Tag: adulthood

Dreams of Broadway, Salad Bugs & Yes, We’re Special

Ever since I was little, I dreamt big. Not just any big, I mean, playing-dodgeball-on-the-moon-big… or jumping-out-of-an-airplane-with-my-name-painted-on-it-and-landing-in-a-football-field-of-chocolate-marshmallows big. I couldn’t help it. Still can’t. And I’ve tried to dissect the whys. It’s not that I had some abnormally sugar-coated childhood. I had a worn, purple, oversized coat from Goodwill. My knees and arms were consistently covered in yellowing bruises from careless tree climbing incidents and rollerblade mishaps. In the spirit of the holidays and my fear of heights, I was forced to awkwardly balance atop cement railings and plastic chairs on my father’s porch, taping strand after strand of Christmas lights and cling-on Santa faces. It was freezing, my pink fingers exposed and numbing. (Try to successfully use heavy duty packing tape with mittens.) But these were minor life experiences we all had, I’m sure.
From an early age, my goofy charm may have won over a few grown ups, but never my peers. Collectively, none of these people ever made life seem unrealistic. I had a first grade teacher who threatened bad behavior with orange lipstick kisses to the forehead; though, she never actually kissed anyone that I knew of. Instead, she sent me to the principal’s office over 20 times that year. And my fourth grade teacher made me cry a lot. She had loud clicky shoes and black eyes that stung like hornets. Once she screamed and embarrassed me in front of the class—all on account of my horrible cursive that didn’t live up to her strict slanting standards. If from these instances I hadn’t yet lacked faith in the people around me, in fifth grade, I opened my boxed salad and dug in to find that I was munching on tiny bugs that looked like the small, bulbous ends of broccoli. And the lunch people, who had to order me another meal, made me sit alone in the lunchroom at one of those picnic-table-style jobs and wait for a PB & J to arrive from the high school. I sat there like a lonely heifer-in-training, crying into her empty trough. Believe me, I was willing to go without lunch, but they wouldn’t let me go back to class. Imagine that as an explanation as to why you missed your Science quiz. The kids really enjoyed that one, too.
I experienced more than my share of life at an early age. These examples are just the beginning. No need to get any deeper. But as you can see, at no time did anyone lead me to believe I was destined for greatness. I had a quirky rebelliousness, a horrible collection of colored stirrup pants, and a limited treasury of common sense that disguised any intelligence I may have owned. I knew how to draw cartoon people and mimic others’ handwriting. Not only was I last on the list for any type of fame or recognition, my sweet vulnerable center (much like a Gushers fruit snack) made me a rosy, round target for my peers. Slap on an easy-to-rhyme, silly-sounding last name, a gimpy foot, and freckles, and there I was—in all my plump glory. The only moment of celebrated distinction came in third grade when I was asked to announce the buses as they came in at the end of the day. It was truly an honor! And since I was always in the principal’s office anyway, it was more than convenient. But then, about halfway through the year, some sly girl with a bowl cut traded me the privilege for a collection of pretty colored rocks. To this day, I regret it, but that’s another story. Even after all this (the fat jokes and the long lectures about “personal responsibility” in the principal’s office), I had hopes of being great. I still do, though I’m not so clouded by childish optimism. Or am I?
The saddest of all the dreams—living in New York City and performing on Broadway. To this day, the thought of it makes me want to cry or laugh… laugh and cry and vomit all over my men’s flannel from Target. At some point in my curious childhood, I acquired a thick booklet for some prestigious New York college. I took it places with me, glancing through it with a furrowed brow. I slicked down its glossy pages carefully, trying to keep it just as pristine as I had imagined New York to be. Even at 11, I was somewhat proactive at planning my future. I had circled my major about 1900 times with the tips of my fingers: Theater Arts. I blame it on wanting to be loved, loved from everyone and all the time. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t love me, or my friends, or my brother and sister cats, but even their support (and snuggly purrs) weren’t enough. It was more than being loved. I wanted to be needed and there was no where in my tiny world that gave me that.
For this need of neediness, I was good at finding sad people, people who were down on their lives and just wanted a friend (even if it was just the chubby, awkward neighbor girl). Sure, their adult troubles were sometimes over my head, but I listened anyway. I tried to understand. I held their hands and ran to get them tissues. It made me feel alive to be there for them, to be better than that girl everyone knew at school. It was my secret. But the best thing I could do, the only thing I was really good at (in my kid way) was making them laugh. Not only did it make them forget the stupid stuff they had to deal with, but it made me forget all the stupid stuff I faced: the horrible names the boys called me in the halls, the way that thrift store purple coat with the toggle buttons made me smell like someone else, the way my body never moved the way the other girls’ did. I meant something in my own world. And that was all that mattered then.
Maybe we grow up, we stop needing the things we used to need to fill us up. I remember telling my mom that I didn’t understand why everyone didn’t want to be famous. The idea of a life otherwise seemed… well, boring. I didn’t want to live that, a life that meant only as much as those few you could touch in your small radius. I wanted to touch everyone! While that notion still creeps up on me from time to time (Tasha not understanding my strange disinterest in plays and musicals), I know that life is about more than touching everyone… it’s about touching those few in a way that really counts. The larger your radius gets, the more superficial the meaning. See?
It doesn’t mean I will stop dreaming or ever give up that secret need (now, not-so-secret). On no day will I ever wake up and not want it; though, now I realize it’s more likely that I hit the Powerball three times in a week or invent a way to inject coffee directly into my veins. (Both of these are welcomed happenings.) That’s the funny thing about humans… we all want to be special. We believe we are. We all want to be recognized for greatness, somehow. And as depressing as it might sound, only some of us can be on such a large scale. Luck, talent, whatever it is that gets them there. The others, we do our thing. A good day is a compliment from a stranger, sharing a cup of coffee with an old friend, or—capturing a picture of your coworkers pigging out at lunch, Photoshopping them to wear tiny hats, and then taping it on the wall in your office for all to see. The little stuff.
I’m writing this now, sitting alone in the Greensburg Starbucks on a Sunday night thinking about the next step, what it will be to fill me up. There are so many things that I want to be, want to accomplish. Sometimes I don’t know where to start. But when it all gets too much, I think about what it took to get here and I know I’ll be all right. I mean, I made it this far. I still suck at cursive and fear ladders. But I’m touching… even if it’s just the amazing people of my little dot on the map. I appreciate them, more than I ever could from any other angle.