Here’s a fact not many people know about me; in fact, it is something I try to deny about myself.
I want to be normal.
I want to live a “normal” life, the kind old ladies chitter-chatter about in their rocking chairs as they knit socks for their grandchildren. The kind of life filled with a completeness about which my grandmother, when she was still cognizant of the world, used to extoll. “I’ve had a great life,” she used to tell me. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
For a girl who has lived her whole life trying to stand out in the crowd — calling herself “Mars Girl” and claiming to be from Mars, tattooing her leg with outerspace motifs, never backing down on her “non-mainstream interests” — this is a shocking revelation. One I arrived at while riding my bike in a new housing development near Kent, where I almost bought a house. I didn’t buy a house there ultimately because it didn’t fit the life I currently lead. It seemed to be a place for families. Or at least for a newly married couple. I would have felt out of place.
When I was a teenager, I used to call all my peers conformists and praised myself for being “non-conformist.” It became such a matra, my father and brother used to mockingly say repeat it whenever I started the rant. Perhaps the non-conformist in me was a way of accepting the title that had already been placed upon me and embracing it. By grade school, I was already the “odd one.” My mom used to tell me that I was a leader… but no one followed. I was always that girl who had different interests than the rest of the crowd, and I refused to surrender my interests for ones that made me fit. Therefore, I was automatically the “non-conformist.”
But back in the day, I wanted to be in the in-crowd. I wanted to be a cheerleader and have boyfriends and get invited to all the cool parties. I wanted to have a huge list of girl friends from which to chose whenever I wanted to go out. Still, I didn’t want to like the “in” music or love the “in” movies or stop being an “A” student. I wanted to have the popularity and be appreciated for my interests.
I didn’t get any of that. But I held onto the dream that someday, somehow, everything would change for me. I told myself that someday I’d find my Prince Charming, have the perfect high-powered job, and everything would work out great. I’d attend the class reunion and shock everyone with my glamorous life. They’d really wish they’d been kinder to me when I was younger. The school nerd becomes the envy of everyone. I’ll be everyone has had this dream.
In college, I embraced the odd ball. I found that people finally DID appreciate me for who I was and what I was interested in. I fell into my own group of people and really let out the sides of me I kept safety hidden. I was continuously surprised by how much acceptance I received. I became “Mars Girl,” which was my way of explaining away some of my “oddities.” I’d tell people that I was from Mars (my favorite planet). This is why I may not be quite what you expect.
Those who got Mars Girl and weren’t put off by the weirdness of it became friends. I guess it was like a test. Those who couldn’t even play along with a cute nickname just weren’t even worthy of my time.
The brief period of my life in which I was married were probably the most normal years of my life. My husband and I constructed our own white picket fence dream. We wanted an A-frame house on the side of a mountain in Colorado, overlooking some majestic view. We would have three kids (we named two of them already: Sabine Patrice and Korbin Michael) and a few cats. We would ski all winter long. We’d spend our off-time hiking and camping, and teaching our kids to do the same. We would retire in the Virgin Islands and run snorkel boat tours.
Maybe it wouldn’t have all worked out exactly as we dreamed… but we laid out a plan together. It didn’t matter what really happened because whatever we did, we would do it together. We may have had some grandiose ideas, but ultimately, it was pretty normal. Love, a house, kids, pets, stability. It was a plan we would work together.
One of my ways to deal with the pain of my husband’s death was to tell myself, “Well, that’s okay, because now I’m going to live the life that no one married can.” I will travel. I will spend all my evenings out. I will move to Colorado and live a continuous adventure. I will become the envy of married people with kids because I have all the time in the world to do whatever I want. My time is mine now.
In other words, I became the best I could from the fate I was given.
Still… a part of me wants to do the things “normal” people do. I want to live in a house with the proverbial “white picket fence.” I want to go to block parties and know all my neighbors. Go for walks around the neighborhood with my husband in the evenings. Maybe even have kids. Yeah, kids. In another life, I might have done that.
It’s weird to realize that about myself. I thought I always wanted to be different. But different was really state that was thrust upon me — I learned to embrace it and enjoy it. I don’t regret that because that’s what you have to do in life: when things don’t go the way you plan, you have to work the plan that fell into your lap. You have to tell yourself to accept it and make the best of it. It’s all you can do. It’s what you have to do to survive.
