The Other Me
‘Interim – Normal’
How normal am I?
It’s not a question most ask, especially as they’re growing up. Instead, it’s usually a case of trying to be somebody – one of the cool kids, popular, good at something (and usually something fashionable, like sport), but I had these things to varying degrees. They were never a question. The question was always, How normal am I?
The fourth son of immigrant parents, who – like a lot immigrant parents – loved you immeasurably, would do anything for you, but were overwhelmingly pessimistic, materialistic and focused on the importance of stature (particularly when comparing with others), shouted lots to communicate, weren’t emotionally nurturing (or at least mine weren’t; I’m unsure if that’s the rule), and would constantly tell you how hard they had it, like how (for example), when they were young in Greece, they had to walk miles through the snow and fight bears to get to school, so we should be thankful for how easy we had it – and it’s true; I’d never fought a bear to get to school.
Growing up, there were quirks – attachment to inanimate objects (I nearly cried when we replaced our fridge, feeling it was a betrayal of something that had served us so faithfully), some repetitious behaviours (once rinsing out a glass over and over and over and over and over until my grandmother told me to just fill it with water already), and the occasional dark mood, or inexplicable anxiousness.
Despite being daring as a kid – the first to jump off the high diving board, the one who’d often try something risky, or try to accomplish something that couldn’t be done – as I grew up I wasn’t sure how to fit, even though from all appearances (to everybody else) I fit fine. But there was never that familiarity, like everybody was tuned in to the same program and I was on a different wavelength. I just had to fake it.
And things went on inside my head – like, how for one week, I was obsessed that my mum would be killed on the way home from work, so I had to watch the news each evening, only feeling relieved when her death wasn’t reported, and, another week, there was also the certainty one of my brothers was homosexual, although there was no evidence to suggest that, but I couldn’t drive the thought from my mind. Bizarre thoughts raced through my head, scared me, made me anxious.
Becoming a teenager, there were moods – the dark moods (while infrequent) grew into something bleak, although short-lived. Then there was also high energy, to the extent that when I met my cousin’s friends when I was sixteen, several thought I was on speed because I was so hyper. Sometimes, when I spoke with people, I’d be worried I’d say or do something unconscionable – tell me about a death in the family, and I had to caution myself not to exclaim, ‘Good! Great!’ or not to laugh. I wouldn’t. I never would. Never. But in my head was the warning, ‘Don’t do this! Don’t do this! Don’t do this!’ even though I knew I wouldn’t.
Looking around, I knew others weren’t like me, and conversely I was sure they were – that this had to be the standard. It couldn’t just be me. This was what growing up was, wasn’t it? This was being a kid, being a teenager, growing, integrating, finding your place in the world, this was the route everybody took, wasn’t it?
How normal was I?