I saw her once, stepping off the curb outside a department store in New York: Normal. She hailed a cab in a simple, pleasant, flowing sort of way. One stopped immediately in front of her, the fella stepping from behind the wheel and opening the door for her. I’m pretty sure it was her. I’d heard about her for years, since I was just a kid playing on the playground at Pleasant Hills Elementary School. Everyone there tried to be like her. I couldn’t figure out exactly what they were talking about, so I started paying attention, keeping an eye on the billboards lining Route 51 all the way into town. I pretty much saw everyone in those ads trying to look like her, but I was never really sure if any of those small-waisted, straight toothed, long lashed women were Normal herself. People generally don’t wear name tags around in public. What I ended up doing was taking the things that were similar in all those ads and making a composite in my head of what Normal looked like. So that day in New York, when we were having to go to dinner with some Law Firm humpty-whumps and I could not suck my tummy in far enough to feel adequate, I felt pretty sure that gal just about to get into a cab was either Normal herself or her twin sister. I thought about her all night. Totally ruined the delicate flavor of that Veal Piccatta I had ordered. I reprimanded myself through each bite, denying the poor girl in the mirrored walls the pleasure of cream and butter and white wine, telling her Normal would never indulge like that if she could not suck her tummy in. She would have smiled her brilliant white smile and ordered a green salad with vinegar. I ate it anyway. But I could not embrace it.
My best friend Cheryl decided that Normal was her new best friend when we were in sixth grade. She got some lipstick samples from her aunt who sold Avon and we tried them on in her bedroom one Saturday. We stood in front of the mirror and smacked our lips together like she said Normal would and I thought we looked really silly. But Cheryl liked it. Pretty soon her cheeks turned all pink and her eyelids bright blue and the boys started to make circles around her in the lunch room and that was that.
Later, when we were in High School, I started to feel more at home with the anti-Normal bunch. I wore football jerseys and my old Levi 501’s and a pair of hand beaded moccasins bought at the Fort Hall Indian reservation on the way home from Idaho one year. I wore my hair straight. No make-up. No nail polish. The closest I got to the pro-Normal girls was an occasional ribbon in my hair, flowing down the back in a semi-feminine sort of fashion. When the soles wore out on my moccasins I layered duct tape on the bottoms, extending their life by months if not years.
Every once in a while I flirted with the idea of Normal. Tried curling my hair, or dressing in something matching. Tried catching the occasional wave of confidence that wafted through my unstructured abnormal life, allowing me to stand in a circle of kids and think anything I had to say might be worth hearing. There were seasons when that confidence was healthy and vibrant. My whole eighth grade school existence was on Team Normal, but I think that was in large part because I was in the Mini-Singers ensemble choir and Mrs. Tucci allowed Betsy Gerson and me to sit in the hall and play Gordon Lightfoot songs on our Yamaha guitars. This was the early 1970’s. This was cool.
Cool was short-lived. Pretty soon I convinced myself that cool was too much like Normal and I would never be like her so it was not likely I could sustain the coolness. Instead I made myself responsible. Even though that was a show as well. When my classmates selected people to fit in arbitrary categories they did not select me as best smile or most likely to succeed. They voted me most dependable. This is not normal for high school.
You’d think a girl of the 1970’s would be quite comfortable not hanging out with Normal-ites. It was after all the age of free spirits, free love, people marching to all sorts of off-beat drummers. But I could never be that kind of ab-Normal or Normal; not with the back of my ears still wet from the waters of baptism. They never dried out, the divine water constantly trickling down my neck, reminding me I was designed to be peculiar. I could not hang with Normal, but I didn’t fit in with Funky either.
When I got grown up and thought I had comfortably found my place in line, a bit to the left of Normal, I realized that Normal was not exactly what I thought she had been all those years. She began to age, and the wrinkles that soften the tight brow of super models found their way to her and to me. She hated them. But I didn’t mind. I’d learned through the years to live with flaws. I didn’t mind them so much now. I don’t even try to suck in my tummy now. We are quite a ways past that. Now I think that I have the charge to be a missionary for diversity. I don’t so much keep my peripheral vision on the lookout for Normal passing by, worried that others will see us both and start comparing. Instead I push myself through the typical, hoping if I kick hard enough I will push through the thick jelly of average and pierce the membrane, rising up into fresh blue sky of individuality, my mouth wide open gulping in the freshness. Normal can’t kick like that. She had super high heels on, and tight skinny jeans, and she just can’t kick like she’ll need too to get free.
So in the end, it doesn’t matter if that gal getting into the cab those years ago was actually Normal or not. I used to like to say I thought I had seen her. Now I don’t really need to know where she is or what she is up to. This, my friends, is one of the beauties of being over baked and over weight.
It may well have been Normal I saw getting in a cab that day. She sure was beautiful. Not knock-out eye popping gorgeous, just pretty pretty. I salute her, wherever she is, and hope she has a nice ride.