Being 'normal' is praised in our world. But it is law in Lynda's world.
|Five Years Old
Tests and answers,
I think that life
Is one of these things.
Today, at school, they told us to take a test. I was hoping it would be something like a drawing test - I like those, because the discipliner always told me my art was pretty. But it wasn’t like that. First, the questions ask about what I wore and who I ate lunch with and what I was interested with.
Then the questions mentioned the cameras.
I hate the cameras.
It makes me feel uncomfortable, knowing that the cameras are always watching me. Everyone always knows about the cameras, but we have no idea why they are always watching us. Anyway, a lot of the questions mentioned what the cameras had seen. So, I was getting more and more worried.
The last question, though, didn't worry me. It was just weird.
‘Do you think that you fit in? Do you want to?’
‘yes, I fit in, and uv koars I wont too fit in,’ I wrote in my horrible handwriting. But then I realized that I didn’t fit in. I sat with the boys, even though I was a girl. My clothes were loose and blue instead of tight, sparkly, and black or pink like the other girl’s. I didn’t even have any friends. No, I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t a Normal.
I started to cry. I was five, and already I didn’t fit in?! The discipliner came over and put a hand on my shoulder. “Lynda, are you ok?”
“. . . do I . . . fit in?” I asked in a strangled voice.
“Of course, you do,” she soothed, “and if you don’t, we can help you fit in. It’s OK. We’ll make you a Normal.” Then she smiled. “You’re so smart, Lynda! You already know that you want to fit in?”
Slowly, I nodded. Yes. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to have friends. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be like everyone else. I didn’t want people to laugh at me or call me weird, I just wanted to be a normal little five-year-old. Back then, it was the only thing I was even capable of wanting.
I knew that if I didn’t fit in, they would help me fit in. So in my mind, everything was okay.
Seven Years Old
Battle days and lightning scars,
Trumpet calls and friendly spars,
And I . . .
“How was school, Lynda?”
I looked up from my dinner plate and stared my daddy in the eyes, hard. Reflected in his eyes, I saw all the money they had payed for to make up for my weirdness, all the shame I had caused this family, just because of my strangeness.
It was . . . I don’t know,” I admitted. I tried not to calculate my words beforehand. My discipliner told me that was a big reason I was still stuck in Normal Class B instead of A. “Something really weird happened.”
“Oh?” He shot a worried glance at my mommy, and for good reason. Weird almost always means bad. The word wasn’t taken lightly. And especially this time, because the weird thing made me feel sick inside.
Actually, I often felt sick after school. Sometimes the discipliner brought in Normals and had them tease us, throw things at us, and do everything they could to make us dread being Weirds. Those days made me feel even more sick than the videos we watched about how Normals had always tortured Weirds, and the only answer was to become a Normal instead of a Weird.
It was weird because of what had happened. But it didn’t make me feel sick - nothing really bad had happened. It was just how normal everyone had treated it, compared to how much it made me think.
“I saw Andrew push Jenna away from his table. He said that she was such a gross girl.”
“Oh,” Mommy laughed. “He was being normal! They’ve taught you the Normal-Weird Chain of Command, right? How far you are below the Normals? How you’ll be paid less and honored less? You know, you should try to be like Andrew.”
“Yes, they’ve taught us the theory, but it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Hmm.” She brushed her long hair behind her ear. It used to be red-brown, but then she dyed it blond about a month ago when she received The Definitive Standard. She had learned that her natural color had grown strange, replaced with curly blond hair. The magazine had advised she dye so that she looked prettier, because that was what everyone else was doing. In the mornings, she spent three hours trying to curl it, but all she got was waves. She told me that when I grew up, I should do the same thing, to make my hair more normal. In fact, she already tried to get me to read the magazine, arguing that almost every Normal my age did.
She said she was worried about how I was legally in Normal B.
“Wait. Then Roy (he was sitting at the table next to Andrew’s) said that Jenna could sit with him. And so, she kicked him, and called him a Weird, just because he’s not a Normal.”
Daddy laughed loudly. “Kids! It was so easy to be a Normal back then! Jenna sounds cool, too. won’t have to put her in jail ever.”
