I hated myself. I had little joy at home with a hardworking single mother and no friends. Being constantly picked on and bullied wore heavily on my soul. I was exhausted. I decided killing myself was the easiest solution, my best chance for peace.
But walking home sad-sacked and sullen that warm spring day, I somehow drew the attention of a kind-hearted passerby who stopped his car to ask me if I was OK. That moment of genuine kindness was enough to snap me out of my sorrow. I realized that someone — someone I had never met and would never see again — cared about me. That I mattered.
That afternoon, emboldened to live another day, I bought my very first X-Men comic book; Uncanny X-Men number 189. I had picked up a couple comics here and there as a boy, but none of them connected with me personally. Uncanny X-Men 189 changed that.
I had no idea who any of the characters were. I knew very little about about superheroes in general, or why these amazing women were fighting a dark-haired soul-eater named Selene. But I didn’t care. It was the first time I found myself lost in a story, the first time I found peace in my young, chaotic life.
I hungrily went back and devoured old issues to get caught up. And when my adolescence got tough, as it often did, even through high school, I turned to the comic book page for protection. The X-Men were always there, always welcoming, always an escape.
I’ve never stopped reading the X-Men comics since that day. And though comics might not have the same lifesaving, affirming power over me they once had, I still excitedly rush to my local comic book shop each and every Wednesday to pick up the newest X-issue. This week alone I picked up Amazing X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, X-Men, and Wolverine and the X-Men. I’ve seen and loved every X-movie (well nearly every X-movie — sorry ’bout it, X3) and I’m in full fan frenzy mode in anticipation for X-Men: Days of Future Past.
I’m turning 40 this year. I’m now married — I keep telling my husband each and every week that I’m going to cut back on my comic book buying habit, but I just can’t bring myself to do it — and I have an adorable 4-month-old daughter. I can’t wait to indoctrinate her all things X-Men — despite my husband’s protests.
And I still have that magical Uncanny X-Men issue 189. It’s seen better days. It’s been reread so many times it’s frayed and torn at the edges. But each creased and ripped page is a reflection of my personal struggle and how a simple thing like a comic book can so powerfully impact, and in many ways, save a life.
BRIAN ANDERSEN is an out and proud gay geek who lives in San Francisco with his husband, his beautiful daughter, their two fat cats, and far more issues of X-Men than their tiny apartment can hold. He also writes his own line of indie gay superhero comics, SoSuperDuper.
Anyone struggling with harassment, depression, self-harm, or thoughts of suicide should reach out to support networks like the Trevor Project, which offers a free, confidential 24-hour hotline for LGBT youth. The Trevor Lifeline is available at 1-866-488-7386. Others may want to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255 for free, confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.