One afternoon when I was three and supposed to be napping, I broke free from my crib and ventured into the kitchen. With my faithful canine companion Baggin by my side, I wound up in front of the refrigerator. I opened the door and took out a stick of butter. My clumsy three year old hands tore away at the wrapper and I took a bite. Then gave Baggin a bite. And back and forth until that stick was gone and Baggin and I were completely covered in butter. I patted the wrapper onto Baggin's thick black fur and reached into the fridge for another stick. I took a bite, gave Baggin a bite. Two sticks of butter down, I reached for another when my mother walked in. I turned around to face her. Her mouth gaped as she watched, clearly not prepared for what she saw. I grinned a big, buttery grin and proudly said, "I share, Mama!" This event proved to be both defining and telling in my life. It became a touchstone story for family to refer to, particularly if I had the audacity to reach for a pat of butter during dinner, or simply any time a strange habit or quirk of mine bubbled up.
As I stare down my thirty-second birthday, slowly navigating through this new life, I find myself coming more into who I am, who I always was and who I lost somehow along the way. There's a settling occurring, into myself. Without fear or worry or notice of what other's think. Ok, not ALWAYS true but it's more true than it ever has been.
It took a long time to get here. I had, like most people, some obstacles along the way. I was the girl in school the coke bottle glasses, mouthful of braces and the orthopedic back brace. I wore Farmer Brown's old over-alls because they were the only thing that relatively masked my my giant body brace, with t-shirts from all the musicals I'd seen underneath. Oh yeah. Cool was a long way away.
I shed some of the awkward dorkiness in college, but not completely. I found a little more of my own style, had a little less brace but after being trapped inside that plastic hell for so long I moved very awkwardly through the world, a newborn colt trying to find it's legs. On a college campus. With a beer in each hand. That didn't always work well.
My senior year of college my four roommates and I threw a party at the house we lived in--a huge old farmhouse that had formerly been a daycare. I'd only discovered alcohol and parties my freshman year of college, after spending an unsuccessful three months in the "dry" dorms. After realizing that tee-totaling wasn't really my thing, I'd developed into a (gasp!) relatively normal college kid. I worked hard, I played hard and I loved every minute of college.
Now this wasn't a normal party... it was a theatre party. Which meant that all kinds of things could happen. A box of Tide could be broken into, everyone painting their bodies with detergent and then turning on a black light to stare in awe at the wonder of chemicals on skin. The game "Kissing Wall" could start up, often resulting in multiple cases of mononucleosis within the theatre department. An impromptu scene or sing along, or dance party could break out fueled by the champagne of beers and artistic kids who finally had an outlet.
At this particularly theatre party a wrestling match was taking place. Between myself and a friend of mine who had at least five inches and eighty pounds on me. Despite his size and considerably lower blood alcohol level, I was determined to win. With stubborn determination I took him on and gentle as he tried to be, he was still overpowering me in every possible way. With foolish pride I would not cry uncle though I was wearing down quickly. In a burst of strategy, however stupid it may have been, I backed away from him and geared up for a running start.
I ran through the back of the house into the hallway, picking up speed as I raced into the large sunken living room, intent on bowling him over with my body weight. He stood at the far end of the room watching this inebriated idiot hurtling towards him. With intelligence far superior to my beer soaked brain, he simply took a step to the side, out of my path. In normal circumstances this story would end with me crashing into the wall. And I did go flying into a wall, but I also tripped over something--a foot or a beer can or horny theatre kids and I wound up halfway down the wall, where eight little metal coat-hooks lined up for the children that once hung their coats there. My face lined up perfectly with one little hook and everything went black. A week later I ran the Minneapolis/St. Paul Marathon. A week later I opened the first show I'd ever had a lead role in. With a huge shiner covering half of my face.
As you may have gleaned from the wrestling story--I often had trouble interacting with the gentlemen. For a good portion of my life (and some would say, even still today) I was entirely incapable of behaving normally around men I found attractive. In seconds I'd go from being a decent conversationalist to spewing forth a monologue about my childhood gerbils and how they were all named after characters from CATS and how I had them because I couldn't sleep at night and I liked that they made noise. I'd watch people stare at me with a combination of horror fascination at my social disability, but I couldn't stop.
Sometimes I wonder if God (or whoever/whatever) after having popped out little perfections of people, (you know the ones--the gorgeous specimens of human kind who are smart, funny and save the elderly from burning buildings) those people, after shooting those guys out into the world, God (or whoever/whatever) said, "Gosh--that's a lot of really high bar people, I better mix it up a little...I'm gonna send this one out, and set forth a winning check list: Back brace, CHECK. Braces, CHECK. Glasses, CHECK. Theatre nerd, CHECK. Verbal diarrhea, CHECK. Questionable ability to function daily, CHECK." "Okay, little one...out you go. Fingers crossed."
And I'm not gonna lie, up until recently I had my fingers crossed to. That I'd move through my day with relative normalcy. But I'm kidding myself if I think that's possible.
When I moved back to Minnesota I waited for a long time to change my driver's license from Hawaii to Minnesota. Waited for my name to change, my address to change, for things to settle a little before making the heinous trip to the DMV to go through the process of applying for a MN driver's license. Now as I waited, in what I thought was a brilliant and calculated move, the MN driver's license that I had before I left three years earlier, expired. What was meant to be a time-saving, streamlined effort now turned into the granddaddy of all pain-in-the-assery.
