Friday, October 24, 2008

I Haven't Always Been This Creepy...No, Wait...I'm Remembering Someone Else

I got an email this morning from a girl I knew in school and haven't seen for years. She caved under the weight of my shameless self-promotion and visited this site. And said some very nice about my writing and my sparkling personality. Or maybe just that first part. In fact, I've heard a few echoes of my past recently and they've started me thinking (always a dangerous activity) about the people I knew growing up and the relationships that came and went in those (mostly dreadful) years.

When I was a kid, I had to try really hard to be "normal", whatever that is. I had this tendency to say or do things that I thought were acceptable and/or funny but that other people considered weird. At least that's how I interpreted their facial expressions. And their lack of wanting to be my friend. Oh, and the laughing. Yes, I was a pretty strange child. My bizarre family life didn't improve matters. There were the early years when my sister and I were left to raise ourselves while our mother "grew up". Then in the later years, we were tightly constricted within a fundamentalist religion and even the most minute details of our life were controlled by the structure of those fanatical beliefs.

My best friend through most of elementary school left me for another girl in the 5th grade. I don't blame her much. The other girl had a purse and would let my friend play with it at recess. Who can resist that? Even I was jealous of the purse. That it was filled with lip gloss and candy, I have no doubt. Had I known of the purse sooner, I might have one-upped my friend and traded her in for the purse girl. It broke my heart at the time though. I didn't have a lot of other friends, and the ones I did have were slowly backing away from me and fumbling for the doorknob.

I mentioned that my sister and I had to fend for ourselves in the early years. This extended to doing the laundry. I remember one morning before school, I realized I hadn't done laundry and therefore had nothing to wear. (This was before I was comfortable walking around naked.) I was running late for the bus, so I crawled around on the floor of my closet and found a sweater, threw it on, and rushed off to school. Once on the bus, I realized that my cat must have been using my closet as a litter box. My sweater smelled like cat piss.

You know that feeling you get in your stomach when you just realize you've done something humiliating - like that your dress has been tucked into your pantyhose and you've been walking around all day with your ass hanging out? That's the feeling that socked me in the stomach as I sat on the bus that morning. There was absolutely nothing I could do about the smell. It's not like I could drive home and change my clothes - hell, I didn't even have other clothes that were clean! Why didn't I smell the sweater before I put it on? That's a question I've asked myself for over a decade. But I didn't smell the sweater, so now I had to go to school and face everyone there. And pretend like I didn't know where that terrible smell was coming from. Which didn't work out. Someone was kind enough to point out exactly where the smell was coming from. Hard to live something like that down.

There was the time in middle school when I was invited to my first boy-girl party. I was nervous because I didn't get invited to parties very often. Which is unfortunate because it meant I never got to showcase my social ineptitude in a casual setting. But this time, I WAS invited to the party and it was at the house of a popular boy. (I can't remember his name now, isn't that ironic?) At some point during the party, we all set off to walk around the neighborhood - I think it was an excuse for some folks to hold hands or something. I recall that the boys were up to no good -one of them had a BB gun. As we walked around on the dark roads, BB gun boy saw a stray cat wandering around and decided he was going to shoot it. I had a big problem with that. I'm totally down with eating meat and kicking dogs, but shooting innocent cats for sport? Not so much. I picked up the cat and held it so it wouldn't be a target, which was pretty ballsy considering my social status. I was expecting the other kids to heckle him into shooting me AND the cat. But they didn't. Instead, they heckled me for the rest of the walk and the rest of the night and right up until the day I graduated high school and got the hell out of town. I was the cat-lover. (I just realized the reason I don't like cats might stem from these cat-related childhood events. Huh. Interesting.)

As I got older, I tried more desperately than ever to fit in. Money and status were big things in my little town, thanks to the influx of wealthy executives working for one particular retailing monolith in the area. All the kids of those executives came to school wearing designer clothes. It was hard to compete with that. I didn't always get new school clothes every year, and most of my wardrobe consisted of hand-me-downs from people at church. I decided that the only way to bridge the economic gap was to become a cheerleader. I wasn't particularly interested in the cheering as a sport. It was mostly a desperate attempt to be liked and fit in. I worked my ass off and practiced and learned whatever I could about cheerleading. On the day of the tryouts, I ignored nasty looks from the Jr High girls (apparently my reputation preceded me, thanks to the kids my age that were cool enough to have friends in Jr High) and did a good enough job on the routine to make the team. I was freaking ecstatic, picturing an end to the ridicule and friend-famine.

Reality set in the next year, however. I realized that being a cheerleader was not going to solve my problems. It just amplified the isolation. How often do you see one lone cheerleader hanging around by herself while the others talk and laugh? Not so much. There was one incident which brought that point home in a big way. After practice, I was sitting up in the bleachers waiting for the bell to ring. Two of the girls on my team (that I'd known since kindergarten, no less) were sitting in front of me. One pulled out a brush and used it, then handed it to the other girl who used it as well. Having forgotten my brush that day, I leaned forward and asked if I could please borrow the brush. The girl looked me in the face and told me she didn't have one. I don't know if she didn't realize I had just seen her using it, or if that was the whole point. She might as well have just smacked me across the face.

In high school I became really involved in choir (yes, total choir nerd, one rung up the social ladder from band geek, those fucking losers) and found a relatively stable community of friends that way. And further ostracised myself from the cool kids. But by that point I was just exhausted from the effort. So I quit trying. I wrote really depressing poetry. I started smoking. I went on and off of Jesus. I clung to the first guy who asked me out on a date. I daydreamed about what my life would be like as an adult. I experimented with eating disorders. I cut. I sang. Mostly, I just muddled through like every other person who has ever grown up unhappily.

The worst part of looking back on my years in school is realizing that I must have treated other kids just as badly as I was treated. Probably worse. Why don't I remember those stories, I wonder? Some kind of kill or be killed mentality caused me to dismiss my own actions? Who knows. If there's a moral to this story, it's that school sucked and thank fucking god I never have to do it again. Except for twice a week at night. But that's totally different because now I can go home and drink.