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Personal Essay: “On Normal”

When I was little, I saw nothing odd in the way my family worked. There was nothing odd in my mother’s mood swings and how it concerned me on a personal level when she was angry or upset. There was nothing strange about my father, who at first used to sing us songs and read us bedtime stories, but with time become more engrossed in his computer and spending most of his free time at home as a solid back in a computer chair, the clacking of computer keys filling the sun-kissed air.

When I was little, there was nothing strange about how I always tried to solve my own problems, how I kept my major worries and concerns to myself. When I was bullied, it was always my problem and when I hit puberty at an early age that was also my own concern. It was also my own problem when my previous best friend began to bully me with the others and when my first pet died, a parakeet, I mourned in my solitude.

I felt no great concern, as I moved and grew older, that I did not have much of a normal social life. There was, with time a girl I would spend the most time with at school, who I’d sometimes accompany to her house, even though her giant schnauzer terrified me. I had some general social interaction with the other girls, but that I spent most of my free time alone…Why, that was perfectly normal.

I treated every birthday party, every event I was invited to as a great surprise, because what could I really expect from my peers? Not much after that one birthday party in third grade, when almost everyone flaked on me. But that was all normal.

Then I found it perfectly normal when I discovered the internet and was completely submerged in it. Here was something fun, engaging and also social I could do in the privacy and comfort of my own room. I would see nothing strange or wrong about staying up late on school nights and getting up in the middle of the night on weekends, just so I could talk to people in different time zones. And there was nothing odd at all when the first boyfriend I picked for myself lived on the other side of the Atlantic.

As my social life remained relatively sparse in my day life, the night life became filled with debate and discussions. This was where I finally began to receive some social training, as it had not occurred to me before that my family’s very small social circle and sparse social calendar was not normal. Naturally, in my baby steps on the social playing field I made some mistakes, some small, some big, especially when my training was to be put into use in face to face interactions.

Yet, it still did not feel like there was anything abnormal about it.

My parents separated for six months, during which I lived with my dad and suddenly I had to take care of myself, a freshman in high school who came home to an empty apartment and had to cook all of her meals. Still, this also became normal.

My social life online continued to grow and change, some people vanished and others entered my life, just as my family was reunited after my dad tried to atone for past sins. The people I called friends now lived mostly in the US and there was nothing strange about that, after all…I felt pretty determined to one day marry into the country. There was just that problem of finding a suitable candidate for the job. Yes, I fully intended to have a wonderful love affair that would end in a happy marriage.

As my social life expanded online, it noticeably shrunk as I started going to college. What reason did I have to interact with these people at school, when I did not intend to stay in this country? And besides, some of these people had never even watched Star Wars, how crazy and abnormal wasn’t that?

As long as I stayed on that path I was meant to walk towards success I felt content. After college I was to get a good job and then move to the US, then I would, like Disney’s Hercules find my hero’s welcome right where I belonged. See, even this sense that I did not belong where I currently lived was normal to me, as I found escape in my friends online and the interests I found captivating. I wrote and I drew.

Then, graduation day both arrived and disappeared in my rear view mirror, but that well-paying job I expected to get didn’t seem to exist. Sure, if I continued onto grad school, then I might get hired by a university or college, but I had no idea what kind of grad school project I’d do. My mind was, for the first time a disturbing blank. My graduating thesis had not even been my idea, I’d found it on a university message board, where a woman was looking for someone to help her with the final piece of her Doctor’s thesis puzzle.

So, suddenly I found myself outside the state of I considered normal. I was not supposed to be unemployed, certainly not if I wanted to continue to travel to the US, this future place where I belong though…I was not sure how I was going to get there now. I escaped from this sense of despair, by jumping into a one semester course in Beginner’s Japanese. It worked for a time, though when it began to near its end, still without a job offer in sight I reached for the only bit of normalcy left to me: I approached once more my old summer job at the postal service and got hired as a sub.

Eventually I also found that other piece of normal I was lacking, my own apartment, of course it was normal that my father more or less forced me into an apartment I had not chosen myself and as the postal work became more regular a strange sense of security fell over me. I was normal again, normal for my age. I had a job and I lived on my own, I paid my own bills and if I didn’t have much of a social life outside of the computer…Well, that was normal too.

Soon enough I managed to forget that I actually had studied for biology for four years at a university, that I had a degree, the only reminder became the bills from the student loans office, which I paid with much disdain. I continued to travel to the US, but completely on my own dime, and as those costs increased, my trips became more frugal. It became my new normal, as my monotonous work slowly leeched most everything else out of my life. Eventually it even made me distance myself from my friends online. One year, I couldn’t attend the yearly convention and that became normal too.

I found replacements people online, or at least people I thought of as replacements and it slowly dawned on me that my social education was still not complete. My feelings were stirred in all sorts of directions as I wrestled with people, who in some cases were as uneducated and odd as me. Wait, did I say odd? Of course I mean “just as normal as me”. Sometimes it became too much for me and I found myself swamped, submerged and lost.

The waters of time eventually washed away the grains and left some few nuggets of genuinely good people at the bottom of my pan and as I pulled myself out from the muck and mud that had near drowned me I emerged with a new sense of what was important, with a new sense of normal growing inside me.

I discovered new things about myself, or realized things that had been there all along, things I had not allowed myself to think of as normal. Because what had been normal before had been to date a number of guys and never once truly wanted to be intimate with them. That a simple gender change would change that feeling…No that was crazy talk.

Some of that muck clung to me for longer than it should; it made it hard to define what was normal and what was not for some time. I clung to the few comforting things in my life, even though they also damaged me, because it all felt normal.

Finally, as some shining beacon, some things, some people I had left behind pierced through the gloom I had wrapped myself in and a new path opened up to me. My head cleared for the first time in quite some time and I began to see a new normal, a better normal than I’d had before. When hands reached out to grab me, I held on and when I found that the path I now found myself on looped around, well…Maybe that was the way of my new normal.

Right now I stand on a forested path, though part of it seems shrouded in a cold mist. Though the path further ahead looks like it could be pleasant, I will have to traverse through the mist to get there. But now I know for sure, that this is a better normal than I’ve ever had before.

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