As a child, I was very... Odd. I still am, of course, but back then... I didn't have many friends, if any, and I always felt very isolated and lonely. At a very young age, I became depressed, and I began acting erratic; I would tell ridiculous lies for no reason, sometimes contradicting lies I'd told the previous day just so that my classmates would pay attention to me. It worked, for a while... Until it didn't. My depression worsened the more lonely I felt. I stopped being active, preferring to hide in my room, reading. For the first time in half of my life, I was happy.

My family life at the time was a bit hectic, and though I didn't realize it at the time, perhaps that contributed. My parents were rarely seen together, but it wasn't strange to me. My father was always in the bedroom, unless he was at work, and my mother was out with us. Back then, I adored my motorcycle-driving, rock-and-roll-listening, inconsistent father a lot. My mother, however, always seemed a bit too... Reliable, and strong. It was boring to me, then. My brother, eight years my elder, was the child of my dad and a girl he'd knocked up in late high school. He came over every other weekend and basically ignored me, when I wasn't annoying him. I loved him, of course, and he loved me, but we've always had trouble bonding. Time with my brother was awkward and forced, so we both avoided it. I do have good memories with him, but they all involve video games, Pokemon, or Yu-Gi-Oh, none of which require too much personal connection. My sister was cruel and vindictive, hiding my dolls and threatening to rip up my teddy bear, but nothing too horrible for an older sister. I'm told I wasn't particularly nice to her, either, and while I don't doubt it, I don't remember it, either. While I liked them all well enough, I always felt like they never paid much attention to me. There was always a disconnect between me and my family, and it always ate at me.

When my parents' distance grew even further, it began to affect me and my siblings. They did their best to hide it; arguing quietly at night, when they think we couldn't hear in our bedrooms a floor above, but between the deathly quiet old house and my siblings often sneaking down to hear better and talking about it in front of me, we all knew. I sank deeper into my books and super Nintendo and card games, ignoring human connection as best as I could. My depression came back with a vengeance, this time accompanied by anxiety, and I dealt with it by eating- a lot. This coupled with my decreasing activity, and I began to put on a lot of weight. I went from a tiny, pretty, shy blonde girl that everyone just avoided to a chubby, angry outcast that my classmates began to attack like sharks to bait. My opinion of human interaction in general sank even lower, and I began lashing back at my classmates, and they collectively painted me as a cruel bully that deserved to be treated like the pariah they'd pegged me as long ago. By the middle of fifth grade, my depression and apathy had grown so much that I couldn't be bothered to get out of bed, even to shower. I gained even more weight, my hair was almost brown from the grease, I stunk, and I became covered in acne. The bullying got so bad that I would often come home crying. My mother had no clue what to do, and the school just didn't care, because in their eyes, I was the one at fault. I was at my lowest... Or so I thought.

Close to the end of fifth grade, shortly before my eleventh birthday, my parents told us that they were getting divorced, and rumors started going around that my father had been cheating on my mother for a very long time. I lived in a small town, and everyone knew everyone... And I spiraled downwards even more. I began convincing myself that I was part of my favorite book series, that my parents weren't my real parents, and that I was a special kid with super powers that would, one day, bring me the adventure and excitement that I so craved.

Luckily, as if by the hand of God (in whom I do not actually believe) in sixth grade, my first year in middle school, everything was so, so much better- at least, at first. I'm afraid of what I would have become had things gone differently.

I met a girl who was kicked out at the very beginning of the school year, who would wander the city and the surroundings ones during school hours and meet up with me after class got out. Her name was Gwenne- really, it was just Gwen, but she insisted on spelling it differently. I didn't know it at the time- I didn't even know being gay was an actual thing- but I had the biggest crush on her ever. I may have been in love with her... But I don't have much to compare it to. I know, kind of, what she looks like- thick, jet black hair, bright blue eyes, skin so pale it almost shone white, despite the fact that she was a quarter black. It was a fact she was very proud of; in case you couldn't tell by the name thing, Gwenne had a particular obsession with being odd and unique, as did I. I can't picture her face anymore, though, something that saddens and infuriates and perplexes me. We were fast friends, despite her being a year and a grade older. We had the same taste in music- anything alternative, metal, or obscure; the same dreams- being special and unique and living a life filled with fantastical, awesome adventures, or at least as close to that as we could get; and the same interests, from geeky things like anime and video games, to more mature things, things we shouldn't have known about at eleven and twelve, much less have been so interested in. I let go of my strange fantasies and embraced the real world... A world with Gwenne. We made a profile online that we shared; a profile on a site that was, at the time, called Quizzaz, and later became Quotev. We made quizzes and stories about things like Naruto and Black Butler and anything else that we were interested in. She introduced me to her friend group- her childhood friends, siblings Kahlil and Rhea, boyfriends Carter and Ollie- or Ahllie, as he liked to spell it, and thus, I learned that being gay was a thing and started suspecting that maybe, just maybe, I was gay for Gwenne. Struggling with my sexuality in a posse of people older than me, all of whom intimidated and intrigued me, who I was desperate to impress, who all had some form of tragic backstory or trauma, I was often the one left feeling left out, though Gwenne did her absolute best to include me in everything, and the others definitely didn't purposefully exclude me. I just felt in over my head, like they were a million leagues ahead of me... And, looking back, I think they all felt that desperate, awkward need for approval as well. As for the tragic backstories... I really, really apologize if I shouldn't say this, but... Their stories and the fact that they were scarred were so important to the dynamic of our entire group that I feel the need to tell them to completely tell this story, though why I feel the need to tell the story is far and beyond me.

