I was pretty brave for a girl. I’d venture onto rooftops to fetch a runaway bouncy ball, traipse across the yards of neighbors’ other kids wouldn’t dare even look at. I scaled unknown hillsides and entered forbidden grounds—all for curiosity’s sake. If adventure didn’t come to me, I had no qualms seeking it out—that is until I tried to become normal.
Normal little girls didn’t climb mushy swamps or rally the neighborhood kids to pick up trash. Normal little girls didn’t tell their moms that they felt like they weren’t “really here,” or sneak into the empty fireplace for a nap.
It wasn’t until I was in fifth grade that I realized just how different I was. I’d slipped into a separate room to change into my pajamas at the slumber party when the other girls were tossing their clothes off in front of each other as if that was totally normal. Someone peeked around the corner and made a comment about how I must be embarrassed about my body.
Wow, I was really embarrassed then. I pulled on my nightgown and commented that it was too crowded in where they all were, but they knew better and so did I. I knew I wasn’t normal and it scared me. I wasn’t into Barbie dolls and frilly dresses. I was happiest with a book in my hand or a daydream in my head. I was happiest when I was slipping into the pages of the story or creating an enchanted escape of my own.
From that time on, I changed in front of the other girls, cringing inside as I stood in my slip, bare shoulders hunching forward. I nodded in class and took notes. I giggled at stupid jokes and memorized my Bible verses, but life was boring unless I altered it a bit. The grocery store, church, school—nowhere was exciting enough for me, so I’d drift into the stories my head generated. If Attention Deficit Disorder had been a diagnosis back then, I’m sure I’d have been given the label. Instead, I was called “Air-headed.” Being blonde made that diagnosis stick even more.
I maintained the friendliest normal profile I could muster, escaping every chance that was presented. Into adulthood, my natural response to endless hours of listening to a preacher or a teacher lecture was to escape into the story my mind wrote effortlessly. Maybe that’s why I felt such a connection with the students I taught over my twenty-year teaching career—I know what it’s like to be a captive audience.
I figure I made a better teacher than I did a student. Normal girls did their homework, but I skipped classes, skimmed the notes, and showed up to take the test. Sometimes I’d flunk the exam, but the final grade was always passing.
After graduating college, I got married, had kids and cheered them on at their ballgames. I cut cheese into cubes and made cookies for family get-togethers. I wiped the window sills and hung the laundry in the sun to dry, all the while creating alternate worlds in my head.
I no longer strive to be normal. Normal equates to boring. I’d much rather risk being different than play hostess to a city full of guests who all wear the same gray smock. I enjoy being my off-beat Aquarian self. I order a water with lemon even though I have no intention of drinking it because when I order a coffee and a lemon, I always end up explaining to the waitress that I eat the lemon—rind and all because it helps prevent cancer, and if the women’s’ restroom is packed, I will smile at the ladies in the line over-flowing into the hall and march into the men’s—but only if it’s a one stall deal.
My stories now trickle from my fingertips to my laptop, the plots overlap with my living, breathing life so much that real and unreal is a smudge at best. Being different is normal with an active imagination and being brave and embarrassed are both rites of passage on a path of self-discovery.
I’ll continue to concoct stories as life unfolds around me, knowing I may be the sole member of the audience in every adventure I experience, elated to know that, even so, the effort results in an encore and oh baby, is it ever worth the rehearsal.
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County, author of “Rain No Evil” and host of Life Speaks on AIR radio. Access more at soundcloud.com\lifespeaks.