writing when no one in the world even knew I wrote.

Goodbye, Anne.

Hello, the future.