Tag Archives: childhood

Misfit

I am a misfit. I do not fit into any particular group, nor do I even try anymore. I have never been a “click” person, preferring to be a loner, unless someone wants to engage me on a one-on-one basis. I really don’t like people all that much, although there are exceptions.

Growing up in Manhattan, I went to Stuyvesant Day Camp, out in Staten Island. Each day I would leave my house, stand on the corner of 14th Street and Avenue A with my canteen and lunch and wait for the bus to pick me up. Since all the counselors were liberal hippy types we’d sing Negro Spirituals all the way there.

I was always the person who somehow attracted the outcast, or oddball (you know that person that everyone basically rolls their eyes at, or ridicules behind their back). Although I was never the object of derision, the groups I was associated with engaged in it. All through my life, starting in day camp, I was somehow a person who the misfits looked to. I never understood why and whenever the poor person who was bullied by the popular kids, befriended me, I wanted to say to them, “Why me? Please leave me alone.” I believe that, although I didn’t speak up, I never took part in the actual bullying and what they saw was a person who was different from the others in the group—someone with a certain amount of, not only compassion but empathy. I believe I didn’t just feel sorry for them, I identified with them because I also felt like an outcast. I truly understood their plight, not because I was the nerd, but I was an outcast masquerading as “normal.” I just wanted to fit in. As children, any kid who is not white bread, any kid who is different, is in for a heartbreaking childhood.

When I was about 11 and in day camp, there was a girl named Lorelei who was the object of cruel jokes, mostly because she was different—a very free spirit—and did not wear undies. That was noted when we changed into our clothes after swimming and she was relentlessly teased by the other girls. Sadly one of the mothers even wrote a song about her that became a chant every day. Since I did not sing the song nor did I take part in the jokes, she gravitated to me. One day she asked me over to her house for a sleepover, which was mortifying to me. I didn’t want anyone to know lest I become the object of the popular girls’ wrath. I put her off for as long as I could and asked my mom who said, “Just go over there. It will be nice.” I was hoping she would tell me not to go, but she didn’t so I bit the bullet and said I would go. She was SO happy that she had a “friend” but I wanted to keep it a secret. The day came for my sleepover and I reluctantly went over with my mom. I discovered that Lorelei was very wealthy and lived in a gorgeous townhome in Manhattan. Her dad, an older gentleman with gray hair, was a widow so she had no mother to pattern her behavior after. He also walked with leg braces and was very debilitated, but very nice. I think he was over the moon that his daughter actually had a friend over for a sleepover. I was determined not to have a good time and kept wanting to call my mom to pick me up, but I figured I’d stick it out. But something interesting happened that evening—I began to actually enjoy myself. Lorelei was actually a fun person and I have a good memory of playing with her parakeet, putting him under the cover and watching him burrow himself out. In spite of myself, and against all odds, I gave in and laughed and enjoyed the night. I remember thinking, “Ok, I’ll go over and get it over with. Then I will make an excuse and never come back.” So, although I had a good time, I still figured this was a one-time thing. Then, the inevitable question was asked, “Can you come over again next week?” I wanted to say NO, but I just couldn’t hurt her feelings so I agreed. Again, the next time I went over, I had a fun time. But, somehow the popular girls got wind of my fraternizing with the enemy and their rebuke was swift. My friend Denise said, “You know if you continue to be friends with her, you will not have any more friends.” At that point I decided not to listen to her and basically ignored her warning. I don’t know what would’ve happened in the future, but I never had to make that decision. The problem was solved because one day Lorelei stopped coming to the day camp, and I literally never knew what became of her. But that taught me a lesson that you shouldn’t be so quick to try to fit in. As the years have gone by, and as I have gotten older, I don’t care anymore about fitting in or being popular. I am who I am, and I am not a social butterfly—I often have to force myself to be in groups and interact. Do I care?—sometimes I do, but mostly I don’t.

The Bomb

I was reminiscing with my friend last night and she reminded me about what it was like during the time when a nuclear holocaust was a very real possibility. I guess today we worry about mass killings, terrorists, and ISSIS. But back in the early 60s, annihilation of our world as we knew it by the Bomb was the main cause of anxiety. Childhood should be a carefree time of innocence, but as children growing up in those days, the Bomb loomed large in our consciousness. During that time, everywhere you looked in Manhattan, was the ubiquitous bomb/fallout shelter. In Stuyvesant Town, where I grew up, each building was equipped with a carriage room where we kept bicycles, carriages, and things of that sort. However, during the paranoia of the Cold War, our carriage room doubled as the official fallout shelter, complete with the circular, yellow and black symbol promising survival; never mind that the walls were not designed to protect us from a nuclear attack and it was not equipped with any long-term survival gear or food and water. I guess this was the only place in our development that would at least semi-meet the requirement that all buildings have such a “safe place.” As a little girl, I remember being outside in the playground, or on the street, when suddenly the loud blare of air-raid sirens would usher us indoors to whatever building we were near. It became so “normal” for this to happen periodically that it was just an annoyance and nothing to be concerned about. Then an all-clear siren would signal us that we could come out of hiding and resume our activities. In school, we had “bomb drills” where we would huddle under our desks as protection from flying glass—not even thinking that we would all be incinerated. My brother and I played a game of “what would you do if?” We would ask, “What would you do if you found out that the USSR launched missiles and you knew you only had about 5 more minutes before they hit?” I would answer that I would hide in the bedroom closet, knowing full well that it would be over for all of us. These childhood games were born of pure FEAR about the future of our world—something that children should not have to think about. I vividly remember opening the front door to my best friend, Janet, during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and seeing her worried face reflecting exactly what I felt—namely that we might all be doomed. That feeling of pure helplessness was something I’ll never forget and the fear I felt that day is still palpable for me

