Logging into my email the other day, I found a "you have a message on myspace" email. Generally, I find that these messages are from people who want to plug their bands, so I didn't get all that excited. What I found in my inbox there, however, was a message from a high school friend I haven't seen in almost 10 years. It was fun to catch up with her, especially since we both belong to the "My mom lives with me" club.
Curious about what other people I know might be floating around in the myspace world, I browsed the alumni page from one of my many schools. There, I found Anthony.
Anthony and I attended the same small, rather repressed, formerly fundamentalist Baptist, New England college. For a year, anyway, until I flunked out; not leaving my dorm room enough to go to my classes had a rather adverse effect on my GPA. We met during freshman orientation when we passed on the stairs in the student center. Mary Elizabeth, another free spirit in the closed-minded world, and I were going to check our mail, and were singing the middle part of "Kiss Off" by the Violent Femmes, not exactly standard G. College material. We sang, "Three, three, three for my heartache," and a voice at the other end of the hall sang back, "Four, four, four for my headache."
My memories of my year there at this point are a bit hazy. Over time, I've successfully blocked out both the weird and the horribly disappointing. THere are, however, a few shining moments of happiness I remember clearly. Anthony was part of several of them. I haven't spoken to, or really thought about, him since I left the campus 17 years ago, but I certainly recognized his name when I saw it in myspace.
Our subsequent conversation revealed that he is a successful full-time painter, with a gallery that represents him on Newbury Street (for those of you who aren't familiar with Boston hierarchy, Newbury Street is synonomous with big money in these parts--in fact, if you say "Boston big money shopping" it's what 90% of people would refer to) and a just-completed spot in an alumni show back at the hallowed halls of G.C.
He said to me, "coming back there as a working artist was in some ways like saying 'Ha-ha... I've stayed at least somewhat unusual.' I wonder how many other people got pushed into being as unconventional as they could manage, simply by being surrounded by scared vanilla people in oxford shirts, khakis, and those horrible 'docksiders' shoes? And mandatory chapels? And open dorm rules? Ugh."
The sad answer, I think, is that G. doesn't specialize in pushing out free thinkers. The people who managed to grow into "unconventional adults" are limited to the people who were "unconventional" teens walking through the door. The ones that could quote a line from a Violent Femmes song, rather than just sing along with Steve Taylor or Michael Card or Amy Grant*.
Anthony's message made me laugh, because it pointed out to me a strange parallel. In a lot of ways, I'm the same me I was 17 years ago. Granted, I don't hide in my bed anymore, as I did for pretty much an entire semester there, but that's because I now recognize my depression for what it is and I've learned to deal with it better, not because it's gone away. I'm still the inconcruous mix of traits I've always been.
Back then, I was part of a small population of freaks in the midst of a vanilla sea. That was true for a long time. Slightly different brand of vanilla than the one I tasted in high school, but all vanilla nonetheless.
I remained as such for years, until I met Tim and started hanging around with all his friends. Then it was a big 180-degree turn, and I became the mainstream in a sea of freaks. Same me, different circumstances.
Exit Tim, enter Kirk. Exit city apartment, enter house in the suburbs. Exit late-night partying, enter late-night baby feedings. And what am I left with? Kirk's friend Jack, who tells me, "You know, Jennifer, you're the weirdest person I know." My freakiness these days is hidden under a veneer of "normal," but it's still there. Once again, I'm in a vanilla world. Once again, I'm the freak. ANd yet, I'm still the same me.
Life is a very strange place, you know?
*Please don't misunderstand. I'm not slamming Steve Taylor or Michael Card or Amy Grant. But there's more to life than Contemporary Christian Rock. Really.