My brain doesn’t always work properly. I’ve been told this by experts. Whether it was the diagnoses in my childhood of Attention Deficit Disorder or the latter analysis that yielded the extremely frustratingly generic Major Affected Mood Disorder that came only a few years ago, there is scientific proof that my mind doesn’t process some things in a “normal” and healthy way. From my crippling bouts with anxiety, my tumultuous efforts to focus or my debilitating struggles with depression, there are so many times that I do not feel that my mental self has my best interests at heart.
Of all of the many things that plague me on that one square foot of real estate up top, the thing that tends to come up the most is my struggle with regret. Regret, in and of itself, is not unhealthy. It gives us, through the glory of hindsight, to see where we have made mistakes and to, in a healthy and productive situation, learn from them. Regrets can be helpful in helping us to right the wrongs we have done and in helping us to heal from the wounds of the past. But they can also be bad. They can be devastating. They can sink you further and further into a hole of shame that is, I can state from experience, very difficult to climb out of.
For me, the most powerful and self-harming regrets aren’t about opportunities lost or loves I should have pursued. They aren’t the ones where I screwed up something huge. Those are all regrets that I’ve come to terms with, either as a learning experience or by making amends at a later date. The regrets that infect me and tear me down the most are little events. They all happened long ago, and therefor there is nothing to do to make up for them. They are against people who I haven’t had contact with in years or even decades. And in all cases, they involve me being just a little bit less the person I want to see myself as.
We all have a self image. We all have an idyllic “perfect me” that we strive to live up to. We very rarely do, but it’s a helpful motivator. Working towards your better self is a good thing. And, as we all are a bit unique in our own ways, our perfect self image is also uniquely our own. For the most part. Media and religion and our parents and government all try to nudge us towards a perfect self that works for them, and we can all hold hands and convince ourselves that we’ve incorporated none of their influence into our self image. But we’re lying, since all of those things, and many other things, shape our personal goals. My perfect self is based on a few key pillars. As my perfect self, I am among the smartest, cleverest, most insightful people you’ll ever know. As my perfect self, I am witty and can make people laugh, always in a good way, by pointing out the hilarity of the world. And as my perfect self, I am always kind, considerate and understanding of those around me. It’s that last one where a lot of my regret moments come from. Being what I would term “a good person” is not always the easy path, and doesn’t get as many laughs as my fragile ego sometimes requires.
I was not the most popular kid growing up. I didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the kids around me. Of course, as children, we always need to make fun of that which is strange in our worlds. Kids are fucking brutal. I was mocked and made to feel like an outsider a lot as a child. There were truly some awful things said to me to facilitate this endeavor. Even worse than making someone feel actively unwanted was making someone feel passively unwanted. Just plain ignoring someone who was, desperately at times, trying to feel included is just a little meaner for the passive and dismissive way it was done. But the cardinal sin is to falsely include someone to use them for your own ends. To play off of someone’s sympathies or feelings just to advantage yourself and then to never reciprocate, because you never planned to, or to simply drop them when you didn’t need them anymore. All of these things, among many other transgressions of childhood cliques all happened to me at one point or another. Knowing how they affected me, knowing how they made me cry or caused me pain, I had sworn to myself that I would never be on the antagonist side of that equation. I would never be the type of person to do that to someone else. But I am human, and imperfect, and I have been that person. And the times I was, those are some of the regrets that haunt me the most.
Now we’re six paragraphs in, and you’re probably wondering “what the hell does any of this have to do with White Zombie?” That’s a fair question, since this is a “White Zombie Week” post and not a “Meanwhile” post. Well, the answer is quite simple. Two of these regrets are tied to White Zombie’s Astrocreep 2000 album. As much as I love the album, I’d say about forty percent of the time I end up thinking about one of these two stories I’m about to tell you. And of that forty percent, about half the time I end up in a mini regret spiral because of these memories. I wish it wasn’t like this. I would like to move on. But as I said, my mind isn’t always working in my best interests.