The fallout shelters provided people with a false sense of security because in actuality, the city would have been flattened and we’d be liquefied. If anybody were “lucky” enough to survive the initial attack, the radiation would slowly take its toll. But, as humans we wanted to believe we had some measure of control and these shelters met that need.

As the years rolled on and the Cold War lessened, those bomb shelters and signs gradually disappeared giving way to a tenuous sense of security. Unfortunately dangers still exist wherever we go and we cannot escape them. But what made that time period different from the world crises we currently face was that the very existence of the earth and our species was threatened—that life on this planet would cease to exist, and that horrible fate was in the hands of mere mortals.

Jealousy

Jealousy for me is defined as an irrational FEAR that somehow I am missing out on something or that someone is getting recognition for something that I deserve (at least in my mind). I never thought of jealousy as a FEAR, but upon introspection, I realize it really is. Although almost everyone is jealous at some time in their lives, it seems more extreme in my case. It comes in many forms and can attack when I am feeling spiritually fit, emotional, depressed, happy—in short, it sneaks up on me when I least expect it, regardless of my state of mind and can be triggered by even the most mundane comment. A perfect example happened today when the instructor in my Spinning class was extolling the virtues of a “masseur” she went to in Naples, Fla. She went on to say the it was “a whole hour” of bliss, and even though I have elected to walk away from that profession, I still found myself feeling annoyed and jealous and actually wanted to say that I was indeed a massage therapist too. Luckily reason prevailed and I reminded myself that this was my choice because I wanted to pursue my creative self that I had put on the back burner for so long. I simply did not want to continue as a therapist. But, jealousy, or the green-eyed monster as some people call it, is an emotion that is found in almost every species. A few years ago I discovered that my 18-year old parrot was extremely jealous of the new Macaw. Every time I paid attention to the new “baby”, Merlin would come running over, get on top of the cage, get in-between us, and try to engage me. I found it very funny and cute, but it is not so endearing when it involves myself because it often leads to other emotions such as depression and resentment. In searching for the roots of my jealously it is easy to find it when analyzing my childhood. I grew up in a middle class apartment complex called Stuyvesant Town on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At that time, neighbors actually knew each other and it was a sort of a Peyton Place type of atmosphere (for those of you who remember that show), where we all knew each other’s business. Although Stuyvesant Town’s buildings spanned 14th through 20th Street, having at least 13 floors in each building, it didn’t seem like Manhattan. In fact it was quite bucolic—a little oasis surrounded by a not so savory neighborhood—with playgrounds, grass, trees, an oval, and a flagpole. By the surrounding neighborhood’s standards, we were looked upon as “rich” but looks can be deceiving. My Mom had a group of friends that lived in Stuyvesant Town—some in our building— who played Mahjong every week at each other’s apartment. I would always overhear their banter about their vacations, or their summer homes and wonder why we didn’t have that. Their family life always seemed to contain an element of happiness, which was missing in mine. Years later I realized that it is all about “perceptions”, but didn’t recognize that when I was a child. All I knew was what was in front of my eyes so I compared “my insides to their outsides”, or in this case, “my family’s insides to other family’s outsides.” Although I certainly never went hungry or without decent clothing, I was acutely aware of the difference in my family compared to the other families in my neighborhood. We lived in a two-bedroom apartment, which necessitated me sharing a bedroom with my older brother, creating more and more resentment as time went on. Our Main floor apartment overlooked a main walkway and allowed my brother and I to see the comings and goings of our neighbors. It always seemed that we got the short-end of the stick and I was filled with envy when, looking out our window, we would see my Mom’s friends loading up their car, getting ready to go on a family vacation. I remember thinking that why was it that WE (our family) weren’t able to load up OUR car and take off for a fun vacation. Well, for one, my parents didn’t drive so we had no car, but the other reason was that we struggled financially due to my Dad’s compulsive gambling. Luckily my Mom had a good job but those extras that we noticed other families indulging in were not ours to have. I believe that is where the seeds of jealousy began and to this day, I still find myself “looking over the fence at other people’s yards” and finding my situation or life wanting. As an adult, wherever I worked, the green-eyed monster plagued me. Someone got a better review, better job, better assignments, better, better, you name it—whatever it was it was better. As a massage therapist, I would constantly see other therapists getting more clients, more bookings, more money, more of whatever it was and, again I would be left wondering, “Why not me?” Whenever I think I have conquered it, it pops up again. Recently during a photo class, I found out that a few people were taking a class I didn’t even know about and that they had been to the instructor’s studio several times. Immediately, I asked, “When did you find out about that?” or “Really, when was that?” And there I was, feeling “left out” as if I was a child again—as if I was looking out the window at my friend’s family, happily laughing, loading up their car, getting ready for a fun time—one that I couldn’t partake in.

