Only a few days after my 23rd birthday, I auditioned to be included within the digital pages of the debut issue of modeling magazine M4.
I grew up ugly. A widow’s peak, a cowlick, crooked and yellow teeth, blemished skin, skinner than masculine, and too shy to rise above it all. With a lisp and self-esteem swinging delicately from an unstable string, I tip-toed into a world that would deem me unpopular before a word could escape my speech impediment mouth. So, I remained quiet – always thinking and evaluating – observing, and sitting dozens of feet from the children who had friends. I hated them all and envied them at the same time. The lunch hour is uncommonly cruel to children without friends. You (me) sit at a long table, obviously alone and ostracized, while several dozen others sit elsewhere - exchanging stories, laughing, and becoming young adults as they improve their social skills – while those like me wither, slowly – shrinking into obscurity.
Vampirism may have saved my life. 9 days after swallowing 15,000 mg of Tylenol (Acetaminophen) Extra Strength coated tablets and being disappointed after waking up the following morning, I attended a party. A popular acquaintance, who took pity on me, invited me to a late-night Saturday get-together. I was able to attend because I outright lied to my parents. I was joining friends from church that evening for an overnight spiritual revival. My parents agreed, my popular acquaintance picked me up (his semi-mohawk not giving him away), and we headed to the event that would change everything. Butterflies fight to exist. The entire caterpillar becomes butterfly thing is a very complicated, messy transition. The change requires the body to liquify and become a physical being very different from the previous existence. It’s violent – it’s traumatizing – and it transforms a common caterpillar into a magnificent and beautiful butterfly. Skin, bones, and thoughts melt to solidify into something new.
Her name was Aricelli. She was kind of attractive, probably one or two years older than me, and she dressed like she was ready to attend a gothic ball. Eight of us sat around an oblong dining room table and we talked about blood. Specifically, about drinking it. I quickly learned Aricelli was a “donor” – a willing participant in the transfer of blood from her wrist to a willing receiver’s mouth. I was unpopular – so I said “yes” before being asked.
Aricelli brought out what I knew to be a Boy Scout knife and she sloppily cut her wrist – just enough for the blood to leave her body, barely. My mouth covered her wound and those at the table sat quietly. Moments later I released my mouth and looked at those seated at the table. Something magical and unexpected happened. My new “friends” looked at me differently than they had previously. We talked all night – an amazing multi-topic conversation until the sun rose. I was part of the conversation – and it was a lot of fun. Never before did people my age pay attention to me – and they were paying attention. This was the first weekend of many within the coming months and years that cemented friendships that continue today. As a teenager, I wasn’t handsome or in any way good-looking – but I had friends – good friends – and, to me, that was all that mattered.
I grew up ugly – and – here I was, a 23-year-old male, auditioning to be included within a modeling magazine. The audacity!
A very average-looking, middle-aged, guy walked into his own living room - me sitting on a couch that begged to be replaced with a newer model – and called me by name. “Hi”, I said, before following him into the back room.
He wasn’t what I had expected – he was shy, welcoming, and polite. I immediately trusted him. I removed my clothing, as instructed, and the interview and audition began.
I survived it. The ugly boy walked out of this man’s house with a smile. He wanted nothing from me, but my photographs and my conversation – though I was prepared to offer so much more. I could feel my caterpillar form melting and dissolving into shapeless goo. To arrive and be presented as a butterfly. That afternoon, I metamorphosed into something different than I had been before. I was confident in being me for the first time in my life. And it felt good.
My photographs landed on pages 11 – 15 of the debut issue of M4. I met the photographer and the other 9 gentlemen featured in the magazine at an after-hours party two days before the publication launched. We drank too much, bonded as brothers, and celebrated our good fortune. After everything I had gone through – I was a model – and getting paid for it. Even the most optimistic stars, in the outer-most places throughout the galaxy, wouldn’t have predicted this happening. I, dressed in my first tailored suit, sat in the VIP room - reserved for only the finest clients - within a fancy and exclusive club. Me. The ugly boy without any friends. Surrounded by admirers.
A couple months after my 23rd birthday I received a copy of the issue. There I was, my images on the digital pages before me. The magazine turned out well and I would later learn the issue was profitable. Upon seeing the results, I audibly exhaled. “I am no longer ugly”, I said out loud.
And, perhaps, I never was.