In June 2007, the last month of my freshman year, I asked my Mom to buy me four tickets to Mika’s concert at Studio A, a Miami nightclub that closed down a few years later. She battled an addiction to pain medication at the time; she ordered fifteen tickets. My fifteen friends and I arrived two hours before doors opened because we wanted to stand in the front row. (Every concert is an event when you’re fourteen, even concerts starring hairy British one-hit-wonders.) Later we would regret this decision. Studio A hosted a rave the night before; the club’s janitor forgot to clean the vomit and glass that covered the dance floor. Doors opened three hours late, leaving us thirsty and bored for five hours.
My friends—whoever they were at the time—spent these five hours harassing the bouncer for water and snapping photographs. When I signed up for Facebook the next week, I chose one such photo as my profile picture. I’m unsure what the girls standing next to me aimed for as they smiled, pouted, and/or gasped for the camera, but I do know I strived to appear confident—fierce. As a freshman, I starred in the school play, came out, spent weekends at seniors’ sleepovers, and devised a hallway strut that became infamous. (I still walk the same way.) When they were friendly, my alleged friends credited my popularity to my “big personality.” When they were being honest, they blamed my “narcissism.” The girl to my right called me an attention whore behind my back; the girl to my right called me a faggot. I assume they envied my ability to “be me,” but they misinterpreted the motives behind my strut.
For three years I had battled obsessive-compulsive-disorder, depression, and occasional hallucinations. My mother breastfed me till I was five or six. Memories of her nipples didn’t collide well with my teenage year’s burgeoning sexuality and genetic mental illness—I viewed myself as a sexual deviant, someone undeserving of anything but score. In private I tried to convince myself I was worthy. I washed my hands, sometimes till they bled, to eliminate germs crawling on my skin. I prayed and saw a hypnotist. Nothing worked, but when I left the house I acted like a popular kid. At the concert that night, I danced along to the opening act, a pre-famous Sarah Bareilles, as the other audience members gossiped and texted friends.
“Sarah B! Sarah B!” I screamed.
Sarah B. laughed. “What’s your name?” she asked me.
“Sparkle!” I said.
“The next song goes out to Sparkle.” She dedicated “Love Song” to me.
Eventually I became Sparkle. I saw a counselor; the hand washing sessions and hallucinations ended, filling my confident shell with actual confidence. I remember how awful I felt—bloody hands leave stains—but when I think about high school, as I drive or walk around town, I mostly remember dancing and drinking, cruising in cars and making jokes. I need my internet history to remind me how I became Sparkle.
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image via Mitchell Sunderland’s Facebook