I'm not normal (Self-Love 1)
The ink hadn’t dried on my divorce papers when people started asking me why I wasn’t dating. Their pitying eyes seemed to say, “So, you don’t have a man? Oh, there must be something wrong with you.”
Come on! I didn’t need people insinuating I wasn’t normal.
I already knew that!
I’ve always known I’m not normal. In fact, there’s a very good chance that I’m not an Earthling. Life on Earth has never come naturally to me. It’s as if everybody around me got a memo that I missed.
For starters, I’m the most clueless person on the planet. I wish I had a dollar for every well-intentioned person giving me directions who said, “You can’t miss it.” And of course I missed “it”–– whatever “it” was. It’s a miracle I didn’t get myself killed when I first started driving––I was constantly going the wrong way on one-way streets and changing lanes on the highway without checking my blind spot. (Turning my head made my hands swing on the steering wheel, so to change lanes, I just did the sign of the cross and prayed I wouldn’t hear the thump of hitting a car.)
I’ve spent my life nodding and smiling, pretending I knew what people were talking about. Whether it’s reality TV or the newest government official who called the president a name––I’m always disconnected from current events.
And my biggest challenge is socialization.
So just imagine my terror when my divorce came through and I had to re-integrate myself into society.
I’d been sheltered. I was a mother of FOUR little kids. Those four little creatures had no choice but to consider whatever I did and said as normal––they had no point of reference. So I was happy to stay in my cave with them and have an alien party every night, hiding from the world.
But now, my four little alien friends had another house to go regularly. And when they spent days with their Dad, I was alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the hours of solitude, journaling and reading––especially between the separation and the divorce, when the kids’ visits to their dad were less common. But after a while, the grave-like silent place started to get me.
If I didn’t want to go crazy, I had to get out of the house and socialize.
Having young kids, my definition of “having a drink” was grabbing an apple juice box, and a “fancy night out” meant watching a Disney-Pixar Movie––If I was lucky we could get it on-demand instead, so I didn’t have to leave my couch.
But even before kids, I was never a normal young woman. I was a medical student––and then a resident, and then a fellow. By then I didn’t know how to begin an adult conversation that didn’t start with something like “Tell me about your symptoms” or “65-year-old male with a past medical history of…”
(Taking a deep breath). Don’t panic. It wasn’t a big deal––right? I’m sure everybody recovering from a divorce goes through it.
It’s just a little harder if you are deeply convinced that you’re an Alien.
So I asked myself, When did I start believing that?
Maybe it started because I was two years younger than all my classmates. When you’re five and your classmates are seven, those two years make a huge difference––also when you’re eleven and still want to play with dolls, while your thirteen-year-old girlfriends are already getting into makeup and boys.
And why was I two years younger than my classmates? That’s a long story. For now, suffice it to say I was a nerd from the crib. And that didn’t help the Alien complex either! I was the weird girl who couldn’t wait to go to school an got excited to learn new things (and here my classmates were throwing freaked-out looks at me). I was the one student to whom the exhausted, underpaid teachers desperately clung, as a proof that not all was lost.
“See?” my poor teachers would say “Diely got it! She scored an A on the test! So, it’s not my fault you all failed it…Please someone tell me it’s not my fault!” (and here my classmates threw hateful glares at me).
Or maybe the Alien-complex had to do with moving to that new city when I was eight. I was happy in my small town, Salcedo, where everybody knew me and I could be out at night because the neighbors would make sure I made it home safely. Then I was uprooted and moved to that “Big city” (big for Dominican standards) “San Francisco de Macorís,” infamous for its crime, drugs and political upheaval. My parents didn’t let me out of the house––especially not after dark. While all the kids in my class got together regularly, I was the one who never made it. I listened to their stories the next day, feeling like an outsider. I remember one day, looking through the bars on the windows, watching with longing eyes a group of younger kids playing together––fantasizing that I was a little princess locked in the tower of a castle, envying the village kids.
Or maybe the Alien complex had to do with my atypical family. My family had a penniless-blue-blooded complex (but that’s another story). My parents would rather go hungry than quit traveling. They had expanded their horizons by traveling to Puerto Rico, the continental US, Canada, and Europe, and had developed more cosmopolitan tastes than the average Dominican. We listened to Mozart, talked about Renaissance European art, and got together with the uncles and aunts to sing harmonies–– while everybody around us listened to bachata, talked about the latest mistress-and-wife catfight in the neighborhood, and got together to drink rum.