No matter where my life takes me, I still hear my grandma’s voice in my head, cheerfully exclaiming, “I’ve had a great life.”
I always wanted to be just like her. I know that her life was by no means easy. She had eight kids and she had to make the money stretch. The family moved a lot because of my grandfather’s job. My mom has described to me life with seven other siblings. Christmas presents were small (and sometimes handmade). Privacy was sparse. And divided parental attention. It’s not quite the life I had, being raised with just one brother.
To make matters worse, my grandfather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 35. Now that I’m in my thirties, the reality of his diagnosis — the whole scary reality of it — hits me full force. My husband died when he was 32 (same age as I am now). These numbers mean something to me now. Too young, too much life ahead. Tragic.
My grandmother went back to school and became a teacher — a career which turned out to fill her life in ways I’m not even sure she imagined when she started her education to become to bread-winner for the family. It’s one of the only things she still remembers about herself through the haze of her dimensia.
“I was a teacher,” she will still say proudly. “I loved my job. There was something new every day.”
They should bottle up my grandmother’s spirit and sell it on the streets. If everyone had her attitude, no one would know of depression or pessimism. Even in her dimensia — even though she can’t even remember the names of her own grandchildren (me, included, which hurts so much, as we were very close) — she still inevitably says that her life was good.
I want to be like that.
I’ll tell you, over the last several years, it’s been hard. There have been many days when I couldn’t even press myself to say that life was “okay.” After six years, I’ve finally reached a point where I can say that life is good. Sometimes through gritted teeth. I try to tell myself while it may not be fantastic all the time, it’s better than the alternative. The end of everything. Nothing.
So as bad as it gets, I’m still here.
I attended a UU (Unitarian Universalist) church service yesterday. The speaker talked about appreciating each day and described an old man he knew who had said that if he opens his eyes in the morning, he thanks God that he made it to see another day. Similarly, my own dad is always the most cheerful in the morning. He explained why to me once, “Well, it’s a clean slate and I haven’t screwed anything up yet.”
In this spirit, I have this urge to place a sign over my headboard that reads, “Be thankful you’ve woken up to live a new day.” No matter how crappy and down-trodden I feel in the morning (and, not being a morning person, this describes how I feel most mornings), I should remind myself that I still have more chances to experience this beautiful planet, another day to ride my bike. My husband didn’t get that.
Still, I long to have what I don’t have. And maybe that’s the fatal flaw of humanity — we always want what we don’t or can’t have. I had it for a few seconds of my life, when it seemed the road of my life stretched out before me to the horizon and I could see everywhere it went or could go. Now, my roads are filled with curves and intersections and I rarely know where I’m going. Some of these roads may be headed away from the white picket fence, into the country and away from civilization. Maybe these are the roads I have to travel.
Some might say that the less direct route is always the most interesting. If I look at it that way, perhaps I can smile and appreciate it, like my grandmother would. Is it better to know exactly how to get somewhere, or stumble upon it by trying a bunch of scenic routes? It’s certainly more comforting to have the map… but sometimes it’s more fun to view the scenes that can only be found when you’re off the main route.
Still, I hope the ending destination leads to that white picket fence — my dream of completeness and love and family. Perhaps my lot in life is to travel always alone. I have wondered about that since the only two seconds of normalcy I had ended so abruptly. Maybe it’s just rotten luck. I try to tell myself that there is something I will learn as a solo traveler that I could not otherwise.
I’m still trying to work this plan. I tell myself daily that it doesn’t matter if I never find love again. I did love once, and loved intensely at that. Some people never even get to experience once what I did. I couldn’t be so fortunate as to have that twice in my life. I try to convince myself that I really could feel fulfilled with a life that finishes without the love of a spouse. If I could find some other way to fulfill myself — a great job, lots of cycling, seeing the world — then maybe I wouldn’t miss love.
Sometimes you just don’t get what you want in life. My husband’s death proves that.
Still, a girl can dream of white picket fences. Even if the best she ever gets is the house next door.