He glanced distastefully at me for a moment, and I thought of the many times that I had been arrested for being too weird. That was how I knew Roy by name - we had shared a jail cell for a few night-long visits, until his parents could bail him out. Once he left, I would have to wait until my dad was off duty. Often, it was dad arresting me, since he was a police officer. It was torture to sit in the jail cell, all alone except for the piles of The Definitive Standard in the corner. It was torture to be pulled away from spending too much time at the library, or wearing my cape out in public, by my father. It was awful to feel the shame in his eyes, to force my mother to wait for us to come home.
Those were not good nights for our family.
“But, Daddy, I . . . I felt like Roy was the cool one. He was nice to Jenna, and Jenna was mean back! I don’t want to be like Jenna!”
“Oh, sweetie. I know it’s hard at this age, but it’s really important to try and fit in, even if you don’t want to. Do you understand?” Mommy put her arms around me and whispered into my hair about how it was going to be okay. How I was someday going to be a Normal. How I wasn’t going to have to be tortured my whole life.
My mommy smiled and pulled away, wiping my cheeks as if I had cried. She looked worried, worried for me that I wasn’t going to grow up to be a Normal. But I wasn’t crying. I felt really happy, actually, but I didn’t know why. I felt like I had figured something really important out, I just needed to figure out what it was I had figured out.
Ten Years Old
We’re all just pretending,
That we know what we’re doing
And we do what we love -
We’re all just pretending.
“Don’t you want to fit in?!” the discipliner screamed in my face. I flinched, then glanced to my left and caught Roy’s eye. He gave me an encouraging thumbs up. So, I turned back to the Normal C discipliner.
“Not really,” I replied cheekily.
She scowled, clearly fighting her instinct to immediately send me to Normal D.
“Well, I can’t understand that, but you’re stuck here until I give up all hope on you. The cameras haven’t labeled you D yet.” She glanced left as if to move on, then added, “yYou have detention now, for questioning the need to be normal.” And with that, she marched away.
I sighed and stared at my cafeteria tray. Roy also sighed. “We came so close that time! She looked like she was ready to send you to Normal D! I wish it wasn’t such a rigid system. It’s so difficult to fool them! If they haven’t legally moved you, no one can move you! …... I don’t get why you’re still legally Normal C, though.”
“Well, exactly what she said. They still believe that forcing me to write essays on ‘the reasons that being a Weird shrinks your paycheck’ will make me want to be a Normal. I already know that staying Weird means I’ll be poor. It’s not going to my mind. Shouldn’t they know that? I feel like they should be trying harder, right? ...they’re not even trying.”
I pressed my lips together for a moment, trying to figure out what felt so off about the dawning fact that they weren’t making an effort to actually make me normal.
But I shook it off. “Is it really true, though, that in Normal D, the discipliner just lectures you about why you should try to be normal?”
Roy stuck out his tongue. “I hate that word. Yes, it’s true. Normal B is for the kids that can’t quite fit in but are trying to. Normal C is for the kids that don’t want to fit in but can be convinced otherwise. And I think Normal D is where they essentially give up all hope and just start planning your accidental death.” He saw my expression and laughed. “OK, fine. Probably not. Anyway, we still have options, even if we never move back up, which we won’t. I bet you and I will be like those extra special cases, where they’re so smart and capable that they’re upgraded to high-paying Normal jobs, despite the fact that they can’t ever fit in.”
“Actually, at this point, that’s our only hope,” I joked. But inside, I had a feeling that even that was too unlikely. We were utterly determined not to fit in and not to limit ourselves to the level of others. The thing was, in our world, trying to be different limited your options more than not.
To the point where you had none.
I had been trying to get into Normal D ever since Roy moved down there. He’s always been weirder than me, and that fact has made me jealous - which of course, gives me more official fit-out points (because who would ever want to not be normal? Certainly not anyone even remotely normal!), but still not enough. I figure that once you got down to Normal D, staying weird is actually a piece of cake. What could they do to make us fit in? If you don’t want to be like everyone else, it’s pretty hard for people to change your mind. Once you want to be different, all you have to do is ignore the very people that make being like everyone else seem appealing, add in a little self-confidence, and you’re good.
I was jolted out of my thoughts when someone spilled their glass full of milk on me. It was some Normal. He rolled his eyes. “Oops, sorry Weird!” He laughed with his friends as I turned back to Roy.