It was the spring of my junior year in high school. I had split up with my first girlfriend (Missy of the Offspring Come Out and Play fame) in February, but the relationship had honestly been moving apart for a couple of months before that. Long distance relationships are difficult at best, and neither of us having cars or driver’s licenses wasn’t helping. Plus, those were the days that you had to pay extra for a long distance phone call. Yeah, it was all kind of doomed from the start. But one thing that did come out of it was a newfound personal confidence. I had found someone who not only liked me for who I was, but wanted to be my girlfriend because of it. That’s a powerful confidence booster for someone who was never too sure of themselves. I was parlaying this new confidence into new friends at school. I was the smart, funny nice guy that I always thought I was, and a girl still liked me enough to hold my hand and even kissed me a couple of times. So why shouldn’t I keep being that guy and see where it took me. It took me, the newly confident and supposedly smart, funny and nice junior, into the sights of a bunch of the freshmen girls that spring. There were a couple that I had crushes on, and a couple that I was told later that had crushes on me. I was very close friends with some of the girls in my own class, but they were all dating older and cooler guys. Being the older, possibly cooler guy instead of hearing about them was a powerful drug.
But it wasn’t just girls that were interested in me. I was making new guy friends, as well. Not many of them were in my own class, to whom I think I was a known quantity of “shy awkward dude” that they couldn’t accept this possibly smart, funny, confident nice guy persona as easily. But to the sophomores and the freshmen, I was able to cast myself in this new light and they didn’t know the “old me” enough to debate or disbelieve. I made a lot of friends very quickly. I had wide appeal, since I had the confidence and the jokes, but also spoke fluently of nerd culture and music. Nerds aren’t known for their confidence. A confident nerd is the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. I made many people who were themselves considered outcasts feel comfortable. Here was someone like them, but a popular version. I was living the dream. I was lord of the fringe groups, master of the outcasts and king of the not-quite-as-popular. This is when I met Will.
Will was a shy kid who was a year younger than me. He lived in the poorer part of our school district, and as such was relegated to outcast status. Those who say economic divisions don’t exist were obviously in the popular clique in school when they were younger. Those social strata start pretty much right away, and you can never break free of it. At least, I never saw anybody do it. In any case, Will was a good guy in a bad situation. He was new to the area as of the year before, and since his family was not well off, he didn’t have much luck meeting new friends. I met Will through art class, and he eventually fell in with my group of after-school misfits. We all used to hang out in front of the school after the last bell and just be silly kids. We all intentionally waited for the late detention bus to take us home so that we could hang out more. Now, I had been gathering this group since January (I mentioned that my long distance relationship was essentially falling apart at this point, right?), and they all new my dating status as much as I knew theirs. But now it was March, and the smart, funny, nice guy who wasn’t awful on the eyes was newly single.
My parents probably hated this time, since I was on the phone almost constantly during this period of March and April. I was talking to either Michelle or Jackie or Andrea or Tonya or Zoe of this new group of girls, or I was talking to Lisa or McKenzie or Laura about their boyfriends or any of the possible candidates for my new girlfriend. There were times I was talking to Kevin or Kris, old nerd friends from my days at the bottom of my middle school pecking order. And there were times I was talking to Will. Will was an anomaly. He was younger than me, but he wasn’t a girl. He was a nerd, and he was in to music that I liked, but he wasn’t like an old acquaintance. I think I started talking to him because I felt bad for him. He didn’t have many (or any, I could never tell) friends other than me. So we started talking on the phone just like I would talk to any of the aforementioned people. Keep in mind, this was all on a land line. We didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t have a separate line. We didn’t even have call waiting (my parents considered it rude and therefor wouldn’t get it). So me tying up the only phone line for five to six hours every night was a bit inconvenient.
So, the theme on school days was go to classes, see all my friends in the hallways, see all my old friends at the lunch table, see all my new friends after school, go home, watch Animaniacs and Batman: The Animated Series, talk to all of my friends on the phone, eat dinner, pretend to do homework and talk on the phone more, go to bed, get up and repeat the process. The theme on weekends, however, was to hang out with friends. This took a couple of different forms. On special occasions, and when we all had a little money, we’d do something like go bowling or maybe to the movies. But mostly, hanging out meant going to the mall and wandering around. I’m not going to belabor the finer points of what “going to the mall” entailed. Suffice to say, it was a lot of going into store and buying nothing, hanging out outside (if you had friends that smoked) or in the food court, and generally wandering around. I did this a lot, with various friends, groups of friends, or combinations of friends. Many of the girls that I had a crush on had been asked by me to go to the mall, and some of the more forward thinking girls that had crushes on me would ask me to go to the mall (forward thinking because they we not conforming to social norms of waiting for me to ask, not forward thinking for having a crush on me).
