Headline Horror: How A Newspaper Article Almost Destroyed My Life

Two days ago my mother texted me to say that my Dad had not only been arrested, but made local headlines back home. I was walking along the Charles River with a friend when I received the message, and I quickly looked up and read the article about what had happened. It was a surreal experience, reading an article about a family dispute that I had known absolutely nothing about. I felt disconnected from the event I was learning about; I hadn’t spoken to my father in at least a month, although I had been monitoring his Facebook activity and been under the impression that he was doing well in recovery, but this article contradicted everything I believed to be true. Everything from his violent outburst and subsequent tasing, to the prosecutor’s testimony, felt foreign and almost irrelevant to me because I wasn’t there to experience any of it. Being away at school, surrounded by people who knew nothing about my past or family, made me feel like what had happened had absolutely nothing to do with me, and I felt comfortable knowing that I would be able to just resume my normal school activities and pretend as if this had never happened. But that was until I got to second to last sentence of the article, the one that made reference to something traumatic that had happened to me when I was fifteen, that I realized how much this situation impacted me.

Before I jump into that story, I want to provide a bit more context about the situation by explaining my relationship with the public “spotlight”. The first time I was ever mentioned in a newspaper was when I was ten years old. A journalist interviewed me for my theatrical debut as Mike Teavee in North Shore Music Theatre’s production of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. It was an unusual experience to say the least because I wasn’t used to anyone really paying attention to me. Up until that point, I had never really felt like I was special because I didn’t think I had anything to offer people; I wasn’t a brainiac, I had absolutely no athletic ability, and my peers thought I was a fucking weirdo. But seeing a picture of myself in the newspaper, accompanied by an article all about my acting debut, made me feel like I was on the top of the world. I finally believed that I was special, that I had found my calling, and when my teacher shared the article with all of my classmates I felt truly proud of myself for the first time ever. I was no longer just the weird kid; I was the pseudo famous weird kid.

The next time I was mentioned in a newspaper was when I was fifteen years old. The article was about something that had occurred the evening before in my neighborhood. I had been at a peer’s house earlier in the night and was pressured into letting a boy haphazardly shave my head, and when I went home with no hair, my mother completely freaked out because she had just paid two hundred dollars for new acting headshots for me. Her outburst alerted my drunken father who immediately went over to the house, brawled with the father of a peer, and terrified the kids. Without going into too much detail, I can tell you that this article was not at all like the first one. This time around I wasn’t being portrayed as a gleeful kid with big dreams, I was being depicted as a sniveling, materialistic, crybaby.Within one day, every single person in town had known what happened and I lost all of my friends. I became a shut in, and for two weeks I did nothing but scroll through the comment section of the article and read all of the nasty things the townies and anonymous trolls had to say about my father and me.

I can’t really articulate what the situation felt like, but I remember locking myself in the bathroom with several pill bottles and contemplating swallowing them all. To be fair, I wasn’t sure what the pills were for, or even if they could have actually killed me upon consumption, but in that moment I just wanted to disappear completely from the world. I didn’t take them because I was scared I’d get in further trouble with my mother, so I just sat in the bathroom and cried all night. I can’t fully express in words the kind of anger, guilt, and humiliation I felt. I felt anger towards my father, who I blamed for the event and the loss of all my friends. I felt guilty for how the situation affected my siblings, and I was made to feel even guiltier by my mother, who unintentionally made me feel personally responsible for what had happened. The humiliation I felt was the worst. I could barely show my face anywhere in town, and I tried to look as apologetic as possible whenever I made accidental eye contact with a neighbor. I felt like my very existence was an inconvenience to everyone around me, and I thought I deserved all of the look-aways and whispered conversations about my family. I convinced myself that everything people said about me was true, and I told myself that the only way to cope with the situation, the only way to earn forgiveness from my peers, was to be exactly what they wanted me to be: invisible. And so I became invisible for several years.

It’s been almost eight years since that article was published. Most people have forgotten about it, but I haven’t. I feel far removed from the situation, and much more secure in who I am now than I did then, but I’ll never forget what that humiliation felt like. Part of why I feel so compelled to write this blog is because I have an obsession with sharing my side of the story and beating others to the point. I crucify myself before others have the chance to, and my desire to be recognized is in constant conflict with my self-conditioned shame and need to feel invisible. I think why I also write this blog though is because I need to remind myself that I shouldn’t be ashamed of who I am, or where I come from. I’ve learned that you can only be embarrassed if you let yourself feel ashamed, and that no one can make you feel bad about yourself without your permission. The person who wrote that article, and the anonymous trolls who read it, they never knew my story, or me, so I shouldn’t feel bad for any false perception they have of me.

I’m not embarrassed by the headlines my father made because I’m used to it. I’m not embarrassed by the headlines because I don’t give a single fuck about what people think about me, especially the reptiles from Beverly, MA. (Side note- if and when I become famous I will take every opportunity to slander Beverly, MA on public television). I know that people will forget about what’s happened and I know how someone feels about the situation pales in comparison to how anyone in my family feels about it. I feel sad that my Dad has relapsed, and I don’t see his situation ever getting better, which are two things that are very difficult to process, so why on Earth should I waste any emotional energy on worrying about what Jane Doe from Beverly thinks about the situation. Fuck Jane!

I will continue to write whatever I feel compelled to share with the world, and I will do so not worrying what people will think of me. I have spent SO much of my life trying to be what people want to me, and what I’ve discovered is that you’ll never truly be accepted by your peers, and that’s okay. I know now that public opinion, good or bad, can never take precedence over how you feel about yourself. The people who love you are the only ones who really matter; they’re the only ones who will accept you regardless of whatever happens, and those are the people you should care about. The only time you should feel bad is when you hurt someone else. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty for being whom you are, or for being hated for who you aren’t, but most importantly, don’t ever give people the power to make you feel lesser because you are a fucking rainbow and anyone who wants to convince you otherwise is a puddle.

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