Growing Up Blind – John Warren (part 3, High School)

This is part 3 of a 5 part essay for the Essays on a WV Childhood project.  To go to the beginning of the essay and start with part 1, click here.

Growing Up Blind (part 3, High School)

In the fall of 1983, I became a sophomore in high school, and from my journal it is clear that I was obsessed with interpersonal relationships.  I made endless lists of people who I considered friends.  I made a list of all my classes and the people I liked in them.  I wrote short profiles of classmates.  After any kind of social event I made a list of the people I saw there and noted which relationships were improving.

Junior year I increasingly pursued friendships with guys that I found physically attractive, all the while meticulously charting the progress of my personal relationships.  My primary sources of social interaction were school and the church youth group.  I also did a brief stint in 4-H and had a couple of neighborhood friends I with whom I played Dungeons and Dragons.  It was a good year.  My brother was off at West Virginia Wesleyan College and my sister was still at John Adams Junior High.  I had the whole high school to myself; I was free to be the person I wanted to be without worrying about doing something that would embarrass or annoy my siblings.  I was never popular, but I felt like I got along well with most people (which was a big thrill for an introvert) and I had a couple of good friends.

In my junior year, I continued to use codes to record things that I was afraid to state explicitly.  After taking a Psychology class I decided to keep a Dream Log and to analyze my dreams.  One of the things we learned in the class was that some dreams are “compensative”–they allow you to experience something missing from your waking life. Some of my dreams were just nonsense, but some were more revealing, as this log entry shows:

“I remember something confusing going on that centered around Kroger’s….  Then the scene switched and I was in room 213 with Stan(*).  I don’t know if we were the only ones there or not.  It didn’t seem to matter.  There was a strange closeness between us… (SC).”  [*Name has been changed.]  

Nowhere in the Log did I provide a key to explain to the reader that “SC” meant the dream included sexual content.  In the analysis of this dream I wrote, “Second part seemed to be compensative (enjoyed [it]).”

At the same time I was having sexual dreams about guys, I was extolling the virtues of my friend Sheri.  Sheri was the coolest person I knew–she was brilliant.  She played the piano, she liked to read, she introduced me to the music of Laurie Anderson and the writing of Ursula Le Guin and Isaac Asimov.  Most significantly, she was an encouraging friend.  For Christmas of 1984, she gave me Asimov’s Foundation trilogy and wrote kind notes inside the books encouraging me to continue writing my own stories.  She had a profound effect on me, and in January of 1985, I wrote, “I never get tired of being with her….  She’s the only person I would even consider marrying….”

Tomorrow, part 4 of Growing Up Blind – Born Again.

Image credits: John Warren; Fantastic Fiction

Growing Up Blind – John Warren (part 2, Junior High)

This is part 2 of a 5 part essay for the Essays on a WV Childhood project.  To read part 1, click here.

Growing Up Blind (part 2, Junior High)

The nature of friendships changes between elementary school and junior high school.  In elementary school I was friends with the boys my age who lived in my neighborhood; we played “Kick the Can” and climbed trees and traded comic books.  By junior high, though, friends are generally people who share the same interests.  I was slow to understand this transition and for a period of time in junior high I felt like I didn’t have any friends at all.  (I was also prone to self-pity!)

During this period, I frequently longed for a “best friend” – the kind of ideal companion found in books and movies.  I had a very romanticized perception of this friend in my mind, and frequently envisioned scenarios in which I would suddenly meet this guy and we would just immediately get along perfectly and want to spend every moment together.  I wanted more than just someone who shared my interests:  I wanted an exclusive, one-on-one relationship that would be deep and enduring.  I didn’t have the emotional sophistication to distinguish between the desire for a friend and the desire for something more.

For most of my teenage years I thought I would eventually be the father figure in the same kind of home in which I grew up.  I’d have a wife, some kids, a dog, and a house in the suburbs.  For many years I followed the steps I thought I was supposed to take to reach this goal.  My brother always had a girlfriend, so I felt a certain amount of pressure to have one as well.  When I was in junior high I asked a female friend if she wanted to “go” with me, and–voila– we were officially dating.  “Dating” meant we would get each other gifts on birthdays and at Christmas and occasionally go roller skating.  Eventually we broke up; I heard second-hand that she called me “slow.”  I can’t say that I blame her if she was frustrated by the pace of our relationship.  I liked her as a friend, but I was not physically attracted to her.

In the summer of 1983, when I was 15 years old, our church youth group had a discussion about homosexuality.  I don’t remember any details, but it’s one of the only youth group topics significant enough to rate a mention in my journal.  The same year, both Time and Newsweek ran cover stories on AIDS.  My parents had a subscription to Newsweek, and I have vague memories of seeing TV news stories about the disease.  Still, those stories were about adult men in San Francisco and New York, people who were far away and barely more real to me than the hobbits I was reading about in The Lord of the Rings.

That summer the first hint of a self-acknowledgement of my sexuality comes in two cryptic journal entries that look something like this:


“CB” stood for “cute boys” and the initials of the boys I thought were handsome followed the hyphen.  (The initials have been changed to protect the innocent.)  

It was both thrilling and terrifying to put something like this in my journal, even in a form it would be virtually impossible for someone else to decode.

Tomorrow, part 3 of Growing Up Blind – High School.

Image credit: John Warren