Running Deeper Than Friends

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| This is the 182nd story of Our Life Logs |


I pried my eyes away from the TV screen to look out the window, to the trees, to the sunlight…to that strange world out there that gave me such discomfort. Noting the optimism of the sunlight and recoiling from it, I returned once again to the drab space where sat my TV and continued playing Super Mario Bros.

In the early 2000s when I was still a little boy, my parents were saving money and searching for a house. During this time, my mom and I lived with my grandparents, while my dad stayed with his mother. I loved my grandparents. My grandmother was as protective as grandmothers can be, and my grandfather was selfless, much to my benefit. They made sure I had what I needed, and what I wanted. They also made sure I wasn’t separated from my video games. This is to say that I didn’t feel burdened with many challenges—save those like waiting for my McDonald’s meal to be served to me. It was the luxury life for a 7-year-old.

Brandon Henderson-childhood
Me in my childhood.

But this life in front of a constant screen of luxury left me unprepared for the social world of elementary school. I was the odd one out in partner assignments, the one who sat by himself during lunch, looking down and hunching his shoulders to shield himself from any judging eyes. Though, I didn’t care too much then. I might have liked to have had a few buddies to pass the time with, but I felt I could do without them, since video games were what I wanted most.

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1 | Dad’s Fix

My parents eventually got their own house and we moved in together. Sadly, a house doesn’t make a home. While my mother was friendless, but normal, my father had some disagreeable ways. He shamed me for having a small dog when I could’ve had a scary pit bull. When we stepped out of line, he whipped us with his belt. He said each hit was an act of love, but I didn’t buy it. Finally, he had no compunction involving his kids in his illegal activity, getting our fingers filthy to help him make ends meet.

When I was 10 years old, my dad sought to fix my standoffish ways with football. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Still, I felt an unpleasant fluttering sensation moving through me. I wanted to back out, but dad had forced me into it. Eventually, it didn’t work out because of my poor performance. One of my teammates called me “softie” after I screwed up a play near the end of a game, and I hardly defended myself as the word sunk into me. I just wanted to go home. How could I have it in me to tackle people (though my coach noted I certainly had the body to) when I couldn’t even speak up for myself properly? I gained more negativity from football than I did muscle.

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2 | Heading Out

I had often thought being able to play my own music would be a powerful thing, so I eagerly joined the band when I was in middle school. Sessions lasted from 7 am to 8:30 am, right before school started.  During one, I saw a fellow saxophone player who was playing his handheld game system. Encouraged, I put aside my fear and, surprisingly, got into a nice conversation. This may have felt like nothing for natural-born talkers, but I was proud of this big victory. It grew into a friendship, and I was happy—despite him making a practice of calling me “dumbass.” Whether playfully or seriously, I’m not sure. It reminded me of the way my dad often talked to me. It rubbed me the wrong way, but I said nothing because I didn’t want conflict. Besides, I did the impossible; I didn’t have to sit by myself during lunch. So why did I still feel lacking?

We eventually arranged to meet at his house to play games. Though I visited him two times before I got sick of it. He played so many games that it surprised even me. This guy took my already fair-sized gaming problem and blew it to new proportions. Was this what I spent most of my free time doing? He looked like a zombie. There had to be more to life than sitting in front of a TV screen.

Brandon Henderson-gaming library
My gaming library as a 7-year-old did not prepare me for what this guy had.

Near the end of my second visit, even in the depths of his lair, I felt the sunlight that meekly penetrated his thick curtains. I just knew it was there and wanted to be out in it.  I asserted myself suggesting we play ball. Outside. I felt as if I were speaking a foreign language. We briefly went outside before he retreated once again to his games. I got fed up because even I have a certain limit for playing video games (and for how many times one can call me “dumbass”) and told him I was leaving. Riding my bike to his house felt strange, but I had a bit more pleasure riding back home, enjoying the sunlight.

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3 | Really Heading Out

Things lit up in high school, though my indulgent gaming (read: a daily priority that looked a lot like binging on Netflix, with the pure pleasure of the moment carrying with it that consequent junky feeling after I got off) partnered with a desperation for making friends I hadn’t felt before. Even when I had two friends and a girlfriend; even when I was having adventures at amusement parks, malls, and theater performances; revealing close secrets; sharing good laughs; I still felt unfulfilled. I didn’t have enough friends, I assumed.

