You’ll forgive Josh Moore if he looks around his Kapiolani Community College classrooms today and feels a lifetime older than his Droid-tapping, Monster-slurping, Facebook-checking peers.
"I look at these young kids complaining about everything when they still live with Mom and Dad, and I think, ‘They have no idea,’" Moore says.
For Moore "the drama" began with his parents’ divorce while he was still a toddler and escalated through adolescence as he wrestled with his sexuality in a strict North Carolina household ruled by his father and stepmother.
"I always knew I was different, but I never shared that with anybody," he says. "In North Carolina in those days, being gay meant getting beat or dragged around or shot."
Moore was forced out of the closet when his parents found a stack of revealing letters. They called him a freak, a failure, a disappointment. He was 17.
Moore bounced between friends and relatives until he was finally able to head off on his own to Denver and the AmeriCorps program to which he had been accepted.
Adrift with newfound freedom, Moore says, he fell in with a few sketchy acquaintances, got into legal trouble and was dropped from the program. He spent the next four years in a worsening depression, blindly fulfilling his parents’ prophesy of failure. He struggled for food and money and shelter, even did a stint in jail for theft.
"I was in a survival mindset," he says. "I’m not proud of what I did, but I was thinking day by day, hour by hour. I never thought about the future. I was in hell."
Desperate for a way out, Moore followed the example of his beloved grandfather and enlisted in the Navy.
In the military, Moore says, he found the discipline and focus he had craved, and he thrived with the knowledge that his actions had consequences.
As always, Moore kept his sexuality to himself. The Navy didn’t ask. He didn’t tell. And yet, after a year and a half of service, the whispers around him grew loud enough that he found himself honorably discharged for reasons he still finds questionable.
Still, the honorable discharge meant that Moore was eligible for educational benefits under the GI Bill. For the first time in his life, Moore felt that he had caught a break.
Moore — who grew up watching chefs Justin Wilson and Julia Child on TV and who served as a cook in the Navy — is now in his second year of training to become a culinary and pastry chef at KCC, where he holds a 3.66 GPA and is enrolled in the honors program.
"There were times when I wanted to just lay down and die, but I always felt that there was something better for me out there," Moore says. "No matter how hard things are, if you keep your focus and keep trying, it will get better."
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.