On one occasion, Will and I went to the mall. It wasn’t weird or anything, it was just two guys in flannel shirts and ripped jeans hanging out at the mall. Now, by this point, I had figured out that Will looked up to me a bit. At least that’s how I perceived it. In retrospect, I’m an idiot. But at the time, it felt like he kind of idolized me. So there we were, at the mall, and White Zombie’s new album Astrocreep 2000 had just come out. Will wasn’t really into White Zombie, but I certainly was. So we went to the music store at the mall. It was called The Wall. I had, before going to the mall, asked my parents for an advance on my allowance so I could buy this CD. They had refused (first world, white suburban problems, I know). I was upset, since I really wanted it. In my head, I needed it to maintain my coolness. In my parents’ perspective, I needed to earn money to spend money. They were right, I was wrong. Digression over. So we’re at The Wall, looking at CDs, and Will finds one he wants. It’s the same price as the CD I wanted, the only difference was that he had the money for his and I did not. I can’t remember exactly how the conversation went. What I do remember is how much I leaned on the way he obviously wanted to please me to convince him to buy the White Zombie CD for me instead of buying the album he wanted for himself. And he did just that. I had played off of his feelings for me just to get a CD, and gave him nothing but empty promises of closer friendship in return. Now, of our after school friend group, I was Will’s only tether to the larger group. Even the outcasts regarded him as an outcast. And I used this to get a fucking CD.
Not long after that, I started dating a girl named Andrea, and Will stopped calling and stopped hanging out with us. He transferred to another school that summer, and I never talked to him again. It was years later that I put the pieces together. Will was an outcast not only for his social status, but because his mannerisms clued people in to his sexuality. I have no confirmation, but looking back on it, I’m pretty sure Will was gay. Being gay in our small conservative school was not okay unless you were the head of the drama club, so flamboyant as to be a stereotype (but still tried to date girls), or the nephew of Grace Jones. But being awkwardly, simply gay was not acceptable. And I’m pretty sure looking back that Will was gay, and that he had a crush on me, and that I broke his heart.
To be fair, I’m not making this assumption due to some effeminate nature, stereotypical speech pattern or perceived fashion sense. Will dressed like I did, grunge all the way. He was soft spoken, but that’s a pretty ubiquitous quality for people of all orientations. I’m basing this on remembered body language towards me, the way he talked about “us” and other signs I’ve realized in the wisdom of hindsight that he “liked” me. It’s the same measurements I use to figure out that a girl had a crush on me, and it’s the same measurement I use to figure out if I had a crush on a girl. There are signs of intimate affection that transcend.
This regret haunts me. It goes against my desire to be inclusive and unbiased. It goes against my hatred of the frustration of unrequited love. It goes against my ideal of being a good person who doesn’t let anybody get ignored. But at that time, I was just a shitheel who wanted a CD.
Okay, second story.
Fast forward to senior year now. It’s spring again (March), and I’m once again single. I was still considered cool, smart, funny and nice by a lot of the girls who thought of me that way last year, all except the one girl I had broken up with in November (the previously mentioned Andrea) and the girl who had dated me to ensnare the affections of her manager at Burger King (the not-yet-mentioned Meghan). I was in a graphic arts class with a couple of these people who somehow found me charming. One of them was a girl named Patti. She was a nice girl, but she had that moderately annoying quality of always wanting to be included. I say that sarcastically, as I at various points have had that exact same quality. Patti, like many of my friends, wasn’t from the affluent parts of my school district. She wasn’t super-smart, but still bright. She wasn’t conventionally beautiful (like the Barbie type girls who were in the popular clique), but she was pretty, and had a nice smile. She wasn’t the best conversationalist, but not any more awkward than the rest of us. She was in my friend group, but I would not have thought of her as a close friend. But, at this point, I was angry at her. You see, a month before was the Winter Weekend semi-formal. Everyone was trying to convince me to go, and being newly single there was a lot of pressure as to who I would take. I had just been dumped by Meghan, so I decided to forego all of that drama and go alone. But my friends were not having it. It was Patti that was the most insistent. Meghan was a close friend of hers, but she felt bad for what Meghan did to me.