I joined Writing Club, Mock Trial, Key Club, and of course Game Club (my excuse being there were lots of people there). I joined the play my girlfriend’s school hosted. All to introduce more people into my life. Even when these activities gave me a few people I got on with, I still felt something was missing. Yes, I was still cripplingly shy; yes, I’d been wrestling with feeling like a doormat; but I had quite a few people I could talk to, so what gave?

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4 | Something Bad I Picked Up

At 19, after being out of high school for almost two years, I felt so desperately lonely. I clearly had a hard time making and keeping friends. My two friends from high school were only for the duration of high school, and I pulled my ex-girlfriend’s last straw by ignoring her party invitation (the last time I went to one of them, I felt uncomfortable being the only black person there). I’d grown distant from my family, even my brothers.

My discomfort had reached a high. I had trouble looking back at people who looked at me. I walked like a stone because I was afraid of people calling me weird (it’d happened quite a few times). No friends, no fun nights out, no success with girls.

In the emptiness of my heart, my mind crossed over to a realm of the inexcusable. A horrible idea fled into my mind, offering a roundabout solution to one of the problems bred from my poor social skills. If I could draw near to a woman, then I could gain pleasure. I could at least be close enough to a woman to pretend.

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5 | The Mistake and the Realization

It worked, for a while. Most women hadn’t suspected a thing. However, I just had to cross a line once before my world crumbled.

I had known the woman, as she had been one of my bosses at my former job. One day at work, I drew close, closer, too close—when she turned around and saw me. My insides went numb. She asked what I was doing, and I lied hoping I could save the situation, but she saw right through me. She told her manager, and I later resigned. I was blank as I packed my stuff and left the store. I don’t even think I was in the mood to play video games when I got home.

As I woke up a few days later, I laid in bed for five hours devoured by this incident.

Half a year after I went to her home to give her an apology letter (to which she didn’t answer when I rang her doorbell). I broke down in tears. Her words rang clear in my head. “You’re all messed up,” she said before I resigned. “He’s just such an eerie individual,” she said in court as the protection order was filed. Suicidal thoughts returned. It was like everyone who came into my life eventually removed themselves from it. But this…I’d never so completely burned a bridge. And for what?

After the tears, I’d returned to reflecting on these events. A few months before, I realized I was so focused on the wrong thing that I’d been blind to the true problem running deeper than my ability to make and keep friends: my low self-esteem. I believed I was less than others. Maybe my self-esteem had succumbed from all the garbage others gave me over the years. With this insight, I rose from bed and started my journey of personal growth.

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6 | Rising Above My Mistake

In its own way, thinking of all I’ve been through had helped my self-esteem: I deserved more. It’s both painful and fortifying looking back at all the stones others have thrown at me (and I’m still here!), culminating in the terrible period surrounding my resignation. Even though I’ve kicked the habit responsible for it, I can’t forget it. It’s now part of who I am. From it, I’ve realized my desire to be an author with plans to write a memoir.

I’ve been interested in writing ever since fifth grade, when I wanted to try out my muscles writing a 35-page story. Writing my thoughts down on page appealed to my inner wordsmith. I’ve watered this seed on and off again over the years, but this resignation made it bloom, and now I’m into writing full force.

As for other things, I’m recovering from my turmoil by focusing on building good habits into my life. And I admit, video games may have helped me more than anything else, as they were one of very few things that kept me smiling and even laughing during such a terrible time.  Though now, I just put them in the background as I delve into my writing.  I’m still socially awkward and without friends, feeling like my difficulty making and keeping them does hinder my happiness, and my post-resignation guilt still grips me at times, but I’ve never felt more confident because I now know my purpose. I write stories, and that alone makes me feel I am worth it.

Sometimes, I step onto my balcony into a golden dawn. I love seeing the white oak tree catch the golden glow of the rising sun, its leaves dropping dew onto the still-dark grass. Beautiful.

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That’s the view.  Despite it all, I hope my life becomes just as beautiful.

 

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This is the story of Brandon Henderson

Brandon, 25, is a budding author (former compulsive gamer) who currently lives with his grandparents in Ohio. Growing up, Brandon had difficulty making friends and found solace in playing video games. After a low point of isolation, Brandon found fleeting pleasure in the company of women, even if they were unaware. After one woman filed a protections order against him, Brandon was shocked into a wake-up call. In addition to aspirations of writing his own books, he also likes home decorating and piano. Growing up, he’s struggled with his self-esteem and social relationships, but at 25, he’s determined to make some big changes to build the life he wants.

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on September 25, 2018.

| Writer: Brandon Henderson | Editor: Colleen Walker|

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