When I was in 8th grade, my 6 best friends kicked me out of our friend group.
I had shared my entire adolescence with these guys.
Every Friday night after school, we would all meet at the blue statue in the courtyard and walk three blocks to John’s house. John’s dad we were pretty sure was in the mafia and was never around, and John’s mom sat in the living room smoking cigarettes while she played Pokemon on Gameboy. We would go up to John’s room, which was tucked away in the attic under this awesome slanted ceiling, and play video games until two in the morning. Under the tiny television was a graveyard of gaming cartridges and wires. The room was small, so three of us would sit on the floor and the other three would sit on the leopard couch behind us. The rule was you had to give up your controller if you lost.
Every Halloween, we would meet at Kyle’s house to plan our routes.
We’d bring our empty pillow cases to school and start promptly at 3:30 p.m. First, we’d walk up and down the main streets, and then slowly make our way to the Woodlands — where the houses were bigger and the driveways were longer and the candy was King Size. In 7th grade, John’s sister started throwing parties on Halloween night, right down the street. When we were done trick-or-treating, we’d end at John’s house and walk into a kitchen full of 8th graders. Since it was John’s house, they were nice to us. They’d offer us beer, to stay and hang out, but we never did. We carried our heavy pillow cases up to John’s room in the attic, eating Reese’s peanut butter cups and Skittles while we played Phantasy Star Online.
We did everything together.
And went through everything together. When Kyle’s family decided to move to Mexico for a year, I became better friends with Nick and the other John — since our groups had merged in 5th grade, with me, Kyle, Turner, and the other Cole in one group, and both Johns and Nick in the other. Of everyone in that group though, Kyle was my best friend.
When Kyle’s parents moved out of their rental and into their first big, big house, I slept over before he even had furniture in his room. When Kyle got into paintballing, I got into paintballing too. When Kyle accidentally threw a shinny hockey stick at my head in his basement and I started gushing blood all over, he and his mom took me to the hospital — and he played Gamecube with me while my stitches healed. And when Kyle got a really bad ear infection and had to get surgery, I was the one who stood up for him at school when kids called him deaf.
But by the end of 8th grade, suddenly we weren’t friends.
Kyle and John and Nick didn’t want to play video games anymore. They wanted to smoke cigarettes, and pour vodka into water bottles they could carry around — things I didn’t want to take part in. Kyle made some new friends that wore hemp necklaces with little glass mushrooms hanging in the middle. John and Nick made some new friends with guys who played computer games, not console games.
One day, I showed up to our lunch room table and my seat was taken. When I asked if anyone could move over, their elbows extended to fill the space between them.
“There’s no room for you. Sorry,” said Nick.
Kyle kept his eyes on his red lunchroom tray. He wouldn’t look at me.
Just a few weeks before summer, and a few months before going into high school, this was one of the saddest moments of my adolescence. I felt betrayed. I felt abandoned. I remember walking into high school, everyone immediately having some sense of “belonging.”
I had no one. And every group I tried to insert myself into, everywhere I tried to fit in, seemed to sing the same song.
“There’s no room for you. Sorry.”
For four years, I didn’t have a single friend at my high school. I had kids I sat next to in the lunch room, loners just like me, a long table we all shared to save ourselves the embarrassment of sitting alone. But the truth is, we were alone. We were all alone together.
I played two years of high school hockey, only talking to the guys on my team while we were on the ice. Off the ice, they had their own groups, and pretended I didn’t exist. In gym class, I was always last pick. In math, I partnered up with the Asian exchange student who didn’t speak very good english and have any friends either. In French, there was an odd number of students, I was the only guy, and since none of the girls really wanted to be my partner, I often did exercises with my teacher. I didn’t go to a single school event, or attend a school dance until my prom senior year, and I brought a girl from another school — my girlfriend.
How I coped with my feelings of betrayal and abandonment was by spending thousands of hours in the World of Warcraft.
I devoted my entire life to that game — and found friendship on the Internet instead.
I didn’t spend Saturday nights in someone’s basement, shotgunning beers and watching movies. I spent Saturday nights in Molten Core, listening to my guild leader give all 40 of us our assignments for that night’s raid.
I didn’t spend school nights asking my parents if I could go to a girl’s house to “study.” I spent school nights pretending to go to sleep at 10:00 p.m., only to crawl back out of bed at 10:42 p.m. to lead a 10-man Warsong Gulch group until 2:30 in the morning.
I didn’t spend Fridays downtown, grabbing pizza and seeing a movie with friends. I spent it ordering Chinese food or Domino’s Pizza, grinding honor points until I was face down on my keyboard and the sun was coming up.
I coped by focusing myself on my goals.
When I was 17 years old, I became one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America.
Experiencing betrayal, abandonment, and loneliness isn’t always a bad thing. It’s painful, but it’s not deadly. Looking back, my high school experience would have been incredibly different had I stayed friends with those guys. I probably wouldn’t have had the same determination and drive to achieve my goals in the World of Warcraft — because the game would have been a hobby, not an escape.
Often times, it’s the pain we go through that makes us great at what we do. This is the duality of “success.” However, in order to cope in a productive way, you have to be aware of the pain you’re experiencing — and why.
Then it becomes a simple question of how you want to cope.
Do you want to be self-destructive?
Or do you want to be self-motivated?