Betty Duffy

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Getting back to this idea of my childhood not being very normal…

One tends to think of their own experience as being the norm and everyone else around them being the anomaly. When I was in third grade, a new housing addition went in a mile down the road. These houses had at least four bedrooms, many bathrooms and always, a large bonus room over the garage. Many of my friends from high school lived in these houses, and so I knew from experience that they were also immaculate on the inside. And they didn’t keep books. Their bookcases were decorated with silk ivy plants and ceramics rather than dusty books and butterfly collections. That was not normal.

The more I think about my youth and adolescence, and even my adulthood, the more I realize that I may have been the alien all this time and everyone else is probably just fine. In high school, I fit in with just about everyone, but I felt at ease around no one. To begin, we were about the only Catholics in town, but I could blend in by not talking about that. I was a cheerleader and in the popular crowd, but I never learned how to make use of those buzzwords and intonations the popular kids used to communicate with one another (is this a small town thing?).

I dated skateboarders which made me the only cheerleader who preferred Fugazi to Debbie Gibson. But even with the skater boys, I was a wannabe. They lived in an apartment complex and had parents who were never around. I wanted my parents to divorce and move us all into an apartment complex too so that I could have good reason to be depressed and bitter. My happy home life did not prevent me from writing many death poems, however, and wearing the black clothes—at least when I wasn’t in that cheerleading uniform.

Starting in college and continuing into adulthood, I have felt removed from the groups I belong to by my conservatism and Catholicity. I am drawn to artistic people. I still love those personalities you find on the fringes, and if I could just get comfortable with the idea that being on the fringes means you really are an alien and not meant to fit in, even with the fringe people, then maybe I wouldn’t always be longing to go home, back to “my people,” or more specifically, my family (both the family I’ve created with my husband, and my family of origin).

We don’t want to be aliens, do we? We want to belong somewhere, and if for whatever reason, our upbringing has made us unfit for the world, all we want is to go home. I suppose on the bright side, with only one or two exceptions, my other family members seem to share the feeling. Even though we are spread out across the country, we gravitate towards each other as often as possible (notice comments in previous posts). And my husband’s family is no different. I at times feel like a loser because our primary social life revolves around our siblings and our parents, but I suppose we are lucky to have family members that we actually like and want to be around.

(You guys do like me don't you? Don't tell me I'm adopted, because Mom said I'm not.)


John said...

In 4th grade, Mr. Farmer went around the room and had the children say what their favorite bands and songs were. While the other little children gave acceptable answers like Marky Mark, New Kids on the Block, or Paula Abdul or something, the big goofy kid with buck teeth, probably wearing his Garfield "I live for weekends!" T-shirt, came out of nowhere, and said his favorite band was the Cure and favorite song was "Lola"--things overheard in the company of his sisters, no doubt. That it was a group full of, and a song about, transvestites was beyond him, but the worldly Mr. Farmer surely knew. Anyway, it was kind of weird.

The only possibly weirder kid was the hick who said her favorite was Trisha Yearwood (really, who admitted that they liked country back then?).

So even though I may have had the best chance at seeming normal since I was mostly reared in secularity and after Mom and Dad had already spent most of their parental zeal, I like to think that it was my siblings' influence that kept me from it.

Betty Duffy said...

Sorry John, we had nothing to do with your choice to live large in hot pink tube socks. Licking any of the friends I managed to lure over, was also, all you. I made the decision to dress you in leotards and call you Rebecca for the first three or four years of your life, but you were game. Actually, John, it was totally appropriate for you to like The Kinks. The only really unknown in your history is how you managed to come out of it a heterosexual.

You should turn yourself in for gender identity research. There might be a few dollars to be earned.

trish bailey said...

Mmm... try growing up without a television and being the only kid in 6th grade who has no idea about the shows that everyone is talking about. ;o) But I don't regret it at all. I think these experiences of being "different" are a gift that can open us up to experience something more than the mainstream... or at least, to yearn for something more.

Emily said...

John's resilience is proven by his turning out okay, although your contributions to his formation may have made him a little metrosexual. You also seem to be pretty normal despite the fact that your older brother and sister pointed out your faults regularly. But maybe that's why you always feel like a wannabe.

Emily said...

The really amazing thing is that John grew into his teeth and looked a little bit like Ben Affleck.

Elizabeth said...

interesting. i was the weird-o alien girl in school. i don´t know how i ended up with friends, i think because they all loved the idea of having a strange arty girl for a friend? anyway, i abandonded all of them and my family too. i just couldn´t make a place for myself there without someone saying; you should cut your hair this way, the food you eat is strange, your music is too much, why do you read so infintum was the criticism i lived through. i wish i had a greater affinty for my parents and siblings, that is a great gift and i like you because we are both funny and odd in different ways and that is just groovy!