I came across the above photo surreptitiously (you can click on it to enlarge it). I say surreptitiously because it was not sent to me; I merely found it on an old school acquaintance’s Facebook page. I doubt they even remember me, let alone would have reason to send me a copy of the photo.
Because you see, despite this being a snapshot of my peers outside my old sixth form college, I am not on it. I don’t even recall this photo being taken. I was totally unaware of it at the time; the fact that somebody gathered this select few together, organized them, took the photo. I was not invited or even told about it.
That sounds bitter – and maybe it is – but that was undeniably my first reaction.
Followed swiftly by a “why the hell would they have invited me anyway?”
You see I doubt if most of the people in this photograph would remember me. I expect that most of them didn’t know who I was even at the time. They would have past me in the corridors, sat behind me in the classrooms and I wouldn’t have impinged on their consciousness in the slightest. Except maybe as “the really uncool kid”, “the nerd”, “the weird looking one”.
I doubt if I had a name to most of these people.
I was a wallflower at school. Complete and utter. And while my sixth form years were the start of me emerging from my awkward shell, I was still a long way off from gaining any kind of confidence or self esteem.
When I look at this photo I feel a painful sense of want. An agony of wanting to fit in and be cool and be popular. Kind of like Kung Fu Panda (before he discovered the secrets of Kung Fu) wanting to hang out with the Furious Five.
Only for me it was never going to happen.
A couple of my friends are on this photo. Tristan Fitzgerald and Steve Fox. It’s telling that they didn’t tell me about this photo being taken at the time. For them it would have been a pleasant but not particularly especial event. If I had been asked to join this group it would have made my entire year.
Well. It plainly wasn’t my year.
It’s weird to see how young everyone looks. So eighties. So dated. Faintly ridiculous. And yet this was the epitome of cool. The was a group of teens who thought they knew it all before University and Life proved to them how wrong they all were.
The was a group of teens who I envied, who I hated, who I adored and in a couple of cases – Sarah Cullen and Emily Sweetman – I would even have gladly drunk your bath water.
But I am not in this photo. I am somewhere else in the building. Probably in a darkened room writing trauma inducing poetry about not fitting in. About not belonging. About desperately wanting to. About how was I ever, ever going to get a girlfriend?
Looking at this photo now I can finally see how all that really didn’t matter. It was only me that made it matter; that hamstrung myself with it. All those useless hang-ups. All those miserable desires and the unfairness of not having them realized.
Looking at this photo now I wish I could go back in time and instil a different kind of world-view into myself. To not have myself care so much. To bother a good deal less about other people’s opinions. To have the scales pulled from my eyes. To pull these people down from the dais that I had placed them on. To stop wanting to be like them.
Because going my own way – as I eventually did – was always the right thing to do.
To not be on this photograph was always the best thing to be.
I just didn’t realize it at the time.
This is a photograph of me before I woke up to myself. Before I became me.
It’s only now that I’m smiling for the camera.