The overriding fear when I was growing up in America was the fear that someone, everyone, would find out I was different. I saw what being different got you. There was David Nico who rode my school bus every morning, who gave me a peek into what different meant. His parents had him when they were already old. By the time he was on the school bus, they were grey haired and bent. And to make matters worse, he kept geese as pets, and told people about it. And he wore outdated clothes. He was different and everyone made sure he knew it. It was daily warfare for David Nico. Tripping, spit balls, name calling, laughs into hands. But David Nico didn’t seem to care. He just went on being the way he was; he didn’t try to hide anything. I looked at him and wondered why. Why couldn’t he just try to be normal?
We went through some of primary school and all of secondary school together. At university, where people should be free to lose all of that baggage accumulated in their childhood and remake themselves, I found David Nico siting in my Zoology 101 lecture that first day and I made sure to always sit far away from him, to never greet him. I didn’t want his stink on me. I was still petrified.
At home, I had a crazy mother for a long time and then an abusive stepmother and her dull, drug-taking children. On top of that we were poor. Different, different, different. I would go to any length to distance myself from it all. I was a normal girl like everyone else. Maintaining my normalcy was exhausting and incredibly time consuming. Friends coming over? Oh no, let me come to yours instead. And will your mother come for parent’s day? No, sorry, she’s dead. Is that druggy girl your stepsister? I don’t know her; she’s lying if she says otherwise. You know how these druggies are. It was tough but I was vigilant. I knew the punishment I would get if I didn’t keep up the façade. The work was worth it.
Holidays, all of them, require normalcy. It’s a prerequisite. There’s a package of what you must do. Put up a tree. Buy presents. Put out stockings and wait for Santa. And there is the other package of feelings. You must be with your family, whom you love, of course, and they love you in return. You must be happy. You must be thankful and joyous. You might even sing Christmas carols and go sledding. It’s the normal, the right way, to be.
If you’re doing anything else, if you’re feeling anything else, it’s abnormal. Abnormal comes at a big cost. You obviously didn’t do something right. Something about you is wrong and because of that you should feel sad. You are wrong. You need to accept your punishment for not being normal. Holidays are tough on the abnormal; merciless.
I count myself lucky almost everyday now, because somehow I managed to break free. By a series of accidents, I managed to escape the normal boxes, both physical and mental. I didn’t even know I was doing it, or maybe somewhere inside I did.
I found myself here in Botswana. There was no way I could hide my abnormal any more. I was white and most everyone around me was black. And once I couldn’t hide that particular abnormal, it didn’t seem to make any sense to hide any of my abnormal. The endless struggle to keep everything in check just fell away and I realised how much of my life had been squandered on keeping my wonky walls in place. I realised it had all been an incredible waste of my far too little time. I could finally be me, all of me.
And that went for all of the normal around the holidays too. Holidays are defined any way I want now. It might mean camping at the Atlantic Ocean and swimming in the icy sea. It might mean playing Scrabble. It might mean eating watermelon all day in front of the TV. It might mean being with the family I choose, or not. It might mean sleeping all day. It might mean laying in the sun and getting burnt to crisp or eating pumpkin pie until I feel sick.
Normal is such a bully. Such a waste of time. Such a lie. Normal is like that king with no clothes that people lied to just to not be singled out and, just like that king, we only need to turn and look at Normal and say- “Nope, you don’t exist”- and poof!, just like that the honesty of it all can be seen.
If I had one wish for the people I love this year it would be to stop being normal. Stop being forced into those boxes no one fits inside. That road is so worn and so laden with tears and sadness. Don’t let these holidays bully you with their normal boxes. Step on them and crush them into the ground, they’re filled with nothing but air in any case.
This year let the holidays ring with Merry Me! And Merry You! -just exactly how we are.
That’s my wish for all of us.