“Bring on The Monsters”: Reflections on Turning 25

For the last few weeks–okay, months–I’ve been pretty consumed with a musical. And no, it isn’t Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen, even though, admittedly, I did go through “brief” periods of intense immersion into both shows. It’s The Lightning Thief, based on the Rick Riordan middle grade novel of the same name, that tells the tale of 12 year old demigod Percy Jackson and his quest to retrieve Zeus’ lightning bolt. You can check out the show here and here; and, good news–it’s going on tour in 2018!

Still, to be fair, I’ve been a fan of Percy Jackson, and Rick Riordan’s books, for a long time now. So it’s not really surprising that I have become LT Musical trash. It’s an extension of the PJO trash I already am. (See the Urban Dictionary definition of trash).

But what surprises me about this show is its juxtaposition of family-oriented fun with deep, not-always-so-family-oriented themes. “The Tree on the Hill” is a great example of this. However, the last two songs in the show–”The Last Day of Summer” and “Bring on The Monsters”–are perhaps the most adept at getting to the heart of Riordan’s work, which asks its audience to reconsider what it asks of a hero, specifically a child hero, in the archetypal hero’s quest.

I mean, would you entrust a twelve year old kid to save all of existence? And if you were that kid, how would you feel about saving a world, people, and immortal beings who really don’t care about you that much?

In the “Last Day of Summer”, Percy sings:

What do you do when the quest has ended?

What do you do when the battle’s won?

So many questions left unanswered

So many things still left undone

What do you do

When it’s up to you to choose:

Has something ended or begun?

Stay or go? Pick one

Where do you go when it’s over?

What do you do when you’ve come to

The last day of summer?

I don’t think I would’ve asked those questions at age 12, but in the LT Musical, Percy does. And now, at 25, so am I. Where do you go when it’s over? What do you do when you’ve come to the last day of summer?

In reflecting on turning 25, I have to talk about this past summer, and how, for a while, every sunny day felt like the last day of summer–a soft sadness that cast a pall on my new endeavors and made me question my painfully rebuilt sense of self.

As many of you know, my two years in Kansas were extremely difficult for me. For most of my time there, I was depressed and just not healthy physically, mentally, or otherwise. But in the Spring of 2017, I began to find myself again. I did it with the help of friends in Kansas (Erin Poppe, Trent McGee, Marissa Germann, Emily Gliserman, and Jordan Sutton) and friends from home and/or IU (Keely Doyle, Jennifer Smith, and Mike Horky, especially), and of course, my family. Twitter was also important for me in getting back to my “usual self,” as I previously wrote about here.  Before long, I was looking forward to the prospect of graduation and vacationing in “the Happiest Place on Earth” with my little brother.

And so, as graduation drew nearer, and my long-awaited trip ceased to become just a dream, I found myself thinking: so this is how it feels to be happy again. My return to a decent level of happiness was followed by a return to an acceptable level of healthiness, in large part to rest, relaxation, and a greater variation in my diet. Apparently, pizza doesn’t contain all the health benefits of the entire Food Pyramid…who knew?

Yet, I wasn’t really healthy, and I’m still not. In June, I was officially diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

The diagnosis explained some of the gory symptoms I’d been having over the past year and a half, and the not so gory symptoms–like constant fatigue–that still remained even after I returned home. Initially, there was comfort in knowing what was “wrong” with me. But as the summer wore on, and our government repeatedly tried to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, whatever comfort I had in this diagnosis vanished, leaving only fear and a sense of destabilization in my carefully reconstructed self behind.

I described this ordeal earlier as creating “a soft sadness” that colored all the positive things I had going for me: I was returning to IU, I had found a place to live, I had even gotten a part-time job at my old residence hall. Maybe that description is inaccurate, because I wasn’t really sad, even though, it sure felt like it. I was confused. Confused as to how this chronic illness fit in with my Cerebral Palsy; confused as to what it meant in long-term medical costs; and yes, a little confused as to what it meant when it came to romantic relationships. And perhaps confused is even the wrong word to use here, as what this boiled down to was the fact that I found it difficult, if not impossible, to reframe my identity to include Crohn’s.

Because disability has always been a part of my life, this diagnosis felt alien and all-encompassing to me. I kept asking myself questions like, “Will I now primarily identify as chronically ill?”, “Will I have to?”, and, “How will I afford my body in the future?”  

What do you do when it’s over? What do you do when you’ve come to the last day of summer?

These questions are important because I have spent the majority of the last three years cultivating my sense of self with regard to my status as a disabled man. I have spent that time also cultivating my sense of self with regard to my status as a bisexual man. In Kansas, I saw both of those identities questioned and ostracized at various points.

I am still spending my time rebuilding those parts of myself post-Kansas. This task was not made easier by my Crohn’s diagnosis.

I’ll admit that I felt scared for my future for the first time in my life.

But as time has passed, and I am reflecting on a another year gone by, I recognize that Crohn’s isn’t all encompassing. I’m still disabled–just another, additional, category of disabled. And like Cerebral Palsy before it, Crohn’s hasn’t stopped me from living my life. Sure, I‘ve had to make some changes in my lifestyle, like drinking way more water and cutting back on pizza (that one was hard), but I still get to go out and hang with friends, attend concerts, and Netflix “The West Wing” for the fourth time.

The real, oppressive, barriers that will inevitably occur will be societal and social ones. I cannot discount the very tangible fears I have about my health going forward, as I come off my parent’s health insurance next year and enter a society that, truthfully, hates sick people. And I don’t have the power to change people’s minds about dating disabled or chronically ill folk.

But this thought brings me back to Percy Jackson and the LT Musical. “Bring on the Monsters,” the last song of the show, is an ode to realizing that life is going to be tough, but that we must rise up to meet it. The chorus of the song goes like this:

Bring on the monsters

Bring on the monsters

Bring on the real world

Bring on the monsters

Bring on the monsters

Bring on the real world

It is worth noting that what the kids are singing here gets at a really adult theme through the comparison of “monsters” to “the real world”: both are seen as equally dangerous, and as equally necessary to fight back against. In the last refrain of the song, in which Percy repeatedly communicates the fact that he is, in fact, leaving Camp Half-Blood for the “real world”, he even states that, “I’ll be back next summer/ You’ll see me again/ I’ll be back next summer/ I’ll survive till then”.  He actively chooses to reenter the “real world” even though it is just as dangerous, if not more, than the mythical world of monsters and gods that he becomes an integral part of.

It is in this same vein that I’m viewing turning 25. I say, “Bring on the monsters/ Bring on the real world”. These days, it is very hard to tell them apart.

Crohn’s will be a monster. The government will be a monster. Relationships will be a monster. But bring them on.

23, and 24, were very trying years. 25 will be no different, I am sure, but I am finally ready to stay vigilant and work to make 25 a great year not only for me, but also for those who have supported me throughout my life; and, more importantly, for those who continue to get left behind by society and culture.

Before signing off, I do want to state that I had some great moments as a 24 year old. I saw Hamilton, not once, but twice. I went to Disney with my brother. I taught a collegiate class and I graduated with my Master’s degree. I got accepted into a PhD program. I learned to cook chicken cutlets. I started work on a novel. I made new friends–online and IRL–and explored new parts of myself. I allowed my parents to engage with me more fully about the issues I care about.

I may have been scared and unprepared to take on monsters, and the real world, at 24.

I can guarantee you that will change, starting today.