The Time I Wasn’t

I’ve always been a bit of an outcast, never to sure of my place in the world. If the need struck, I could make this essay about all the times I’ve felt ostracized, stigmatized, and generally excluded. But I’m not into self pity, I believe that everyone has a path they’re destined to walk and experiences they are meant to feel. It’s my own opinion that experiences make people and it is not people who make experiences, in my life I’ve experienced thousands of things, some more unique than others. This is going to be a good story, because the heart of the world is good, and people at their deepest level are not bad. Thing is though, this experience didn’t exactly happen in the “real” world, it happened in a world so much realer, so much truer and kinder than the one we’re in.

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It was a dark and stormy night-well more of an early to mid evening kind of deal- May 30th 2015,my second year of attending and participatingin the Champlain College Young Writer’s Conference annual poetry slam. There was supposed to have been an outdoorbarbecue, but the rain drove us to the mess hall and Fireside Lounge. In all the tumult of running and chasing each other through the downpour, I found myself separated from the people I had been spending my free time with. Walking into the mess hall, clutchingmy burger and cookies on a sodden paper plate, I was filled with dread that I would find myself eating dinner alone, determined as I was to be social, I weaved between the tangle of chairs making my way towards the most interesting looking person I could see. And so it was, as rain pounded the windows and lightning flashed across the sky, I found myself sitting amongst a group of poets, the majority of whom were hell bent on entering the poetry slam.

It was an impulsive decision on my part. When the counselor came around, calling for those brave enough to enter their name in the hat, I didn’t have a poem. Infused though, with the memory of how I’d felt the previous year during the slam, I ripped a piece of paper from my notebook and put it in the hat. Giddy with nerves and the mild embarrassment of having tripped over several bags at once, I sat back down and thought “what the hell am I going to do?” . There was only a slim chance ofmy name being called, but I felt as though it was going to happen, I felt that the chronology of last year’s events was going to repeat themselves.

Opening my notebook,I thought almost cynically to myself, that of course things were going to repeat themselves-that’s what history does- and like the previous year I had a story that I wanted to tell. Unlike the previous year though, the story I had now wasn’t one of coming to terms with myself, but one of breaking and what it means to be broken, and what it meant to heal.Both years I wasn’t chosen to participate in the MOTH storytelling, and looking back, I think it had to have been because the stories I had were best told through poetry.Staring at the blank paper, pen poised, I looked inside myself and found the most prominent emotions that I felt were anger, at the world for being so bigoted, and anxiety, that the worst would happen when I eventually came out to the rest of my family.So, following in my own writing tradition, I grabbed a hold of a half formed idea that had been fermenting in the back of my mind, and put my pen to paper. In all honesty, the poem took about five minutes to write, and it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a masterpiece, but with the encouragement of my friends and strange confidence within myself, I thought it was pretty rad.

The rain had let up during dinner, and with a half hour before the slam, I decided to try and find a counselor and get their opinion on my poem. Walking outside, I couldn’t help but breathe deeply, inhaling the sweet scent of after-rain that indescribable taste of humidity with a tinge of the first frost, I was so happy to be back. I found the counselor I was looking for in front of the auditorium, talking to another student, luck was on my side though and two other counselors were hanging around . Changing direction, I approachedthe counselor who was known for her devil sticks, and asked if I could read her my poem.

It was only when I’d finished, that I realized that all other conversations had stopped and that everyone was listening. Allison, the devil stick counselor nodded, as I shifted rather uneasily under the other three peoples’ stares, after about five seconds of silence, Duncan, the senior counselor looked me straight in the eye and said, he thought I could win. As he said this, thunder sounded in the distance, and all the counselors howled to the sky, to me those howls sounded like freedom. It started to rain again, just as people began making their way across the quad to the auditorium, in an attempt to help people get out of the rain quicker, I held the door open for everyone. Filled as I was with a type of reckless abandon, at the next sound of thunder I howled at the cloud covered sky with all my heart.