Kahlil and Rhea had an older brother who had been a part of a gang, who had been killed in it. Rhea hated even the thought of him, and Kahlil always clammed up whenever he was brought up, so I don't know the full backstory, but I do know that while it was very important to Kahlil to remember and revere his brother, chasing the dreams he'd always harbored before his passing, it was a necessity to Rhea's mental health that she never think about him. She always got so angry and sad and emotional... None of us ever brought him up.

Rhea, also, had a tendency to lie and start drama and feed off of it. It caused many a spat in our group, but everyone put up with it. When I asked Gwenne why, she just shrugged and said they 'got it'. I didn't understand, but I didn't probe. Of all of my friends, Rhea was the only one I was afraid of. She was always so... Volatile. While she never seemed too malicious, per say, I never could fully trust her. I always felt guilty for that, like I was distancing her from me, the same thing everyone had always done to me, the thing that hurt me so.

Carter, though it was never explicitly stated and only hinted at, slowly, through the course of our friendship, was sexually assaulted repeatedly by someone in his family, maybe multiple people.

Ahllie was an orphan in the custody of his alcoholic older sister, Kia, who had once dated Kahlil and Rhea's brother, which is how he knew them.

I started sexting with people online at the prompting of Gwenne, in the form of 'rping'. Eventually, we extended our account to the rest of our friend group, though really, only Rhea, Gwenne, and I used it. Eventually, I began dating someone online. His name was James, and I adored him. He was 15, and in a panicked, anxiety-stricken moment, I'd told him that I was, too, and Rhea convinced me to keep the truth to myself.

I began sneaking out at night to visit Gwenne. She lived with her mom, who was a stripper, and her stepdad, who was a mechanic and a tattoo artist, though I think they also sold drugs. As I would soon find out, they always had it all over the house. They were never home at night. Also living with Gwenne was her 'brother', who was really her cousin who her mother had taken in when he was a toddler, Jess. He was 17, at least six foot tall, with dark eyes and pale skin and dirty blonde hair. I had a crush on him, though I cared for my boyfriend and may have been in love with Gwenne. Feelings are very confusing to me, especially since, now, I tend to avoid being around other people much. He was funny, and charismatic, but had an air about him that was very... Terrifying. Whenever he urged me to do something, I quickly did it, partly due to my eagerness to please, partly due to his charm, and partly due to my small, unexplained fear of him. I wish I'd been more afraid of him.

My mother eventually found out about my online... Conversations. I was grounded, my electronics taken, and my only connection to the outside was sneaking out to see Gwenne, but now I had no way of telling her I was coming.

I walked in one night to find Jess stealing money, cigarettes, and weed from their parents' room. He convinced me not to tell, and convinced me and Gwenne to smoke weed with him- I say convinced, but Gwenne was very excited to, and I've never been one to deny anything a friend suggested, no matter how much I didn't want to do it. I'll admit, though... I did want to. I was nervous, and terrified, but I wanted to. Our nighttime rendezvous continued in the following months, through summer, and I would sometime see our other friends there- since I was grounded, I wasn't allowed to hang out with them any other time. I grew even closer to Gwenne, and even kind of bonded with Jess, who according to Kahlil, was always a little too fond of and flirty with me. Eventually, I was ungrounded, and I began talking to my boyfriend once more... But, as I found out no more than a few weeks after, he'd been cheating on me. Though we never acknowledged the fact that I left, to the best of my memory, we simply continued to talk like boyfriend and girlfriend, though when I confronted him, he said he'd thought I'd broken up with him. I forgave him and told him about my real age, which by now was 12, while he was still 15. We continued dating.

One day, in February, I went to Gwenne's house. No one was in the main room, which was both the living room and kitchen. No one was in the bathroom, or in their parents room. I went upstairs, and Jess' door was open. They were kissing on his bed, and I gasped. Jess saw me, and without thinking, I ran to her room. I couldn't leave without walking past the door once more, so I hid in the clean pile of clothes on her floor- Gwenne wasn't the biggest fan of cleaning- and practically hyperventilated, feeling nervous and terrified and grossed out. I didn't know what to do or what to think, so I lay there, listening for someone coming into the room. Eventually, someone did, the door closing. I peeked out and saw Gwenne... She saw how freaked out I was, and tried to tell me it was fine, she wanted it, it was okay... But I felt sick and grossed out. I fell asleep on her bed while she listened to music. She woke me up at three in the morning, and I left, disgusted the whole way home.

I didn't go back for a long time, blaming it on the cold, but I had no idea what to think of what I'd seen. When I did go back, it was close to the end of the school year. Every day, I wish I hadn't gone back.