I’m Not Normally Like This
I’m not normally like this.
I grew up in a good Jewish family in a good neighborhood in Montreal. I went to good schools. I had dogs. Purebred dogs. I was a straight-A student. I kept great friends. I had a string of respectful, respectable boyfriends from age 15 on up. I used protection. I said I love you. I was pretty enough. I was skinny enough. I learned French, Spanish. I learned my history; went to concentration camps in Germany and Poland, went to Israel, had a Bat Mitzvah, got awards, read books, asked questions. Could make out the Hebrew alphabet even now if you asked me to. Went to synagogue on the High Holidays, with only a little kicking and screaming.
I never cheated on tests, I seldom lied, I rarely drank, I refused to smoke. My worst offense was turning my cell phone on silent sometimes so I wouldn’t get my mother’s calls. I did all my homework at a big glass desk in my room for hours that strung themselves together like neat little freshwater pearls.
We ate dinner as a family every single night, sitting in the same spots in the same kitchen; my two brothers, my father, my mother, and I. I ate dinner that way more or less for 18 years, unless I was coming from dance rehearsal late, or one of the boys was leaving for hockey practice early, or Dad was on a business trip. But there were always plates wrapped in tinfoil. The fridge was always full. There were always lifts home from the metro if it was cold or snowy or dark.
I went to a good college on a scholarship. I danced a lot; danced on sweepingly wide stages, danced in a black-box theater once for fifteen minutes straight. I made magazines with people who you will one day see doing great work, work that will change people’s lives. I got good grades. I dated a girl, and grew into myself. Trusted people. Built relationships. Got an apartment and made it look wonderful in that bohemian, I’m-settled-here-forever-for-right-now kind of way. Gave guided tours of my school. Wrote a thesis.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been desperate days and minor losses; goodbyes said, ties cut. Of course I’m glossing over it all, bathing it in that golden light people like to use on the past, drizzling my childhood and adolescence with maple syrup.
No one died suddenly. No one beat me, only washed my mouth out with soap. No one said I wasn’t good enough; I always was. No one said I wouldn’t make it. They all said I would.
Lately, I’ve been wrestling with that self, and I don’t know why or who is winning or if it even matters. The person I was, the person in the paragraphs above, she is a shadow, like in Peter Pan, constantly slipping away and dancing on the walls and mocking me. A shadow is mocking me. And worst of all, the two of us have an audience. Everyone I’ve met in the past seven months has been forced to watch me grapple with the shimmering oasis of myself, the self that had a gilded moral compass tucked in her back pocket at all times.
I’m not normally like this.
I just need to tell you so you know. I want you to have context; I want you to think that I’m better than the rest of them, that I know more, that I’ve come farther, that I deserve slack from you that I don’t give myself. Because I don’t normally say I’m going to call and then not call. I don’t leave a mess. I don’t abandon people. I don’t get tattoos or stray cats. I don’t get drunk on weeknights or make promises I have no intention of keeping. I don’t quit. I don’t leave until I’m damn ready. I’m not jealous, spiteful, guarded, brash, resentful, hopeless.
But I am 22, and I am far away from my kitchen table in Montreal and my apartment in Cambridge and my chocolate lab, we’re not in Kansas anymore far away, and life just sat me down and calmly explained that it doesn’t work the way I think it does. That there is no legitimate system of rewards in the real world; or not this real world, anyway. People don’t get what they deserve, and don’t deserve what they get. There are not as many grown-ups around to tell you that you’re going to make it; in fact, you’re going to feel like you won’t make it for a good portion of the time. Worse still, there is no way to know if where you’re trying to go is even worth all the trouble.
There is no high school sweetheart on his way over on his bicycle to play Radiohead songs to you on the piano in your den. There is no applause when the song stops and you’re breathless, looking up to remember that you’re dancing in your car in traffic on Sunset, and not on a stage. There is no one waiting for you to hand in that article, and no one scolding you about checking your facts.
So I’m sorry if I’ve offended you or harmed you or hurt you, made you trust me less or not at all, gone down a road by mistake and then reversed, ran away from you in the middle of a great conversation, didn’t give it my all, didn’t give you all of myself, made a mistake, got a name, a date wrong, forgot something you said, didn’t tell you how much you mean.
I promise, I’m not normally like this.
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