I held the door to the auditorium open for the entire slam, only leaving my post three times. As I stood against the door, holding it for any stragglers, I practiced my poem more times than I care to admit. At one point, Geoff Hewett, the man who ran and judged the slam, held open the door with me, he listened to my poem, but gave no comment other than, that holding the door open for people was a thankless job. I wondered then, why I was holding the door open, it would be easier to go inside where it was dry and sit down, listento the slammers. I wondered about this for awhile, looking out into the rain as lightning flashed across the darkening sky and I shouted my words at god. Good things come to those who do good, that’s why I held the door open for two and a half hours, and even though holding the door is such a small thing, at that moment it meant everything to me. My world had shrunk down to the door, the auditorium it led to and the Irish building I could just make out across the quad.I had been holding the door for about an hour, practicing and watching the storm rage, when my friend rushed out and yelled that my name had been chosen and put on the board.

Funny thing is, I don’t really remember reading my poem. I remember the light hitting just above my head, the tension in my chest, the mix of emotions that clouded my brain, but not the words leaving my mouth. After I finished reading, I was ready to run back to my door and just laugh to the night, but I had to wait for my scores, after all it was a competition. While I can’t remember my score exactly, I remember the people standing and clapping, everything was so bright. I could feel my heart taking root, as Geoff read off that I received the first double ten of the night and serenaded me with his mouth flute. When it had quieted down some, I looked back at the audience and was filled with a kind of terror, I bolted as quick as I could back out to my door, where I could actually breathe the air.

I stood outside as far as I could without letting go of the door, letting the rain wash down my face as I alternatively sobbed and laughed, weak at the knees. For the next hour and a half I stood, warrior of the storm, protector of the door, as people who wanted an early bed time walked past and told me I’d won. At the two hour mark I was feeling tired and leaned closer toward the auditorium, listening to see if one of my friends would get called up. Sure enough, I soon heard her voice at the microphone, as she wove the words of wonder that so accurately described Champlain, and the sense of wholeness that accompanied being there.Her poem was beautiful, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard, she won. I knew she won deep down, oh her poem far surpassed mine and they announced her score, so close to my own. And then there was the pause, the most terrible pause for point deduction because she had gone over the time limit. As I heard Geoff announce the deduction, I charged inside and booed as loud as my raw throat would allow with the rest of the crowd, with the exception of three of my friends who swore when it seemed I wouldn’t win.
Ruth got second place, tailing me by only five points. I didn’t hear the announcement, I was only made aware that I’d won, when half the auditorium poured outside to bring me in. I walked inside to a kind of honor guard standing around me, yelling and clapping, loud as a jet. My eyes searched for one face in particular in the crowd, I found her waiting at the stage, honey hair gleaming in the spotlights. There wasn’t any qualm in my head about what to do when I saw her, eyes red from crying, cheeks lifted from smiling. I stood about a foot away from her dumbfounded by the people around us, all cheering for me, when they should have been cheering for her. As we embraced I told her this but she just laughed and pushed me toward the microphone to get my prize. I received my very own mouth flute from Geoff Hewett, and stood there as the crowd continued to clap, their screams only getting louder. I looked into the crowd and felt my soul take root, I saw the faces of my friends in the crowd, looking back at me, and in that moment everything felt right. In this corner of the United States, in this little world of writer’s, in this world of mine, I finally felt as if I belonged.

I’ve felt a stranger all my life, never really knowing where to stand. But I believe that life has a plan for us all, and that we go through what we do, so when the good comes around we know to appreciate it. This summer my family moved from Syracuse, New York, to La Jolla, California, never before have I felt like such a stranger in the village, and it’s okay. It’s okay for me to be the stranger, because I can always look back on CCYW 2015 and remember the time I wasn’t. There’s a lot going for me in this world, and while I may feel out of place now, I know that in my deepest soul it won’t be this way forever. I will find my place in the world again.

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