In elementary school, I liked being a little bit different. For instance, I lived in a cool house. Not a fancy house, but a great big, drafty 100-year-old farmhouse surrounded by 60’s colonials and ranches and split-levels. I loved how I would hear people say at school, “The Underground Railroad runs right through that old house’s basement!” or, “That house was a hospital in the Civil War!” and I’d think, "Well, not exactly," but I loved how it made me feel a little bit different, or special. I found that being a bookworm and playing by myself most of the time set me apart, too, but I didn’t mind. Why put down “Gone with the Wind” just to fit in?
When junior high arrived, I didn’t want to be different in ANY way. I longed to be invited to boy-girl parties, and have feathered hair and Jordache jeans just like everyone else. Problem is, due to body type, and braces, and general “Anna-ness,” I couldn’t pull that off. Ever. I later came to see that being different in junior high probably protected me from a lot of dicey situations, but I certainly saw no value in that at the time.
As I got older, I managed to both fit in and be a little bit different at the same time. During high school and college, I had friends from a lot of different groups, and that worked for me. As a result of straddling different groups, I never felt completely enmeshed in any one, but that's how I liked it. In college, for instance, I’d go to frat parties with my sorority sisters and have a blast, but I wouldn’t necessarily join them in doing beer slides or drinking grain alcohol out of trashcans. I liked being a little bit different, and besides, some people are born to be designated drivers.
As a young mom, I wanted to be different enough as in, “Wow, her kids are GENIUSES, and so stinkin’ CUTE!” while also hoping certain issues I was going through were the exact same for other moms, such as, “My daughter won’t put socks on if she’s already brushed her teeth” or, “My son picks his boogies and eats them during every preschool concert!” Often, I didn't accept my kids' differences, or quirks, and tried to make them conform to what I thought was normal. But always, I tried to be real, encouraging other moms that we were all in this together and could do this hard, wonderful thing called mothering.
After I put my kids in private school, I sometimes felt too different, because I wanted to be part of two communities at once. I didn’t want to miss out on neighborhood/town connections, and I didn’t want people to think I was Judgy McJudge Pants for having my kids in a different school. I just wanted to fit in and have people like me. Sound a little like junior high, just without the mullet? Perhaps.
Faith-wise, I’ve always been comfortable being the woman who goes to church a lot and loves God, but not necessarily comfortable enough to talk about it or stand out as different.
So sometimes I’ve wanted to be a little different, sometimes not. But now? As the parent of a dead child? I don’t just feel different, I feel like an alien. This life, this world, doesn’t seem to fit me anymore. I can’t believe I look remotely normal when I walk down the street or drive in my car, because I feel so “off”-- so stricken-- with a new reality that I consider completely, utterly, unacceptable.
This is NOT the way things are supposed to be. Those previous "differences" in my life? Were infinitesimal in scope and fell neatly within the parameters of “normal.” This is not normal.
I don’t want to be the mom of a dead son. Not my Jack. Margaret does not want to be that sister, and I hate that this sad distinction will follow my zany, sparkling girl. And Tim? Quiet, affable Tim, whose most traumatic life event to date had been finding out, at an embarrassingly late age, that Santa wasn’t real? This kind of pain, this heartache, sets him apart in a way that he never could have imagined, not in his worst nightmares.
Because it is just not right.
We’re supposed to be talking about Jack going to HIS first boy-girl party and, unlike me, he was cute enough to actually score an invite. We’re supposed to talk about the school play or video game ratings, or S.E.X. We are not supposed to talk about whether we are getting grief counseling, when we’ll pick out a headstone, or how we’re going to change our Christmas traditions this year.
No. No. No!
This all too different, too brutal, too strange.
I must admit, that underneath this formerly stable, predictable life ran a current, planted in early childhood in the mind of a reader of books, that her life would somehow be different from those around her. But what did that look like to a young dreamer's mind? Perhaps becoming an actress, winning the lottery, or cracking a case a la Nancy Drew. Doing something unusual. I can't pin it down, but there certainly was a niggling desire to be different in some more significant way.
But THIS? This is NOT what I imagined.