“Like I needed another reminder of why I try not to fit in,” I muttered sourly. I liked the word sour - it actually sounded sour, sort of like the milk that they served in the cafeteria, which, again, the boy had just spilled on me. Jerk.
“You would think that they get enough laughter out of just seeing us in classes like Normal C. Maybe they’re jealous!”
I laughed at the ridiculous idea that anyone in Normal A would ever want to be in Normal C - if you’re in Normal A, it’s because you want and try to be normal.
Suddenly, I jumped out of my seat. I just had a brilliant idea. “I’ll be right back,” I said quickly, dashing out of the cafeteria. And it wasn’t to clean my milk-soaked shirt.
Twelve Years Old
I’m teaching a lesson
I know nothing about
My head’s in a cloud
In front of the crowd
By now, the ideas had all faded away into nonexistence - every thought I had, merged into that white smog in the back of my brain that I had begun to dread. Nothing new happened, nothing changed, nothing inspiring was going on around me. I had broken all my thoughts.
I guess part of the reason was that class was so boring. It was so monotonous that it was almost difficult to tune out the discipliner's droning to Normal D and draw on my paper. Or write. Or do math. I wanted to be ahead of Normal A, assuming they even learned in their class - I had a feeling they just ‘learned’ about how good it was that they fit in. Being Normal gets you the most money, anyway, regardless of your actual abilities, so learning was essentially useless.
Today, I couldn’t even muster the ability to think about my favorite pet thought, the one that usually came effortlessly - ‘do the kids in Normal A actually want to fit in, or do they just pretend they do so they’re accepted?’ It’s a lot of fun to consider the answer to this question, but for some reason, today I couldn’t do it.
I looked away from the window, which I had been staring at for about forty minutes without blinking, and at the discipliner standing in front of the board. Roy was smirking - somehow, he managed to look like he was paying attention, while actually zoning out even more than me.
“Can you paraphrase my explanation of the new ‘Forced Immersion’ curriculum?”
I licked my dry lips and cocked my head. What the heck was that? Had she been talking about that while I watched the clouds move outside the window? I tried to come up with a snappy response. “Sure. It’s a curriculum that forces immersion.”
The whole class giggled except for Maybelle. Maybelle was a stupid girl that was severely determined to move up to Normal A before she turned fourteen. She desperately wanted to fit in - probably the only thing holding her back was how rarely the camera data was reviewed these days.
The discipliner turned back to the chalkboard. “It’s the new education system for Normal classes C and D. Instead of educating you on why fitting in should be your absolute goal, we focus more on giving you real Normal experience - we try to help you understand why fitting in makes you happy, by making you fit in.”
Oh no. This curriculum sounded like it might actually involve my participation. That was bad - I needed to think about my idea!
“For the next week, your class will be treated like Normal A. You will go through the exact same curriculum, be required by rule to act normal, and there will be no mention of how truly weird you are. Now, only for a week, mind you, and then we’ll reflect on how much happier you felt during our experiment.” She flashed a grin of white teeth.
Roy stuck his hand in the air. “What are the actual rules we have to follow for this curriculum?”
“Ah,” she bent down, ruffling her hair up as she did so, and shuffled through her stereotypical neat stacks of paper. “Here it is,” she cleared her high voice and began reading out loud the most stupid list I had ever heard of.
“One. Act like everyone in Normal A. Two. Do not act unusual as you usually would. Three. Do everything you can to fit in, even if you don’t want to. Any questions?”
“Yes!” I shouted. “Are you telling us that you don’t actually know what ‘being normal’ means?!”
“Of course not. Normal means the same as everyone else - everyone knows that.”
Roy saw where I was going, and for the first time we employed our brilliance in confusing the discipliner as much as humanly possible. “But if everyone copies everyone else, then where does it start? Where does ‘normal’ begin?”
“Well,” she cleared her throat. “Normal is not unusual - it means an interest in the same fads and phases that everyone else has. It means the same clothes, the same kinds of friends, the same decisions and habits and beliefs.”
“But where do those fads start?!” I cried. “Who decided that short shorts should be considered normal, instead of the other way around?!”
“Well, I don’t know, it just happens-. . .”
