When I was in second grade, I thought I was a dog. I would roll my lips in my mouth and make a high-pitched noise as if whimpering at my owner. My friends patted my head and teased me with questions like “Who’s a good boy?” and “Come here, boy!” I played along with their games until it was time to take a math quiz. The entire room was silent. Trying not to squeak was like attempting to hold in a sneeze. It had to come out – Squeak! The people closest to me looked up, giggled, and continued to work on their quiz. I giggled too, but as soon as I started to work – Squeak! I covered my mouth. No one looked up. A cluster of goosebumps appeared on my arm. Not now! I thought – Squeak! I looked up to a sea of eyes glaring at me. “Woof,” I said. “Twitch face,” a kid hissed, and the rest of the class rolled their eyes and returned to their quizzes.
That was the moment I realized I had been born with a twitch. For me it felt natural, like breathing, but kids and adults reacted with negativity. Sometimes, I wished that everyone could be diagnosed with a twitching disorder so that it would be a normal characteristic. I imagined myself as Oprah running up and down rows of people in an auditorium, screaming, “You get a twitch! You get a twitch! EVERYONE GETS A TWITCH!”
Growing up, I had at least three different twitches. I came to believe that they were my superpower because I was able to morph them into different appearances. I grew out of my dog phase and picked up a new twitch: shrugging my shoulders. Although this one wasn’t as annoying as my dog whimper, it made it awkward to talk to people. The first day I noticed this twitch, I was 12 years old and at the mall with my parents shopping for jeans. I found a pair that I wanted to try on, so I went to the fitting rooms. An employee asked in a trying-to-be-polite voice but with a sprinkle of I’m-so-annoyed-with-this-job voice, “How many?” I shrugged twice, my right shoulder almost sucker punching my face. The employee sighed, “Well, it looks like you have just one.” I wanted to say sorry in that I didn’t mean my shrug to be a sarcastic “I don’t know,” but the employee had already left. I entered the fitting room, and shrugged it off.
“Stop it now. People are going to stare and think you are weird,” my mom said.
My brother, however, looked on the bright side. “At Disneyland, you can say you have a mental condition, and we can get to the front of the lines!” I haven’t tried this. It would be too embarrassing to have to dramatize my twitch to persuade the Disneyland worker of my “mental condition.” As I grew older, I feared that my teachers and other adults would think my twitching was me being disrespectful. When I was a kid, I didn’t see anything wrong with having a twitch. People looked at me and probably thought that I was just playing or acting like an idiot. But to me, it was like wearing a striped shirt, or a belt – a detail not worth talking about.
I didn’t think I had a mental condition; it was just a twitch. I enjoyed seeing other people have a twitch and deal with it as a part of their daily life. For instance, my mom – ironically – has a twitch where her left eye repeatedly blinks. She tells me to stop twitching, even though she clearly can’t control hers. Once, we were sitting on the couch together watching TV, and I caught her left eye twitching. I said to her what she was constantly saying to me:
“People are going to stare and think you are weird, Mom.”
This triggers a rippling domino effect:
“At least I don’t do mine in public.”
“Oh, so after a long day you go into your bedroom and spaz the hell of out your eye.”
“I don’t! I control it, unlike you–”
“Mmhmm, I’m not the one taking stress relief pills,” I say, as I imagine flipping long hair to the back of my shoulder.
Luckily, my friends aren’t judgmental of my twitch since they’re used to me having it. “Hey, Manny,” my friend said, even though I hadn’t announced that I was behind him. My friends know I am coming when they hear me sniffing. For my most recent morph, I sniff while moving my nose in a way I don’t even know how to describe. My friends never complain or tell me to stop, though they do mock me by simultaneously sniffing as I sniff.
I don’t see myself losing my twitch. I prefer to accept it since it shows no signs of going away. Yes, I do wish that I didn’t have a twitch, but my twitch can show others that making dog noises, shrugging your shoulders, and constantly sniffing aren’t intentional; they’re a difference not worth talking about. Having everyone be diagnosed with a twitch will teach others to be less judgmental, and we shouldn’t need to care what other people think of us. My twitch is my superpower, and it will likely continue to morph for the rest of my life, sniff.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.