Sometimes it seems like I’ve spent most of my life walking that fine line between wanting to be “normal” and wanting to be “unique”.
As a kid, I wanted to be normal and fit in with the other girls. I wanted to be slim and wear the right clothes. I wanted to have two parents and a home in a neighborhood that didn’t inspire contempt. I wanted the cute “normal” boys to like me. I wanted to have more than one page number after my name in the yearbook index.
At the same time, I was a theater student who loved being different. I reveled in “borrowing” clothes from the costume department, or junk-shopping at the local Goodwill for outrageous accessories and one-of-a-kind fashion buys. I made no secret of my involvement with the Repertory Theater, and was known to spout lines of Shakespearean dialogue at odd moments.
For the record, moaning “Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt” during gym class is grounds for detention. Apparently Ms. Longjohn was not a fan of Hamlet.
Later in life, “normal” came to have a lot of different meanings, and I’m still not sure if “normal” is a good thing or a bad thing.
For my gay friend who lost his family because he couldn’t be “normal” for them, it was a bad thing. They turned their backs on a funny, smart, loving guy because their version of “normal” meant “straight”.
For my niece, with her tattoos and piercings, “normal” means “boring”. She is the single most creative human being I have ever met; she is quietly fearless about trying new things, and for her to be “normal” would be a tragic loss for the world.
But sometimes, normal is a good thing. I have spent the past two years struggling to look and feel “normal” again. I’d give anything to be able to stand with my head straight up instead of stuck in mid-nod; I would love to have just one day of looking “normal” enough to walk into a room without people giving me odd looks or asking, “do you have a stiff neck?”
“Normal” for me would be waking up in the morning after a full night of painless sleep, followed by a day of working at the job I loved. On a “normal” day, I would come home with tired, aching feet and an occasional scissor-nip between the first two fingers on my left hand. I might have a curling iron burn here or there, and sometimes my hands might be stiff from manipulating the marcelle iron. I’d be tasting hairspray and my skin would reek of perm solution and peroxide, but I’d be content.
I had a purpose. I’d accomplished something during the day.
The pocket full of tips wasn’t bad, either.
My “normal” day would have continued with supper with my family, griping because the kids didn’t help with the dishes, and probably panicking because somebody had forgotten to mention needing four dozen cookies for school tomorrow. There would have been homework arguments, a bedtime battle with the five year-old, and quite possibly a little bit of closed-door time in the bedroom with the Big Guy if we both had the energy for it.
That will never be my “normal” again.
My new “normal” involves fighting off pain and self-pity at every turn. A “normal” day for me now might be spent on the couch, popping Norco and applying heat to whatever part of me is hurting the most on that particular day. Or it might be a day when the physical pain is a little less but the depression keeps me on the couch with a whole different kind of pain.
Sometimes, I have a day when I bake cookies and build a pan of lasagna and write two chapters of my novel, and I tell myself that the new “normal” isn’t all that bad. Those are the days that make the other ones tolerable.
I want my kids to have a “normal” life, with a “normal’ mom. One who can run around in the back yard with them and ride roller coasters at the fair. One who doesn’t hold them back when we go places. I hate the fact that people ask them “How is your Mom doing since the accident?”
But the one thing that is finally getting back to “normal” around here is my determination. I have never been a quitter, and I have no intention of being one now. That tree broke my spine; it didn’t break my spirit. Bruised it, hurt it, knocked it out of commission for a while, but nothing permanent.
Last week, my daughter asked me if I want to have a gathering at The Tree to mark the anniversary of our accident, like we did last year. “I don’t think so,” I told her. “I’m ready to put it behind me.”
I’m ready to start getting back to normal.