And of course I shouldn’t complain for being different in that regard! We were the lucky ones! Everybody else didn’t know of all the fun they were missing! Yay!
Yet I’ll never forget the look of horror and disgust on my high-school friend Ivette’s face the day she saw me take a bite from something as weird to her as a tuna salad sandwich.
I remember my mother’s attempt to console me once. “Stop worrying so much about being different, Diely. Nobody really cares. Have you ever seen friends gathering to look at a group picture? Everybody goes straight to their own face to obsess about whether they closed their eyes, or didn’t smile well, or they got red eyes. Nobody’s looking at anybody else. It’s the same in life. Most people are only thinking about themselves and not sparing a thought on you.”
Great. I was not only an Alien. I was also invisible.
Which may be true, by the way. Have you ever been in one of those bathrooms with fancy sensors which are supposed to know when to flush the toilet when you’re done, or when to dispense water from the faucet, or hand soap? They never seem to see me! Everybody around me is washing their hands with no problem, while I’m desperately waving in front of a sensor that doesn’t know I’m there.
And of course, there’s being the middle child–– rarely ever noticed between a witty older sister and a cute younger one.
Maybe it was true that I was invisible––which is even worse than being weird.
So, I grew up convinced that I wasn’t normal. And like law of attraction says, whatever you believe will come true.
In my case it came true the day I got a letter in the mail from the “Center for Immigration and Naturalization services” (now called Department of Homeland Security). The letter enclosed my new student’s visa papers saying, “This is your new Alien number.”
Oh-oh. The prophecy had come to pass. I was an Alien!
Years later I got rid of “The Alien number” by becoming an American Citizen. Still, my blunders trying to catch up with the American culture, and to hide what a misfit I am, would take a whole book. One example? The shocked look on the face of the first patient I greeted with a hug and a kiss––Latin style––without realizing Americans don’t do that.
I never fit anywhere. When I’m surrounded by other doctors in the hospital––the “real ones,” who have wives at home putting the kids to bed so they can see patients all day and night, (while I insist on going home by five), I feel like a Mom pretending to be a Doctor. Yet, whenever I am at any of my kids’ school activities, surrounded by other mothers, I often feel like a Doctor who’s pretending to be a Mom. I’ve gotten dirty looks from other moms for showing up in high heels and a work dress while they showed up in pajamas. Some have even shown a chip on their shoulder for not having a paid-job. If they only knew! They’re the ones putting me to shame with their home-made cookies and their volunteering and their chaperoning the school trip. Full-time Mothers are the true heroes who don’t have the escape I have––a work to go to when the kids drive you crazier than ever.
And the syndrome continues. I sometimes feel self-conscious about being a Fake child of the United States––a naturalized American Citizen, as opposed to the “real, natural children”––Americans born here. Yet, when I travel back to the DR, I often find myself out of place––no longer used to the chaotic traffic, the daily bread of expected corruption and crime, or even the lack of electricity and water. Then I feel (you guessed) like a Fake Dominican.
And now I was a doctor and Mom pretending to be a normal single woman.
How could I even start?
How could I ever find love, or even friends, if I was invisible?
And how could I ever connect with them if I was an Alien?
And how could I ever get them to love me if I wasn’t crazy about myself?
Well, the good thing was that now, each time my kids took off, I was forced to spend time with myself. I had to get to know me better. And that was vital. Because if I ever wanted to find love, I had to start by re-discovering self-love.
Was there ever a time when I liked myself? A time before children and medical school atrophied my capacity to socialize? Before the horrified look in my friend Ivette’s eyes when she saw me eat the tuna-fish sandwich? Before the little princess got locked in the castle tower? Before the looks of hate I got from my little classmates for acing the test?
Other people’s eyes become the mirror we use to develop our first sense of self. And in adulthood, people around us help us see the parts of ourselves we can’t see.
I realized that, until now, I had had all the wrong mirrors. Fun-house-mirrors reflecting a distorted image. From my loving, but distracted parents, to my little classmates, to my ex-husband. I’ve believed people who saw the bad parts of me, without reflecting the good ones. Or even worse, people who didn’t see me at all.
So, to my first commitment of finding again my self-love, I had to add another. I couldn’t try to save myself in isolation. I needed other people. I needed new mirrors.
I could no longer hide from the world with the excuse of being from another planet––I had to get out precisely because without others, I’d never stop believing that I was.
And even if that failed, being looked at as weird was less painful than not being seen at all.
So I made a commitment to make new friends and start getting out of the house.
Well, you know by now that the story had a happy ending.
But like I always say. That’s another story.
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