In the process of selling my house, packing my house, and moving me and my dog from Alabama to New York, I unearthed this gem of a photograph.
This is me at about four years old. Why do I share this?
The story I’ve told myself for most of my life is that I am wholly, chronically, and completely unlovable. Why would anyone give a damn? Why would I try and reach out to people?
Who could love me?
Why this picture? And not just for the “omg look at the cute kid” picture either. Although, I was pretty stinkin’ cute once upon a time.
I was a really shy kid. I mean, I can be a pretty shy grown up too. But I was painfully shy as a kid. I seem to remember being tested for autism at one point.
One thing I knew for certain was that I had an abundance of love. People loved me and I loved everybody.
The year this picture was taken was probably the last year of my real innocence. The following year my grandmother unexpectedly passed away from massive stroke. The year after that, my aunt and uncle were taken out by a drunk driver. All that family drama took my family into a tailspin and I wasn’t really able to have a childhood after that.
The question begs to be asked: Why am I bringing this up? Why do I dig into this painful part of my life?
I had a pointed question posed to me recently. That question was “what’s it going to take to help you to see outside of this and fall in love with it?” The “this” in question is the story of me being chronically unlovable.
I argued that it wasn’t fiction, but she asked me to look further.
I’m sitting there pondering all the missteps and mistakes of my past. The time when the cute cheerleader invited me to sit at the cool kids’ table only to have them all abandon me in a matter of days. The time when I interviewed the star football player for the school paper only to be made fun of the entire time. The time when I was on the air doing play by play for a high school basketball game when one of the junior varsity players was throwing orange seeds on me and making fun of me about it. The time when I was called every name under the sun for having a large head and being heavy.
And yes, I get how most of those were around high school and shortly after. There were some in grade school as well. I mean, the kid with the rat tail hair who had the temerity to call me that precious “R” word. And the word wasn’t Ryan…you feel me?
When you have so much turmoil in your school life and in your family life, it’s little wonder I became insular.
I could only trust myself!
Getting back to my question, what’s it going to take to get 40-year-old Ryan to look outside of the story of Ryan being unlovable?
The other part of her question was about falling in love with the story instead of hating it.
That’s the tricky part. Why wouldn’t I hate the bad guy in a movie? Why wouldn’t I hate the Ultimate Warrior after he wished for Hulk Hogan’s plane to crash? Why wouldn’t I hate Darth Vader when I wanted Luke Skywalker to defeat him?
Hang on…hang on…I’m seeing a pattern here. Pro wrestling…predetermined. Star Wars…fiction.
Okay, I get it.
Quit looking at me like that.
Whenever I look at people who want something to do with me – including the lady friend I mentioned last week – I question it. What’s the setup? What’s the punchline? Why are you setting me up to fail? Why are you setting me up just to break my heart? What’s the point in the bait and switch?
And that’s the part I hate. I hate that I have invited some really crappy people into Team Ryan. I hate that I have trusted people who’ve hurt me. And I’m protecting my heart like a territorial pit bull.
The question begs itself, what about that little guy sitting on top of the pile of peanuts? Did he hate this part of himself?
Here’s the thing: four-year-old Ryan and 40-year-old Ryan are the same person. My body is bigger. My soul is wiser. My mind is fuller. My hair is darker…mostly. There is a good deal of salt in my pepper.
The kid sitting atop the pile of peanuts and the man writing this article are the same person.
“What’ll it take to get you to see outside of that story and to fall in love with it?”
When I think of that little guy in the adorable overalls and oversized cap, I think of the shy, wise beyond his years, hilarious, goofy, and sweet little boy who had yet to be hurt.
What it’s going to take is this: it’s going to take hanging out with that little guy again.
I get that I’m 40 and that I need to adult. I get it.
But what’s keeping me from taking my dog to a dog park and watching him run around like a fool? What’s keeping me from getting out my Wii U and playing the games of my childhood? I mean, I’ve got to see if I can beat Punch-Out one more time!
What’s keeping me from being fun and play? What’s keeping me from being that little guy?
Look, I’ve got family and friends back in Alabama who miss me terribly and who love me deeply. I’ve got friends and teammates here in the Northeast who would love to see me set the world on fire just to watch it burn.
To a person, they all want the best for me.
Because they all see me for the shy, wise beyond my years, hilarious, goofy, and sweet man that I am.
In other words, the same person who was sitting on top of all those peanuts.
As always, I’d love to work with you. Shoot me an email at [email protected] or hit me up at twitter.com/ryanhallwrites.
I understand that this article may land like the oldest hack psychologist trick in the book – fall in love with your inner child. And keep in mind, I’m no psychologist. But it’s simple human nature.
Fall in love with who you were as a little human and I guarantee you’ll fall in love with who you are as a big human.
Photo by Nicole Yeary