Growing up a small, pale, Jewish girl in Pittsburgh in the 50s, I was the odd one.
For one thing, I had very curly, frizzy hair. No matter how hard I tried to tame it with barrettes, bobby pins, rubber bands, and goop, the bangs still flipped up, the curls went in every direction, and the frizz haloed my face in what I now recognize as a precursor to my “Isro”. My front teeth showed a slight but definite overbite.
For another thing, I was a ham. I was raised on Broadway musicals and light opera. I learned “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Loverly”, “I Feel Pretty” and “In My Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown”. I would perform my songs at the drop of a hat. In first grade, Miss Pollard loved my miniature stature and my lyric soprano voice, bless her heart. The kids hated it.
Oh, and did I mention my fear of kickball? It seems as if Mr. Pittman, the gym instructor – a balding, heavyset man always in grey sweats – who must have been a drill instructor in his youth – was bent on making my life a living hell. At least twice a week he would have us line up for kickball. I remember the palms of my hands sweating. I had trouble with directions. No, not that kind of directions (well, yes, that too), but I mean telling left from right. I mean, I would kick the ball and then run in the wrong direction. For further humiliation, if someone threw the ball toward me, I had a reflex reaction and flinched. I would get that “deer caught in the headlights” look, stand stalk still and duck when the ball got near me. I was always, always the last one picked for any kind of a team. I was so humiliated by all this that I would fake being sick to stay home from school. (Didn’t work, most of the time).
Lastly, and most importantly, I was a dreamer. Oh, I don’t mean that I was a dreamer in the sense of genius. I mean I half-dozed most of the day in class and daydreamed my way through my least favorite subjects, especially math and science, imagining myself a glamorous movie star or ballerina.
For all this, I was teased mercilessly. I couldn’t help it. I just wasn’t one of the cool kids. I could not win the acceptance of my peers, so I tried for the acceptance of grown-ups. I was a little more successful with this. The music teacher liked me. Unfortunately, she set me up as an example to the other students, thus causing them to grow a new layer of contempt for me.
And why am I sharing such intimate and embarrassing information with you, dear reader? Because I want to introduce myself. At heart, this is who I am. I am the nerdiest of the nerdy, the unhippest, the uncoolest. Over the years I have trained myself to fit in. I have managed to straighten my hair, dressed myself in jeans and t-shirts as befits an aging baby-boomer, have learned not to burst into song wherever two or more are gathered, and for God’s sake, I have kept myself out of any and all situations that involve team sports.
On top of all that, I have had the great good fortune of finding a soul mate who loves me as much as I love him. We are both “misfits” in many of the same ways. But he’s really hip and cool (a rock and roll musician). He finds my predilection for musical comedy kind of charming – He doesn’t take off points for it.
I have also discovered one very surprising and important piece of information. Many years after I graduated from elementary school, when I was in my mid-twenties, I was singing at a club in Santa Fe. A young woman walked in whom I recognized immediately as a classmate. She was one of the “popular” girls. She was one of the anointed ones, in my mind. I could not even hope to be one of her crowd, as a child. Now, seated at the piano at the La Fonda Hotel, dressed glamorously and singing jazz standards, I felt comfortable enough to approach her on my break. We had a very pleasant conversation, and towards the end of my 15 minute break, I just had to broach the subject: “You know, Nancy, when we were kids, I thought you and your friends just hated me!” She looked at me with genuine surprise. “Oh, no, Robin. Not at all! To tell you the truth, I sort of thought you were a bit of a snob and that you weren’t interested in being friends!”. I was flabbergasted! Both of us laughed.
So I guess, nerdiness is in the eye of the beholder. I found out in the course of that conversation that one of the most admired figures of my childhood had been just as insecure as I was. That she had been as shy of me as I was shy of her. Years later when I was in psychotherapy (oh, of course I was), my very wise therapist cautioned me repeatedly not to judge my insides by other people’s outsides. In other words, the “popular” kids probably feel as rotten inside as I do. There’s comfort.
So I feel like it’s time someone heard from a misfit. Maybe you’re a misfit, too, in some way? I am writing to say, “Welcome. Here, you are right at home”.
© Robin Munson