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Why I Am Normal
I am different. I’ve never been much of a talker about feelings, even to my best friend. She knows it, my family knows, every one of my other friends knows it. Discussing emotions and feelings openly is cringe-worthy. Even watching it in movies and on the television often causes a wrenching feeling deep in my gut. I hate it sometimes, to feel stunted like this; feeling dysfunctional and alone in my self-built box. This is part of me, however, and I have accepted this. While loneliness accompanies it occasionally, I remain content and strangely liberated. Free of emotional baggage and problems, I theorize I can proceed to live a more efficient life. Already partially imagined, this life consists of accomplishments in the arts and sciences, followed by my completion of pre-med and then a degree in medical science at a prestigious university. This serious approach has often been teased by both friends and family. While I can agree that my plans are ridiculously over thought out, I also believe that knowing what I want now and how I want it will allow me to live to the fullest I can.
However, familial problems have arisen from this so called “mechanical behavior”. My mother, a flawed, kind woman was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, when I was 12. I remember not being scared, but feeling a serene calm when my dad had sat me and by older brother down to tell us. My brother, a sensitive, good-meaning person had hung his head and said nothing. I remember being confused, and a feeling of not knowing how to react. I looked around for an example, and copied my brother. At school, I told my best friend, and she had looked at me with worried eyes and inquired after how I, my mother, and my family were doing during this unexpected predicament. My response was outwardly calming, while my thoughts shouted as to why my reaction could not be like my friends. Why I could not care like her. Why my reaction was so blank, while hers was so worried, even though she was not even related to my mother.
My family was once again hit with another quandary two years after my mother’s recovery, which consisted of surgery and a little over a year of chemotherapy. A mountaineer, one of my dad’s greatest joys was climbing Mt. Rainer, as he had done seven times already. Nevertheless, shock was still a factor of a phone call my mother and I received on July 4th, 2009 when my dad was out climbing. She answered the phone with her usual pep while I started our breakfast. Seconds later, she surprised me as she sank to the floor, one hand clutching her heart, and the other the phone to her ear.
“Is he all right?” She had stammered out with a shivering nervousness.
The entire kitchen was silent. Even our family’s friendly lab remained stationary behind the sofa in the next room.
There was chatter on the other line of the phone, and my mother responded with more worried phrases and questions. A sort of fog formed the two of us and my older brother, who had descended the stairs at my mom’s hurried requests. Somehow, we ended up at the trauma center in a hospital, where we rushed to my dad’s side. His face was a wreck, the result of a rock sliding down the face of the mountain into his face. A through-and-through slash to his mouth had created a grotesquely humorous second set of lips and mouth above the original. Teeth were knocked crooked, or completely out. My mother was in tears, my brother trembled, and struggled to remain outwardly brave. I listened to the trauma surgeon tell my mother that he was fine, apparently. MRI scans had come back, revealing no closed head injuries (i.e. concussions or inter-cranial bleeding.) Teeth could be fixed over time, and the two-and-a-half inch gash could be sown up. This was enough for me, and I was calm. Inconsolable, my mother remained frightened as she twittered feverishly about the ER until my brother and I forced her to sit down in the waiting room.
It is safe to say we missed the fireworks that 4th of July.
Months later, my dad’s scar was less visible and the series of surgeries on his jaw that would eventually lead to new teeth implants were beginning. I would say that my life was finally back to normal. That was, of course, until my mom thought that was family should attend therapy to deal with our “emotional issues.” The next day, I was dragged to a one-story complex out in the middle of the suburbs. “For Your Emotional Health…” said the signs. I wanted to scream. Glancing at my brother, we communicated our opinions on this colossal waste of time. How humiliating it is to have a complete stranger welcome you into their office, and to begin talking to you about your life and problems as if they know you, and as if they wouldn’t care any less if my family wasn’t shelling out the required hourly fee. The second I entered into the bright-walled office I couldn’t contain the feeling. My anger spilled over, and I was malicious. Never have I been so openly cruel to another person. She retaliated my questioning only me for almost the entire hour. In my mind, it was decided; this therapist was to be hated. Not only her, her practice her mannerisms and just about every other thing about her was now an object of aversion. Her questions were ignored and instead my unrelated comments sparked debate. My family recoiled, apparently shocked.
Of course the therapist thought I should come back next week.
By the following Thursday, I had decided on a new tactic. Unnecessary anger is stressful, and it was carrying over into my school and social life in the days following appointments. Instead, I sat cross legged in my chair, folded my hands neatly, and clamed up. My answers were single-worded and unhelpful.
“Would you say that these past two years have been normal for you and your brother?”
“Hm. How so? Your parents have had all these problems… would you not say that they have had an impact on you?”
It continued like this for an hour.
Three months later, and I still play that scene in my head. This and two others were the last appointments I attended. I had refused the following dates, and had, as a result, been grounded. I didn’t regret it then, but I’m starting to now. I wish I had been brave enough to shout at the therapist. I wish I had been brave enough to make her understand that I didn’t need her, and that my time had been wasted. I’ve imagined giving this speech over and over in my head till perfection.
“You think I didn’t have a normal past two years? I think you’re goddamn right. Do you think that I felt normal when I had to say home on weekends and weekdays to take care of my dad after his accident when my mom went on business trips? Do you think I felt normal when I had to make food for the entire family? Do you think I felt normal putting my dad’s food through the food processor so he didn’t have to chew it because he didn’t have any teeth? How about how I had to support and guide my mom to the bathroom after one of her many surgeries? Or when I organized the 15 or 20 medicine bottles for both my mom and dad? If your idea of normality is an uneventful, trademark American life, then NO, I have not had a normal past two years. But I came out on the good side. I get good grades, I’m a smart girl, and I have lots of friends. I don’t need some stranger patronizing me about it.”
The therapist would have been lost for words then, hopefully, and I would have dashed out of the room. I would have run clear out of that godforsaken suburb and all the way back to my house. I would have called up my best friend, and I would’ve invited her over. We would’ve sat in my room for hours I would’ve told her everything. Maybe we’d even cry.
But that’s not me. I’m not that brave girl, that sensitive girl. I’m just me. And while maybe I haven’t had a completely “normal” past couple of years, that’s no big deal. In my opinion, the absurdity of even the idea of “normality” is offending. The idea of normal depends on the speaker beholding it, and if my idea of normal includes a few trials in life, it should be respected, rather than questioned by some stranger. Perhaps then would that pushy therapist leave me alone. I am normal.
To believe yourself brave is to be brave; it is the one only essential thing.
- Mark Twain, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc