My Biography: Episode One
Since I am so young, the biography will be a very short one. But it is only fair to bring you up to date on my past before I bombard you with tales of my present life.
When I was in preschool, the irritating teachers were always dragging me away from my fascinating projects and making me do structured group activities. I never got to finish the turrets on my castle made out of giant blocks. My mother read to me every night and I loved the Little House on the Prairie books. I wore dresses instead of blue jeans because they made me feel like a pioneer girl, or perhaps an adventurous princess.
When I went to kindergarten, I fell in love. Megan was the most amazing girl in the world. She had red hair like fire and a laugh like silver bells. For months I worshipped her devotedly. Then one day, she told me our friendship could not continue unless I started dressing like a normal person. I was to start wearing jeans and stop being “little Miss Dressy-most.” My heart was broken. I thought my soul mattered to her, but all she cared about was how I looked.
From then on, I stopped wearing dresses, but I wouldn’t wear jeans either. I wore checked flannel pants with patches on the knees, inside-out T-shirts. I took pride in being the odd one out. I scorned anyone who tried to be friends with me, seeking companionship and solace in the books I read with increasing avidity. Unlike people, books would never be mean to me. I vowed that my heart would never be broken again. I was disillusioned with humanity and would have no truck with the cruel species of homo sapiens.
I kept my vow until seventh grade, when my frozen heart began to thaw a little and stir its wings. I joined a club called Destination Imagination, and made friends with a kind, funny, energetic girl named Betsy. The first time we talked, we just couldn’t stop exchanging ideas. It was giddy and exhilarating. I also developed a shy affection for a girl named Ellen in my English class. She talked just like a book (her parents were English professors.) I felt right at home with her.
In high school, my social life expanded to include a bevy of other girls. All of us took pride in being “weird,” and made disparaging remarks about the “normal”and “popular” girls. Emma was a freckled, calm band nerd who planned on designing spaceships one day. Julie was my choir partner. She had a warm laugh that tickled you all over but was too shy to sing above a murmur. Kay was an vivacious, bubbly blond who planned on being President of the United States (by college, that had evolved into saving Africa.) Slowly our numbers grew until Ellen and Betsy dubbed us “the posse.”
In eleventh grade, I joined Mr. Forssman’s English class. Ellen and Betsy sat on either side of me. Mr. Forssman’s huge glasses magnified his electric blue eyes in their sunbursts of wrinkles. Stars in those eyes, he passionately paced up and down the classroom, talking about “Golden Ideas.” Ellen couldn’t stand him. She said, “I can’t think of any golden ideas.” Or perhaps she would not display the secret treasures of her soul to glitter in some tawdry bazaar to be sold to an English teacher. I, on the other hand, was shameless. I turned into a regular little factory of golden ideas, reached the top of the class, and received the “Certificate of Golden Light,” with some misgivings. I had an uncomfortable feeling that I had bullshitted my way through the whole thing.
Meanwhile, my father the math professor was growing more and more stressed out by budget cuts at the university. One day, he asked me if I wanted to move to Canada (where he had been offered a rather less stressful job as the Chair of Bioinformatics.) I burst into tears and told him my room had run of collage space; my walls were entirely covered. “What does that mean?” he asked. “It’s a metaphor,” I gasped, sobbing, reaching for Kleenex. “I’ve run out of space to grow.” “Does that mean we should go to Canada?” my father asked, even more bewildered. “I don’t know!!!” I wailed.
We moved to Canada. The shock of losing my high school friends made me fall back on my reclusive habits. At lunch, I tucked myself into the corner with a book and shunned all who would converse with me. Luckily, a couple of magnificent ladies laid siege to me and broke through my defenses. Brittany was like a cross between a pioneer girl and an adventurous princess. Perhaps sensing what a lost and lonely soul I was, she fussed over me like a kind grandmother. She liked to burn CDs for people and write essays with titles like, “We Are All Goddesses.”
Masa intimidated me at first by looking like a movie star, with perfect jeans, a pink sweatshirt, glamorous black hair, and perfect makeup. But beneath her fashion magazine exterior, she concealed the soul of a lost and lonely poet like myself. We met in Ms. Todd’s English class, which was lax in its discipline if brilliant in its inspiration. In an off-topic small group discussion, I asked, “What kind of question will let you know a person, really know them?” Masa, with a bitterly sarcastic quirk to her lips, said, “I just ask them what they think of Paris Hilton.”
“Who is Paris Hilton?” I said, and blinked in naïve confusion when the room burst into laughter. That was the moment when Masa decided she would make me her best friend. Soon we were talking on the way home from school, as earnest and pretentious as young intellectuals in Paris, fluttering philosophical wings. I read poem after poem in her big flourishing handwriting, as if each letter was trying to grow wings and take off. She was dramatic, vivid, and erratically sentimental, as if each burst of extravagant love so exhausted her, she needed to avoid people while she recharged.
Shortly before going to college, I stood on the banks of the Speed River in the pine forest near our house and decided I was an adult. I was making my own decisions and about to go out into the world. Of course, not everything was perfect. If I had a choice, I would get married and raise babies, rather than going to college. However, such a dream was impossible for an ugly bookworm who had never dated a boy, let alone kissed one. School seemed to be the only thing I was good at. That, and writing. Writing cute little fantasy stories which were clucked over by fond relatives. Maybe someday I would write a book. That would be something to look forward to.
Biography Episode Two will tell you tales of Bard College, and how I got fired up by the extravagant ambitions which motivate me today. In other words, you will learn how the proudly estranged loser nerd became a deranged idealist. Not actually that uncommon of a progression.
Stay tuned for the next post. I love you all.