Let me be clear on this point. I, who had just received a full scholarship to college based purely on my ability to take a test (more on that soon), was getting dumped for the guy who decided to manage a Burger King in a mall instead of going to college at all. It wasn’t just who she dumped me for that hurt, it was the fact that she started dating me in the first place to make him jealous. High school drama at its finest!
But Patti felt bad because she was one of the ones who pushed me to go out with Meghan, and I guess she wanted another crack at playing matchmaker for me. So instead of letting me go stag to the semi-formal, she created a scheme in which she convinced her friend Shelly that I was going to take her, but was too shy to ask. She then lets me in on this scheme the Friday before (the dance being on Saturday), so I have no choice but to do the gentlemanly thing and take Shelly, since she already thinks I’m going to and I don’t want to be the jerk in this situation. So I buy a corsage, take Shelly to the dance, and spend no time with her once we are there. I didn’t even dance with her once. Shelly went out with some friends afterwards, so I didn’t have to worry about taking her home. Eventually, I got a ride home with another friend and left. (side note: This is another one of those regrets in the same category, but not ties to White Zombie. I forever feel bad about ditching Shelly at the dance, but without the connection to White Zombie, I don’t feel the need to revisit this much more.)
Come Monday, and Shelly is naturally pissed at me. She still had a good time, though, so she’s not really pissed at me too much. But Patti is livid with me. She’s irrationally angry at me for, I suppose, ruining her cleverly crafted yente attempt. She’s so mad at me, I get mad at her. I’m just trying to finish my senior year and head off to college in Ohio, I don’t need this crap. She’s going around, badmouthing me to all of my friends, and I just want to hurt her and make her shut up. So I talk to my friend Philip.
Philip is the only friend I have who has a computer, a scanner, and Photoshop. Philip had done this particular meanness to somebody else recently, and I was going to call upon his revenge skills to help me in my quest to make Patti shut up. I gave him Patti’s school picture that she had given to me, and I gave him the liner notes to Astrocreep 2000. The liner notes contain many weird creatures drawn by Rob Zombie. I told him to put Patti’s face on this one:
He does a crude job, but gets her smiling, school picture face plastered onto the head of this thing and prints me out five black and white copies of it. I posted one on her locker the next day, and for three days after that. When she hadn’t said anything about it, and was still nagging me about my treatment of Shelly, I circulated the fifth one among the students in our art class. Patti was so upset, she left the room crying. Patti didn’t speak to me for the rest of the year.
I was one hundred percent in the wrong, but I felt vindicated. I should have never let it get this far. I should have talked to Shelly and Patti before the dance about my desire to go alone and why. I should have treated Shelly better at the dance. I should have talked to Patti when she was angry at me, and apologized at the very least and tried to explain my side. But no, I took possibly the most childish way of solving my problem. Instead of letting her make me out to be a monster, I literally made her a monster. Years later I caught up with Patti, and she told me how much that had hurt her. I knew how much it hurt. I had had similar things done to me, so I was well aware of the pain that I was causing. But I didn’t care. I apologized to her years later, but it still doesn’t change the fact that I did something so immature and hurtful just to cover up something else I had done that I was not proud of. There is a right way and a wrong way to react when someone calls you out on your mistakes. Pasting their picture onto a creature from the liner notes of a White Zombie CD and then posting it for others to see is definitely the wrong way.
These two stories, linked by an album from over twenty years ago, still get to me. This has been a difficult post to write, and the idea of people reading it makes it worse. But really, why am I still bothered by minor things I did two decades ago? I don’t know, but I am. Every time I think about these stories, I feel bad. And these are just two of hundreds of memories I have that make me think I am not who I want to be, not even close. Would apologizing help? Probably not. I can’t explain it, but almost every day I have memories like this jump forward and cause me to be so sad and so sorry. I guess my brain just doesn’t work properly.