I took a morning off from work in order to complete this task and hauled my tail out to the Plymouth DMV, because I had been told, at the other DMV that I foolishly visited, that this was the only place that could help me since I'd let my license expire. There I was at eight in the morning, waiting in the non-existent line amongst the non-existent hundreds of other people that I'd been convinced would be there. The clerk beckoned me over, took one look at my Hawaii driver's license and directed me to another room where I was told, I'd have to re-take my driver's test. I stared at her. "But I have a valid license in Hawaii, and I had to take a test there, why do I have to take one here?" She stared back. "Standard procedure." She said.
I went next door. Mr. Clean was sitting behind the desk. A hulking man that smelled mean even from the doorway. I approached him and smiled my biggest smile. "The woman next door told me I have to re-take my driver's test?" I asked as if he too would recognize the mistake and remedy the situation. I pushed my license and application towards him, shrugging in innocence.
"Hawaii!" he proclaimed as he looked at my license, "What are you doing here?!"
(Side note: I HATE this freaking question. Like Hawaii is this magical place where Myna birds deliver mai-tai's to you on bamboo leaves, Don Ho strums a ukulele at the corner of your lounge chair and a cabana boy fans you with hundred dollar bills. WRONG.)
But I laughed, like I always do in response. "From here originally," I said and shrugged again hoping we could move on a new topic. Like just giving me a new license.
"Well, welcome back." He said as he pointed across the room. "Please proceed to the cubicles in the back to take your test. Come back here when you're finished."
"Is that really necessary seeing as I have a valid license already and I took a test in Hawaii?" I said, knowing I was pressing my luck and that Mr. Clean probably wasn't going to be impressed with my ability to make my eyes big and flutter my lashes at the same time.
"Sure is." He said, patted the counter for emphasis and pointed at the row of computers in the back of the room.
I walked slowly to the wooden computer stations before selecting one in the middle. I set my purse down with one hand and as I reached with the other to set my coffee cup down next to it I crashed my head into the top of the unit, scraping the top layer of skin off of my forehead and down my nose. I gasped, not wanting to disturb the men that sat on either side of me, and quickly sat down to avoid drawing attention to myself. My face hurt something fierce and I covered it with my hand. My eyes filled with tears and I thought, "What the hell?! You're not seriously going to cry cause you smashed your face in of your own accord. Knock it off and take the damn test."
I removed my hand and reached for the mouse only then noticing the blood. I knew I couldn't reach into my purse for fear that they'd think I was going to cheat on my driving test so I pulled the sleeve of my shirt down over my hand and began swiping at my face. I pulled my hand away to reveal a bloodied sleeve. In the reflection of the black computer screen I saw Mr. Clean staring at me with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. I brought one hand back up to my face to stop the blood. With the other hand I clicked the test open. Alternating between trying to answer questions and keeping a hand firmly pressed against my face, I took the test. Halfway through, I got cocky. "This is ridiculous," I thought. "Here I am with impaired vision, a bloody face and I'm flying through this test. I'm going to pass this, no problem."
And I almost did.
After gaping at the screen for some time, my score taunting me---failure by one point, I walked back up to the counter, my arm still over my face, this time covering the tears in my eyes, the blood on my nose and the transparent humiliation on my face. I stood, waiting for Mr. Clean to announce the bad news to the entire room. But he was gone. In his place stood a large Polynesian fellow who beckoned me over. "From Hawaii, huh?" He asked. I nodded. "Me too." He said. I began to cry just a little harder, knowing I couldn't deal with the questions that usually follow. "Well, let's get you taken care of here," he said and with that, he took my papers and my money, motioned me over to the picture taking area and snapped a picture of me. My swollen, bloody, tear-filled face.
The man gave me a driver's license even though I didn't pass the test.
Sometimes being exactly who you are really comes in handy.
And sometimes you've just got to laugh.
Really, the reason I got my MN driver's license was to vote. On election day I marched into my polling place, yellow driver's license papers in hand, ready to go. But see, the fact that I had residency in Hawaii and papers for a MN license instead of a card really threw everyone for a loop so I was directed to the table to register to vote. I explained to a variety of people how my name changed and then changed back and how actually the last time I was registered to vote it was with my maiden name and Christ, all I could think was I'm never, ever changing my last name ever again. Realizing this wasn't going to be a simple task, I took a seat at the table and began filling out paperwork and re-explaining my story.
The man across from me kept looking up at a guy in one of the voting booths who was apparently shady, or having issues voting or doing something attention grabbing. He would look up at him and then back down at me trying to deal with my bureaucratic mess before finally sighing and asking the woman next to him if she wouldn't mind "handling me." She agreed and gestured for me to slide over from the chair I was currently in to the one in front of her. In all my brilliance, I began to do so, but cleverly thought I could just shift from one chair to the next. And I probably could have. If I hadn't been wearing slippery pants at the time. And if the chair I was moving to didn't have wheels. I shifted my weight from one chair to the next, but as my butt touched down, the disproportion of my weight and the way I was landing shot the chair right out from underneath me. It flew all the way into the middle of the room, into the people standing in line to vote. I shot up from my crouched position and announced, "That chair has wheels!" as if this wasn't apparent to those who'd been taken out at the knee. Everyone in the room stared at me. A couple of people snorted derisively. A few laughed uncomfortably.
And then I began laughing. Hysterically. Snorting even. At my clumsy nature. At my ability to take a normal situation and turn it ridiculous. At the fact that I had done something embarrassing and didn't feel like crying or racing out of the room. Knowing that I'm saddled with me for a long time and if I can't see the humor in how I move through life then it's going to be a long road ahead. Knowing that if I laugh, people may join in, and may find an ability to laugh at themselves and their own quirks. And then more people began laughing. And soon, what was a quiet, almost somber place of seriousness was filled with strangers laughing. At me. But laughing nonetheless.
In an unexpected place, in an unexpected way, I fell out of my chair and into a little more alignment with myself.
For better, for worse, for butter. I am who I am.