“So, we can decide right now that how we act is the new normal!” Roy shouted. He climbed on top of his desk, shouting to the whole room. “Everyone! I am the most normal person on earth, and everyone else is weird?!”
“No! Normal is what the majority does.”
“Well, what if there are more people in Normal D than Normal A? Then is Normal D the new normal?”
“No. Yes. No. I don’t know.” She growled in frustration. “Sit down. Since when do you actually participate in class?”
“What if everyone was different? What would normal be then?!”
She groaned. “It doesn’t matter, you two, sit down! Right now, normal is everything you aren’t!”
It was such a loud, sudden outburst, and so cruel, that Roy and I sat down. She had never let us see her belief that we would never be Normal, but now it was out in the open. Roy was right.
And then, so quietly that everyone only just barely heard me, I asked my question to the world. It was quiet, but the room was so silent after the discipliner’s outburst that everyone heard me.
“Do normal people truly like being normal?”
Thirteen Years Old
I’m walking the fine line between love and hate,
And it’s not fine at all.
I walk the lonely road that is my fate,
And no cares when I fall.
“Roy, please come to the front,” the discipliner said. She was happy, but to my ears, it sounded somber. But everything did these days.
Roy cheerfully stepped to the front of the class, his chest puffed out. He was beaming, purposely not meeting my tear-filled eyes.
“Roy, congratulations! You’ve been moved up to Normal B! You realize, that’s the largest increase in Normal Quotient that anyone has ever had in ten years! I’m impressed! We’ll have you fitting in in no time!” She shook his hand vigorously. “We know you really want to join Normal A, and you probably could, but they just wanted to make sure you were completely ready. But don’t worry!”
Roy grinned. “Nah, I’m like, ‘whatever! I just get to be more normal!’”
She laughed. “That’s right, Roy! Say goodbye to all those painful years of being left out and teased!”
Wait. What if those years with me had actually been painful for Roy? No, no, no. I thought he had fun, I thought he liked me. He made me happy, being with me and helping me be different, stay different, never fit in. And now he had abandoned me. He must truly want to be accepted. But I accepted him. Did being normal actually just make him happy? It was the only explanation. But no, no, no… I was always the dark one, he was always so happy. Why did he want to go join Normal A?
It made no sense, why he did what he did.
In a daze, I got up as the lunch bell rang and sat down at our usual table. Not that it mattered, Roy was not going to sit down with me. He hadn’t for months. He didn’t sit down at my table, laugh at how my lunch had no milk, and then crack a joke about how bad the food was.
My eyes were squeezed tightly shut as I moved across the cafeteria to put my tray down for the cooks to wash. So, I didn’t see the foot, stuck out to trip me.
My toe caught on the designer shoe. My tray flew from my hands, the glass shattered, and I landed on my hands in broken shards of plate. But the wounds on my palms were nothing compared to what I was about to experience.
“Watch where you’re going, Weird. Seriously, haven’t you ever tried to fit in?”
The cold, sneering voice. Yet it was so familiar. I pushed myself up to see Roy smirking at me from the Normal A boy’s table.
I didn’t cry. I was furious, in a cold, hurt way. I reached out a shaking hand, and before he even realized I had moved, slapped him, hard.
I was seething inside, but my face looked absolutely calm. Don’t let it show. Don’t let it show, how sick you are of jail time and being teased and being considered a criminal because you don’t wear the same clothes as everyone else. Don’t let it show, how it actually hurts how you are judged based solely on what you are interested in. Don’t betray the anger at being abused and looked down on and tricked. Don’t show how tired you are of not being accepted because you aren’t accepted.
Where does it end?
I just tried to force all of my pain and displeasure at his betrayal, at his hypocrisy, into those two words. I couldn’t, there was too much to express. But I also couldn’t think of anything else to say. So I just marched out of the cafeteria, struggling to contain my rage.
Did Roy actually enjoy being Normal? Surely, surely the kindness of Weirdness was better than where he was now! Why did he change? When did he change? How did I miss this?! I had been wrong. Maybe it really was good to be Normal, maybe Normal A was actually happy, and Roy had never been happy with me. But no. I just couldn’t believe that the boy that used to be teased, used to joke with me, used to try and fit out with me, had just done the most shocking and surprising thing ever.
He had been normal.