Labels

Labels; humans have a need to put these on people to categorize and make assumptions about them. I know it is so hurtful yet I have been the perpetrator as well as the recipient. It is so prevalent that most people don’t even realize that they are guilty. I think it is so very common in families, and can form your personality; often affecting the choices in your occupation, school, spouse, financial decisions, your level of happiness, and virtually every aspect of your life. We all know that family dynamics dictate that everybody in a family has a specific “role” even though it is not officially assigned. Among siblings, there is usually the “smart one” or “studious one”, the “athlete”, the “lazy one,” the “trouble maker”, the “fat one”, the “pretty one”, “the drinker”, etc. Whatever the role we play in our family, it often sticks with us, so that if as a child, we were not expected to excel in anything, whereby our sibling was the “golden child”, we often live up or down to that label. Never mind that life and people change as they grow, and the label may not fit someone anymore or the “roles” have been reversed. It is no wonder that so many people dread family gatherings because no matter how hard they have worked to shed their “role” in the family, they still feel like time has stood still and the same old childhood insecurities come to the surface. But outside of the family, the mentally ill, disabled, physically ill, older person, or anyone that is not “perfect” (young and able) has a label stamped on them too. I used to see an ad for a hospital that said something like, “We treat John like John, not “cancer.” As soon as we find out that someone is “paranoid schizophrenic”, or “borderline personality” or “autistic”, we immediately make a judgment about them; that they are violent, or out of it, or that they are not even a person anymore. I’ve heard it said that “your illness does not define you”, much like the ad I saw so many years ago. The same holds true for age as well. I know people assume you are a doddering old fool, with no goals, or dreams or anything to contribute to society once you reach a certain age. I know when I fill out forms at the doctor’s office, listing my age, the staff get a mental picture of what I will look like so when they call me they are surprised at how “young” I look. You get an invisible label stamped on you which affects how people treat you and unfortunately too often how you view yourself too. This “label” can apply to race too, thinking that all black men are violent, or all Asians are “smart” or whatever preconceived notions you may have. Labels are a way to perpetuate assumptions, which are usually just prejudices in disguise. In this celebrity worshipping society, focused on youth, perfection, wealth, beauty, and glamour, people who don’t fall into those categories get lumped together with a “label” and are deemed throwaways–less worthy and valuable in this world.

Happiness

Happiness, what is it and how do I achieve it? Years ago, when I was at our neighbor’s house in NJ, we were all together and our friend Debby said, “Can I ask you a question” about something (can’t remember what). As a joke I said that her question was, “What’s the meaning of life?.”I expected her to just dismiss this silly comment and continue asking me whatever it was, but she actually stopped, and after careful consideration, she answered me with, “Having fun.” Wow, what an answer. It was such a simple answer to a very profound (although it was not meant that way) question. I have often thought of that answer; having fun is the meaning of life. But, at the same time I have to wonder if I ever have FUN. Early on in my first marriage, my husband commented that I didn’t know how to have fun and he was right, I didn’t. When I was a child, my idea of fun was competing in the playground in races, or tether ball, or swimming, or skateboarding, or bike riding, etc. That is a child’s idea of fun, but as an adult I lost that innocence, and I lost the art of simple pleasures. I don’t know how that happened. One of my main problems is that I often live in the future, thinking of what’s up next and consequently don’t feel that happiness in the moment. I know that I am still in competition with everyone, in my mind, of course. This causes me great unhappiness because I am always comparing my life with everyone else’s, my level of “happiness” with others. What makes me “happy” is always something external–I receive praise from somebody, I find out people are actually reading my blog, I get a picture accepted on a Stock site, or whatever it may be. It is almost never “just because” and I envy people who have that ability or art (and it is an art to me) to just feel good for no reason at all. When I was drinking and drugging, I achieved that Nirvana at times, but that was artificial, and when I was sober again, the good “high” was gone with the wind. That’s why I loved to get high, because I was “happy” for a few hours at least. Since I no longer do that, I have to rely on reality, not a chemically induced state of mind. So, I search and search for that elusive state of mind, and once every so often I do feel “happy” for no particular reason. But it is so rare, and I don’t know how to get it back. That is one of the greatest gifts and I wish I could just bottle it or find the right configuration so I could achieve it again. I guess that is why I drank, because at that moment of my first drink, I felt that “ease and comfort” of happiness, like nothing could touch me, like everything in life was good, and everything bad would be OK. I was suddenly transported to a fantasy world where my dreams would come true and I was proud of myself for all my achievements. But, I think without that fantasy world, I am lost, and was even as a child at home (unless I was outside playing), and I just don’t think I ever really learned how to be happy or if I will ever find it.