Sunday, February 17, 2008

What exactly is normal, anyway?

I grew up in a very odd family, so I never had any misconception that I was normal. We had neighbors who were fairly normal, although their youngest son was born with all kinds of birth defects due to his mom having had German measles when he was a baby. They were God-fearing Christians, which is what all normal people were in my hometown. The dad worked, the mom stayed at home and kept the house clean and all of them very well fed (the parents were rather overweight, although both boys were fairly slim -- it was the daughter who gained the weight, as usual). The dad had a workshop and was always fixing something or renovating something. They sang hymns at their organ, prayed before meals, and got a spanking if they misbehaved. We lived in a dirty house, were Unitarian, and were never punished for anything. Also, our place was definitely not being kept up and my dad's main hobby was reading. I always felt like they were the normal family, and we were the freaks. This was confirmed for me when I started school in the first grade (my mom had created her own Montessori Pre-K/Kindergarten for me just so I could start a year earlier than Kindergarten).

In the first grade, I discovered that most of my classmates had been saved (which I still don't quite understand but it has something to do with telling your church you believe Christ is your personal savior). Also, I was about the only girl who never wore dresses (I had refused once because I felt a bit vulnerable without pants on, and my mother never tried to get me into a dress again), the only white girl with short hair (there were only like two other white girls in the class, all the rest were African American), the only one who had a mom over 30 (they used to ask me if she was my granny, since she was probably the same age as most of theirs). I was one of two or three who started out already knowing how to read and write, but that wasn't really an issue. My clothes, bought in the boy's department at JC Penney or sometimes hand made by my mother (which got me picked on), were more of an issue, as was my lack of wearing underwear (my mom never wore it so she never thought to buy it for us kids).

Then, when I was 10 or 11, my father, who had started to drink and have rages, quit working because his pain disorder, which was at the time undiagnosed but later would be known to be fibrocitis or fibromyalgia, was preventing him from doing his job. He really got a lot worse after that, what with drinking more and more vodka (the doctor he was seeing actually suggested he start drinking to help with the pain, since the pain medications that he'd tried didn't help). We were on food stamps for awhile because we no longer had much of an income what with my mom having been a stay at home mom for 18 years at that point. She applied for benefits, and got us on Social Security Disability with a lot of fighting, I'm sure.

That just set us apart more. A drunk, disabled dad and a mom who was going back to school to try to start supporting the family is not something most people experience. I used to lie (my mom started it actually) and tell people my dad was still a professor when in fact he spent most of his time lying around drunk or walking to the liquor store (my mom refused to buy it and wouldn't let him drive anymore). I had already been picked on for my clothes, and how incredibly messy our home was (especially my room -- at one point it was like three feet deep in old toys and clothes, with just a path to the bed), now there was no way I could have anyone over, risking that they see my dad, who usually wore nothing but a pair of boxer shorts and a blue bathrobe (which he often neglected to tie shut), staggering around or falling down and thrashing around in all the empty vodka bottles.

So I had no real friends. Sure, my mother got me into a special gifted program that allowed me to switch elementary schools. I was still the same weird kid, even among some nerds who were definitely not as weird as I was. Anyway, not long after, a couple of kids from my old school came too, and told about the time one of our classmates had come home with me and seen my house and described it to everyone). There were several charitable good Christian girls who took pity on me, particularly one named Lee, who always included me in her sleepovers and such, which made me feel a bit better, but I was never myself around those kids. I knew if any of these kids got to know who I was, they would not like me, and would again pick on me. I could never have a party or sleepover at my place, so I was always the guest, and I think they knew something must be wrong. So they always kept their distance, too.

Fast forward a few years to tenth grade. I went on a diet of some sort, lost a few pounds, and started seeking out boys. I had been attracted to this one boy, Steve Nation, but I was not really his type -- he preferred smaller girls with dark hair (I had light brown hair and was always one of the tallest girls in my class). He had a friend, Manuel, who I thought was cute, too, but he never asked me out. Then, we had a square dancing segment in our gym class, and my square dancing partner, another Steve (not the same one), asked me out. He said something about taking me to a video game place, which I'd only been to like once before (this was long before XBox or even Nintendo, so going to an arcade was really the only way to play video games). So I said yes, even though I didn't find him in the least bit attractive.

On our "date" if you could call it that, instead of taking me to the arcade he drove out to this undeveloped, woodsy part of town (it's probably underneath a mall now), and took my virginity. I didn't really enjoy it, but thought it was cool anyway since I thought all the cool kids were having sex (some of them were but not as many as I thought then, I'm sure). The next day, I told all kinds of people about it, which alienated me from the charitable Christian girls even more, and made Steve pretty mad too (but he had already totally ignored me in front of the school before I'd ever said anything to anyone). Now I was not only weird, I was also a slut to boot! Boy, what mess!

Later, during the summer, I was involved in even more crazy stuff, including having a sexual experience with a boy (younger than me by at least a couple of years) my best friend had just lost her virginity to, being "gang banged" while so drunk that I blacked out everything (and later puked all over the place), being used sexually by the boarding boys at a prominent boys' school nearby, and being escorted home by the police in the middle of the night. Definitely not an Honor Roll student sort of thing, even though I was on the honor roll. I would have been the valedictorian of my high school by the way had they not fudged the numbers, and even then I still got to be the salutatorian (I wish I'd made a speech condemning the whole system, but at the time I thought they were just trying to be fair to the other kids, since most of my grades were from another school where Advanced Placement classes gave you 5 points for an A and 4 points for a B).

Oh, about that best friend. I met Stacy at my church, the UU church (which is kind of a liberal, Protestant, intellectual church), and we started hanging out not long before I lot my virginity. I first spent the night at her house when I got dumped by a boy who lived near her, and we spent almost the whole summer that year together, usually at her house or out in some boy's place or in the back of a car or whatever. She accepted me. For the first time in my life, I felt a connection to someone who liked me just the way I was. It was amazing. I still am amazed, really, because I still have all that self-doubt and self-hatred buried inside me, and I still have a really really hard time believing anyone can really like me. But I am so glad I finally found a friend. All those years, 15, with no friends, were so hard, then you, Stacy, came along and showed me that I could be me without worrying about whether people were going to hate me or not. Thank you.
But I still don't know what normal means, unless it means not having a personality. It seems like everyone I meet who I get to know has some oddness in them. Do I attract them or is everyone a little weird?