The Alien in the Playground
You can spot her from a mile away. The one kid playing alone. Lost in her own little world. She clearly wears a mixture of hand-me-downs and homemade clothing when all the other children are wearing clothes, relatively new, from the shops.
Some other children are approaching her. Even from this distant vantage point, you can tell their intent is not friendly. They are all bigger than her. Together, they could beat her into a pulp, but violence is not their pastime right now.
"Hey Weller!" The ringleader startles the girl out of her private reality. "You’re weird.”
This is clearly meant to make her cry. It doesn’t.
She folds her arms like the woman in I Dream of Genie. “Ah, Earthling, you’ve discovered my secret.” Two index fingers quickly become antennae. “Beep beep.” Now one hand becomes a telephone. “Beam me up, Scotty, I’m on the lam!” And now the little girl is laughing at them.
The year was 1979. That little alien was me. And that was the only time I could publicly laugh at the bullies.
They worked out what to do about it, later. They passed close by and punched me in the gut so quickly that if the imaginary observer blinked, they would miss it. They took out their anger on me because I was a natural target.
Skinny, undersized, bespectacled. Clearly from a lower income background than them. And, as they said, weird.
I was proud to be weird. I revelled in my freakiness. I didn’t think it made me special, or above them, per se. I just couldn’t understand why they would want to miss out.
Being a weirdo was fun - well, except for being bullied every day. It seemed to me that the normals [or, as I later learned to call them, mundanes] were missing out on a wider range of experience because those experiences were deemed “weird”.
Only weirdoes enjoyed Doctor Who. Because Science Fiction of any kidney was “too weird” for the mundanes. Only freaks watched Star Trek. But it was okay to like Superman because he was mainstream.
I knew much more than my contemporaries because I was interested in things. I voluntarily watched documentaries. I stayed up late to watch Star Trek [This being some years before VCR’s became affordable to my blue-collar household] and spent my free time in the library reading books. Big, thick books. With hardly any pictures.
It was their own fault, that last bit. If they hadn’t devoted so much effort to singling me out for bullying, I would never have retreated to the library in the first place. The library was a small area where rowdy behaviour was frowned upon and there was at least one teacher close to hand at all times. The library was my safe place. I could hole up in a corner and read the words that sent me to another reality.
In high school, I was worse. Skinny, bespectacled and weedy. The kid who always put their hand up to answer a question and who could talk to the teachers on their own level. I was the one girl in the school who passed out of it still a virgin. Still unattached to any males there.
To me, it hardly took any effort at all to avoid the boys my age. They were all… dumb.
Any attempt at conversation with them inevitably lead to the thing seemingly on everyone’s mind but mine: sex. Everyone in grade ten [that’s 14-15 year-olds, folks] or older had to lose their virginity or be ostracised. Having sex meant turning into an adult.
That’s what they told me.
That’s what I refused to believe.
I did not feel ashamed. Nor did I become embarrassed when they tried to ridicule me for being a virgin. I had made a choice and my choice was different to theirs.
"But everyone’s doing it," they would cry.
"Not me," said I.
"WHYYYYYYYY?" was the inevitable wail. "Don’t you want to be an adult?"
I tried to explain, when it began, that adulthood was more than connecting genetalia. By the third time, I gave up. They clearly weren’t listening.
The mundanes chanted, “Get a life,” like the freaks chanted “One of us” in the movie of the same name. What they meant was, “Do everything we do and stop being weird.” They wanted me to light up a smoke, chug a beer, and open my legs to the first numb-knuckle with an erection.
I knew, even then, that it would not work out. They would still deride me. “Sell-out”, “wimp”, “slut” and “whore” were just a few things they would call me.
A group of boys approached me once, on the way to a class. There were at least five of them. The spokesgrunt said, “Hey Weller. We heard you do it.” By “do it”, they mean “have sex”.
I started to edge around the cluster.
"Do you do it?"
My God, what irresistible charm. I should have dropped my knickers, spread my legs and screamed, “Take me! Take me now!” At least, that’s what they seemingly believed.
I laughed. Loud and long, and continued on my way to the classroom. I was completely unafraid because this group had chosen to proposition me not five meters from a populated staff room. True adults were within and no doubt listening to the exchange.
Less than a week later, I was a “frigid whore” according to the sex-obsessed masses. I rolled my eyes at the oxymoron and continued on my way.
Less than a month later, I had someone ask me to my face if I was a lesbian.
I ignored them. I retreated to safe places and put myself in a survival mindset. If I could make it to University, they would not follow me.
I did. None of the mundanes were there. Especially not in my study zone, which was computers and technology. The geeks and weirdoes were here. At last, I belonged somewhere.
It’s hard to shake the habits of school and high-school. I had learned to become invisible and laugh at myself because everyone else did. At least that way, I said the joke first.
And when I found someone who thought I was worth something, who loved me for everything I am, who saw me even when I inadvertently blended into the wallpaper… it broke me.
I had a mental breakdown at age nineteen because someone thought I was worth love.
The mundanes, for all my appearances of ignoring them, had got to me. Tell someone they’re ugly for long enough and they’ll believe it. Tell someone they’re worthless… and they stop trying to fight.
My thinking broke into two parts. The dark side, that had learned to hate me and cling to the bad things, and the positive side. The positive side repeatedly said, “Look. There’s someone who loves you.” Or, “Hey, something shiny.” Life is a constant battle between the “up” part of my thinking and the perpetual downer who lives in the back of my mind.
I’m not manic-depressive. Not enough to medicate, anyway. I’m not classically OCD. I may be somewhere on the ASD rainbow, because I can recognise myself in the diagnostic checklist.
What I am, is weird.
I enjoy it.
Try it sometime.