I was a weird kid in disguise. That combination — the disguise and the weirdness equally — populates my story. I can’t pretend, ever, that I’ve known the suffering that comes with being blatantly, overtly the persecuted or odd kid out. It’s an incredible privilege, being able to pass as I did. As twisted as the inside was, I could pass with three keys: pretty enough, a white girl, and no weight problem. (I was freakishly tall starting young … that was something.) I could also pass because I could read every room well without knowing I was doing it. And I cared so much about pleasing the room.
I had that emotional bond to non-humans, too. Sure I loved my pets like a lot of kids do, but I also communed with less popular life forms. I collected rocks, talked with flower buds as I carefully peeled their outer layers to reach their true personality, and assembled snails in their families of varying but accurate numbers on the front porch. Equally attentive to all of my relationships, I knew every ordinal number and every alphabet letter by its gender and character traits (recognizing the gender-fluid ones too). I found faces in hedges and trees that told me their souls’ age. I talked to and through dolls.
And I listened hard to the strangers’ voices pronouncing my thoughts that didn’t come from me. Sometimes they yelled all at once, and I’d dance as fast as I could back into my disguise. Perfection was valuable armor, and I followed its lead for years and years.
All of this passed under the radar of every single person I encountered … at least as far as I knew. My parents and sister, the two grandmas and a grandfather who took care of me, countless other close relatives, teachers, friends.
But recently I went to lunch with my favorite Spanish teacher from Middle School, decades since I’d sat in her classroom (I was privileged with that kind of school too), and she said in the gravelly Argentinian accent I loved, “Oh yes, Amanda. You always were very in tune. You were on a different plain and, I knew, very wise for your age.” I’m not sure if she knew what a balm she was offering. What it quenched to hear I might have been wrong about being invisible and my inherent nature being unnecessary.
If I was wrong, why couldn’t anyone tell me so before everything fell apart and I had to find out for myself from a dark abyss?
In other cultures, in other centuries, word might have been passed to a wise elder about the invisible people’s voices I’d mentioned to my parents. Rather than ushering me into a kindergarten seat, I might have been led to kneel in a temple or at the base of a tree. But the playground — and later the lecture hall, the shopping mall, the city train, the bar stool, the high rise — became my spiritual learning ground instead. And now those are the places I must be willing to serve.
Are you longing for your own somewhere better? Are you trying to fit in or dig in where you are?