Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hell is a dorm room in Bridgeport.

At twenty-six, I'm still grappling with social acceptance. I'm learning that the cliques that existed throughout school have persevered into the adult world. Whether at work, social dancing, or amongst a group of friends there is still a prevailing social hierarchy, and somehow I always would end up the odd man out. No matter how hard I'd try, how casual I'd act, or friendly I'd try to appear, it seemed to me that people could subconsciously read I was not fit for popularity.

During sixth and seventh grade, I had no friends. I sat and ate lunch everyday alone, and was embarrassingly invited to slumber parties at the homes of popular girls by their mothers. Finally, towards the end of 7th grade I made friends with a half-Chinese girl whose obsession with Sailor Moon matched my own. By ninth grade, I began to wonder if people could have a biological inclination towards being a loser.

When my mother left my dad, she took a job being the 'Dorm Mom' (dormitory supervisor) of the boys floor in a Unification Church run boarding school called New Eden Academy, located on the campus of University of Bridgeport. I thought this would be a whole new ballgame; a school full second-generation Moonie kids like me. I was sure to make friends, after all, weren't they just like me?

I anticipated the arrival of my fellow students with anxiety and excitement. Instead of a wave, they trickled in and began filling the dorm rooms like a persistent flood. The tsunami would come in the direction from the pacific islands, as the bad-ass manifestation of my freshman woes arrived on the girls floor. Along with a large posse of the 'cool kids', she and many of the upperclassman went out to the beach of the long island sound near the bandstand. Somewhere, meters above the supposed buried remains of Barnum and Bailey's elephants, they all popped prescription pills and drank until they were trashed. I remember one particular girl being escorted down the hallway by an adult, trudging like a zombie as she stared blankly ahead of her. Instead of taking her to the hospital for the potent mixture of booze and pills, the adults felt it best to put her to bed, and we were discouraged from touching her as she might pass on the evil spirits that inhabited her while being high. 

My sister and I were outsiders from the beginning; as our painted cinderblock bedroom was decorated with warm wood furniture and trinkets brought from our former home in Mesa, while everyone else made due with the brown metal bunk bed sets and school provided desks. Also having a mother working for the school put us on the outside, as we were easiest to suspect of ratting someone out. We were disregarded and disrespected from the start of the year. The boys on the third floor would often break into my mother's apartment with only a credit card to trip the lock, and steal anything of monetary value. The girls paired off into petty groups and arranged themselves into a social hierarchy that was meaningless outside the school.

I continually catapulted myself into the groups of girls who I vied to be friends with. I transformed myself into something I thought they'd like, I began to dress 'hip hop' (via Japan?) and pretend to like r&b music. To this day JaRule and Ashanti remind me of walking down the dingy carpeted hallways of the dorm floor listening to terrible top 100 hits of 2001 being blared on dorm room stereos. I began swearing like a sailor, dishing out attitude to instructors, my mother, and my sister. I'd invite myself into the dorm rooms at night where the girls would gather to gossip. No one escaped ridicule; teachers were slandered, students had their purity questioned, and everyone outside their circle was deemed pathetic. I tried everything to squeeze myself into the inner circle. I made everyone poster-board sized birthday cards with custom illustrations for everyone to sign, I bought mix cds from one of the boys upstairs even though I had Napster on my mother's computer. I'd tag along to basketball games played outside the dorm room in a driveway of 'The Wisteria House', and abandoned Victorian house used for storage across the street. I played musical rooms, moving out of my sister's room into a room with a friend, and into my own room when I thought it would affect my social status.

When I had my own room, I let girls who were having affairs with 'brothers' upstairs use my room for philandering while I waited in the hallway or lounge for them to finish. I even delved down the rabbit hole of becoming an excellent shit-talker, if only I knew how to cover up my tracks. I have a vivid memory of three boys from the school lifting me up out of the lounge couches and bringing me into a spare office room, plopping me infront of the school's pious and polished student president, who proceeded to lecture me on the source of a rumor involving him and my older sister (developed by my jealous half-Korean roommate, and propagated by me.)

I joined the gossip sessions with gusto, hoping to provide some kind of information that would make me seem invaluable. All it did was construct the social gallows in which my sister and I would hang from. The ringleader of all things chaotic on the girls floor nicknamed me 'weasel', because "I had a face like one". While also being a pipeline for school gossip and petty drama, she was also the 'executor' of social justice when it seemed fit.



One night, the air was particularly tense and the girls of our dorm floor called a meeting. My sister and I were summoned to the center of the lounge room where we were accused of a variety of crimes. Despite my sister's intelligence to stay out of the schools drama and to keep to herself, she was accused of using her mystery and feminine wiles to lure our brothers into sin. We were both accused of being the source of all the school's gossip, and that we were plaguing everyone in the school with lies. We were even accused of witchcraft, which later came to play a role in how we found a safe haven from the other girls. The tension escalated to shouting, most of it is a blur to me now because all I remember is the static, noise, and angry faces of the other girls as they outright claimed to hate us. I remember the ringleader throwing her husky limbs in our general direction with threats to get physical. What I don't remember is how it ended. I remember my sister and I hiding in her room, curled up into balls on the floor trying to process the shock. Occasionally, one of the girls would knock on the door to throw in a few last words of hate, disguised as coming to check in on us. Walking the halls and going to class the next day felt like being blacklisted. Everyone ignored us, I remember the only other freshman girl in the school wringing out a smirk on her ugly monkey face, while the French girl shouted at me to 'get over it'.

Outside of each other, my sister and I were only able to salvage two or three friends to keep us company. One day school student who had no real involvement with the drama within the walls, one girl from Alaska who was quiet and reserved, and my former melodramatic half-Korean roommate. As a joke referencing a group of villains from the Sailor Moon comic series (which I was still obsessed with) I nicknamed our group 'The Witches Five' as my sister and I had been accused of. We kept to each other's company when we weren't hidden away in our own rooms. One weekend we went away to my former roommate's home in Westchester, and all dressed up like 'goths'. I don't know if any of us really had any idea what goth culture was like, but I remember trying to wear all black and decorating our faces in blue and black lipstick and hitting up the local pizza joint, trying to look as badass as a bunch of high school cult raised kids can.



Even the funny memories of our year in Bridgeport aren't funny anymore. The slogans the boys upstairs came up with, all said imitating the headmaster's voice; "No Hope for No Eden!" or "Whaddr'you doing?" don't crack a genuine smile on my face, just a grimace.

I've blocked out most my memories of that year, none of the people there made enough of an impression on my life in a positive way except for perpetuating the feelings of loneliness and un-acceptance. When I'd accidentally run into old classmates from the boarding school, we would mutually blank each other or I'd have to endure  their fake warmth and smiles, as if they'd white washed the memory of their faces turning red, screaming slander into my face and decorating me with spittle.

It was there, a brick institution campus squeezed into the middle of the ghetto, that I learned I was like no one. That I didn't belong with the 'outside' kids I'd grown up with, because their culture and 'blood-lineage' was so different from my own. Amongst the Moonie kids I was just as alien, as we were apparently weird beyond their spectrum of acceptance. We were like dirty gypsy kids who would continue to be moved around, never allowing to put down roots or to develop acceptance of our own.

To this day I avoid contact with any of the people I knew from Bridgeport, it's a can of worms I'm not willing to open. After all, twelve years later I should be 'over it' by now, but instead I've chosen to white them all out in my mind. However, I can't deny it formulated me into a person that is wary of others and unable to cope with the staggering loneliness that plagues me when I know I'll never fully be accepted amongst others.

I still think Bridgeport is a shithole.

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