Something Next to Normal

By Theodore Twilleager

I stand on the edge of a mountain side. Awestruck, marveling at the constellations above me, I forage the library inside of my brain for something; something to describe, to mortalize, to verbalize. In vain, my mind unfolds each star like a fleeting moment until a memory of Mr. Evans paints itself into my consciousness.

He darts toward my desk, ready to rejuvenate a weekend’s moral tale. 

“I thought my sprinkler broke this weekend,” he announced.

“Thought?” I questioned, curious of where this story may lead.

“Well, it wouldn’t turn off,” he continued. “It kept going after all the others turned off.”

Inquisitive, I replied, “That’s not great. Did you fix it?”

“Well,” Mr. Evans analytically began, “First, I turned off the sprinklers manually, and it didn’t work. The sprinkler kept going. So,” he led on with a deep breath, “I ran around, trying a bunch of stuff, until I finally went up to the sprinkler and looked at it up close.”

He paused, as if waiting for me to finish the puzzle he hadn’t provided all the pieces to.

“There was a rock lodged in the sprinkler. Once I took the rock out, it worked again.”

“Oh,” I exhaled, “That’s good.”

“You know,” he inquired, “Sometimes, that’s what life is. You gotta fix all of the small parts before you can reach the big picture.” 

And, in an exclusively Evans style, he swiftly raced away. 

Pulled out of my trance, the dissonant thoughts I desperately begged to fall into tune finally clicked. 

“I don’t know,” I concluded, breathless and, for once, unable to vocalize the theme of a short story. Taking a few steps back, I lifted the tight grasp I held upon the cracked, creased, and charred remains of my childhood, allowing it to float away with the wind and into the forest. I wasn’t angry anymore. 

To me, high school became a whirlwind of firsts. First day: kid finds himself lost in the crowd, in awe of the pure amount of humans crossing the hall in front of him. First musical: kid learns how to dance. First directing position: kid learns that candy motivates him more than the teenager actors it was intended for. First real lead in a musical: kid’s work begins to pay off. First love: kid learns what feelings are and boy, he loves them. First heartbreak: kid learns what feelings are and boy, he hates them. First pandemic: kid. . . oh. Not “kid” anymore. Well, not really, at least. Huh. . . strange. 

Almost nine months later, I stood in my bathroom, friend by my side, and giddily shaved my hair off, each fallen strand making me feel lighter and lighter. Four months after that, I learned how to apply winged eyeliner and bought cigarette earrings while the image of teenage Remus Lupin and I swapping styles grew more and more appealing. Working as a gymnastics coach funded each vintage, thrifted sweater and a Harry Potter fanfiction, All The Young Dudes, became my sole reading material. After one month more, I shuffled a Marauders-themed playlist and “Rock ‘n Roll Suicide,” first reached my ears, as if David Bowie himself gave me his hand, and promised me a future. All summer I busked with musicians in Downtown Campbell, coached, and explored. Maybe, I still had some kid in me. Well, I did. Until I didn’t.

On October 31st, 2021, I put all my clothes – excluding my beloved jumpers – into garbage bags, brought them to my friends, and allowed them to take anything they wanted while I took my paycheck to a thrift store and started over. Finally, I could breathe again. Well, until I got home from Goodwill; until reality smacked me in the face. 

Maybe it wasn’t as simple as I describe it. Maybe it still isn’t. 

I’m not a heroic protagonist. I’ve never achieved the highest GPA, or won a sports game. As change altered the course of my life, I did not embrace it or “stand strong.” I am not the boisterous, proud “transgender student” who’s journey inspires others. Change pushed me toward the next chapter, and I ran back to the last, attempting, in vain, to glue the pages together. I repaired the locks of doors I once kicked down. 

For three months I spent almost every day angry. I never grew angry at the world – I grew angry at myself. I was angry that I fought back, that I hadn’t fought back, that I wore this shirt today, angry that I said that yesterday; every emotion emitted laced anger within its core. Then, the anger turned into resentment, and resentment metamorphosed into exhaustion. Did you know, when you inject testosterone into your body, your tear ducts shrink? Going from school, to rehearsal, to work made me crash as soon as I got home every night, and on top of that, I had been physically incapable of crying for a month. 

Sometime in February, I did not sleep for 36 hours straight. No matter how much calm music I played, or rain I listened to, my mind eternally raced. Finally, after months of refusing to think about what I had lost in the last year, I broke down and cried six hours straight. I skipped fourth period, and drove up a mountain. Looking out at the trees, and hearing nothing of the populated areas around me, I realized I only had two options. I could keep being angry, and drive myself into the ground with exhaustion from it, or I could give up. It was time to give up.

With two months left in the musical, I woke up exhausted each morning, and got up anyway. Almost out of spite, I went to school and tried to understand my work, put everything I could into assistant directing, got an “A” on two essays – which is probably my greatest achievement – and worked my way to a management position at my job. It wasn’t until I could look back, and see the way from which I came, that I realized I won the smallest battle within myself. I wasn’t angry anymore.

I cannot reflect on high school without reflecting on what brought me here. Of course, I wish I could go back and, of course, I wish I did more, but, really, I don’t. If some multitude of coincidences kept me alive and breathing thus far, who am I to question whether I should or should not be where I am. For now, I’m ready to graduate and, instead of seeing the picture as a whole, playing each mission along the way. As David Bowie once said, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”