My family moved to Summerside, Prince Edward Island when I started Grade 7. For most of the next six years, I thought I hated living there. I hated my neighbourhood because at least half of the boys that bullied me lived in or around the area. I hated winters (then again, I don’t like winter in general). I felt like a foreigner in a strange land reigned supreme by Gallants and Aresenaults (the two most common family names in PEI; it’s kind of a running joke). Most Islanders not only lived there all their life but also generations of their family.
I hated the small town feeling. No matter where I went, one of my tormentors would inevitably see me. I felt constantly monitored, that any action would be seen and, as a result, I’d be relentlessly teased about. My weight, my haircut, my clothes, my dog, my interests; nothing was off-limits for my bullies.
Looking back, living in PEI wasn’t all so bad. I met some of my best friends in PEI. I met my first girlfriends there. My love for comics began there. I have many great memories, including summers visiting Rainbow Valley and Captain Bart’s Adventure Park.
Most importantly, my writing ability honed.
This resulted in my only writing award to date.
I recently realized why I was so drawn to comics and especially Superman. At the time, I felt like an outsider, like an alien that didn’t fit in. With the exception of my friends Shawn, Mitchell, Robert, and Tim, I didn’t fit in with the other boys. They were into sports, for example, a subject that to this day, doesn’t hold my interest. They relentlessly bullied me: in my neighbourhood, on the bus to and from school, in school, between classes; even prank phone calls. I had little to no respite. No wonder Superman appealed to me: he was an alien who constantly struggled to feel like he belonged.
I never fought back, though. Maybe that made things worse. It made me an easy target. It’s like they constantly goaded me, desperately wanting a reaction. Maybe they wanted me to fight back. Maybe they wanted to antagonize me to the point of violence. I don’t know. I know I never gave in.
However, I fought back in my own cathartic way: I wrote. I dove into my writing. I filled scribblers and small binders with stories. I wish I had those scribblers. Sadly, they’re long lost. It was no secret in the school, either. My friends joked I’d be a bestselling author some day. For Career Day, when we were supposed to dress up for a certain job, I came dressed as what I thought an author would look like: nice sweater and pair of pants, I think a pair of fake glasses, and a homemade book using coloured paper as the dust jacket. Most times during class, I lost in my made-up worlds. I barely paid attention. Teachers caught me sometimes. I teased for that, too, even by the teachers. No wonder my grades slipped to C’s and D’s.
At the time, I loved watching horror flicks. Heh, your typical adolescent boy, I guess. Shortly before moving to PEI, I wrote my own short horror stories. After moving, though, and being constantly bullied, I had new inspiration. I had new victims.
Given my love for slasher films like A Nightmare on Elm St, Friday the 13thHellraiser, and Child’s Play, most of my stories mimicked those patterns: supernatural killers slaughtering innocents. A hockey player who died on the ice (and buried under the ice) returns as a Jason Vorhees-like monster. Poster-possessing demons that pull their prey into them, using the poster’s subject in an ironic manner to kill them (much like Freddy killed people in dreams). Four towering elementals running havoc around the world. A former blue collar worker killed using various power tools and industrial arts tools. The poster demons one was a particular favourite. I think I wrote at least two sequels to that. I’m rather ashamed of one story involving an incredibly racist Native American stereotype (as a supernatural killer, no less, using tomahawks and such).
Like most slasher stories, the victims were young adults. In my stories? Most victims’ names were taken from my various bullies. I certainly had plenty to choose from; at least a dozen of them. I’d take their first and last names but switch them around. Jason Scott and Shane McQuarry became Jason McQuarry and Shane Scott. It’s a cheap trick I employed later on in The City of Smoke & Mirrors, using former Batman creative teams. Whenever they asked if that was them in the story, I’d deny and just say it was a funny coincidence. I doubt they were convinced.
As my love for comics and superheroes grew, my stories shifted away from horror. The cathartic escapism of horror stories changed to escapist superhero power fantasies. By the end of Grade 8 and throughout Grade 9, I was writing my first novel around a Batman-like superhero called the Black Shadow. It was a silly concept that included a voice-activated jetpack and retractable rollerblades (because it was the 90s). But writing became a bigger passion than ever, partly due tp the bullying that forced me to escape into my own worlds. And partly because of the amazing support many teachers gave me and my passion.
I anxiously wanted anyone to read my work that I’d shove it in anyone’s face. Most of the teachers at Athena Junior High read some of my work because I kept asking – or maybe begging or demanding – them to read it. One time Mr. Keith – my industrial arts and health teacher – read the part about the hockey player buried under the ice, turned around in his chair and gave me a horrified “That’s terrible!” expression. I loved that reaction.
My Grade 8 and 9 English teacher was Keith Broderick. He had the best sense of humour, a nicely trimmed grey beard that I envied, and the worst puns I’d ever heard. He was not only a great inspiration but a major influence and supporter for my writing. At the end of some classes, he would actually read my work aloud to the class. No one really paid attention. They watched the clock, waiting for the bell to ring. But the fact that my work was heard by a room of 20-some people was still an accomplishment in my eyes.
Towards the end of Grade 9, it was announced that during the graduation ceremony, the school would be handing out awards. These awards would be for students with the highest marks. I knew I didn’t have a chance in hell. However, I learned later that Mr. Keith and some other teachers (possibly Mr. Broderick) fought the school with the belief that the awards shouldn’t just go to the student with the best marks. It should also be for the most passionate students or the most improved. Apparently, they came to the decision that some awards would have dual winners, each receiving a plaque. I don’t believe they announced this decision until during the ceremony.
One student, Jennifer Lee, cleaned up. With the highest marks in every class, she received an award in every category. To my knowledge, there were only three other awards given out: Music, Industrial Arts, and English. My best friend Shawn was awarded the first two. He absolutely deserved them, especially music. I always admired his musical ability. He played a mean sax.
But then, after Jennifer Lee received her award in English, they announced…my name. I don’t remember much after that. I vaguely remember walking across the stage and Mr. Broderick handed me the award. I remember nearly stumbling down the stairs on the other end of the stage. Shawn was there, helping award winners down the stage. He tried to give me a handshake or a fist-bump. I remember being so overwhelmed that I screwed up. I think I wound up grabbing his fist and shaking it.
Those three years at Athena were hellish for me. My self-esteem and self-worth were beaten down to the point that I don’t think I ever really recovered. Whenever I get depressed, I hear Jarred Arsenault whispering to me throughout an entire class movie: “You’re a loser, Nick. You’re a loser. You’ll always be a loser.” Those statements continue to haunt me today. Sometimes, I wonder what those guys would think if they knew how badly they beat down my self-esteem and self-worth. I doubt any of them would remember or even care.
And yet…if it wasn’t for that unrelenting bullying, I may not have escaped into my writing. I may not have become so passionate about writing.
I may still be a mostly-unknown author, but I can technically say I’m an award-winning author. Kind of. Sort of. Winning a middle school award in English totally counts, right? Screw it, I’m counting it.