“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” This had always been her family’s motto. She was sure at least one relative had it tattooed on some part of their body. She often thought of how, if she lived in the 18th or 19th centuries, she would have done a sampler with the words carefully embroidered on it. If her family “got” the ironic and the satirical, she would have given them a family crest designed, ala heraldry, with the words in Latin framing the shield.
In fact, none of her family members “got” her; she was far too unique, in her opinion, for the very conservative and conventional like-mindedness of her relatives. What made it altogether odder was she had tried to conform to the family norm. Her free-spiritedness, her sense of adventure, her spontaneity was never enhanced by any desire to be different. These “character flaws” she had tried to suppress; to blend in with her brothers and sisters, to replicate her parents’ worldview in her-self.
She and her siblings had all gone to the same schools (often had the same teachers) and their friends were linked together by family – the families that, in turn, her parents socialized with. Why she was so different made no sense. She had spent hours looking at the mirror in her room, trying to find in the shape of her face, the placement of her eyebrows, the color of her eyes, the thinness of the mouth something that wasn’t a reflection of her parents and siblings. But, she saw her family staring back at her; the only difference was something she couldn’t hide. Her eyes sparkled when she laughed, glinted green-gold when the sun shone on her face, threw lightning bolts when she as angry. In comparison, her family had dead eyes; they lacked the life that shone so strongly in hers.
Always imaginative (another non-family trait), she came up with fantastical stories of how she ended up in such a conventional family looking just like they did. First, there was the fairy princess theory. Her mother, Primrose, was a fairy princess whose fairydom, Moonlight, was under attack. Primrose decided she would sprinkle pixie dust on her small daughter, Evergreen, transforming her, for a period, into a human child. One night when the moon was especially full, on the back of an owl, Primrose and Evergreen flew into her human family’s garden. Here, among the humans fairies shunned, Evergreen would be safe. The dust sprinkled, Primrose said a tearful goodbye. When the pixie dust wore off (she was unclear in her theory as to when this would happen), Evergreen would awaken one morning, knowing her heritage and her task. Taking fairy form, she would return to Moonlight and set all wrongs right. She had pages and pages of illustrations for this theory.
Next was the possibility she was a visitor from another world who took on her shape to blend in; while the physical morph was extremely accurate, the emotional, personality side wasn’t functioning correctly. She had no memory of what her mission was; a brain scrubber had gone too deep, leaving her only with earth bound memories and a personality that didn’t blend in. When no contact between her and her home world happened after a certain number of years, a scout ship broke all warp-speed records getting to Earth. Realizing what must have happened, the flight doctor administered a shot of reawakening truth serum; all her memories came flooding back. She left a note for her parents, boarded the scout ship, and flew back beyond the stars. Doodle in the margins of school notes traced this heritage on a galactic scale.
Then there was the possibility she had been adopted she before she turned 6, chosen because she looked like a combo of her mother and father. As she had no clear memories, no events and places to tie the memory to until she was 6+ this seemed more plausible. However, everyone from siblings to great-great uncles would have to be in on the conspiracy of adoptive silence; a family that sticks together says nothing together. Despite this, she often daydreamed of meeting her birth parents who would immediately bond with her. Her birth parents, kept apart by evil, greedy members of both families, spend years trying to find each other. As soon as they were reunited, they set out on another search: to find their daughter. She still liked the exotic notion of being from beyond the known universe or the fantasy one of being from the fairydom of Moonlight. Her birth parents were a product of her teenage romantic story telling.
Her teenage angst wasn’t how to distance herself from the norms of her family, but how to finally and firmly conform to them. Try as she might, by high school she had been labeled and slotted in “free-spirit” courses such as English lit, Drama Club, Art, Film; a flighty version of her solid A, gold-star over-achieving but conventional siblings. She was sure teachers shook their heads, and clucked like chickens when her name came up. She had the eyes and personae, but not the necessary talent for acting, drawing, shooting videos/films.
Feeling a failure at school, (she was steered away from the math, science and tech courses she wanted to excel in) and at home, she doubted she would ever fit into the world around her. As a young adult, she still couldn’t reconcile how she could be woven of the same cloth as her brothers and sisters. A different weaver, a new batch of yarn, a refurbished loom – something had sent her down a yellow road in the woods less travelled by any member of her extended family.
She had gone against the family motto many times. For example, she gave up the notion of ever fitting in anywhere. Family reunions were painful; being labeled by temperament, not talent was frustrating. How was it possible NOT to be a carbon copy of her family when she WANTED to be a cookie-cutter daughter, an assimilated student, a conforming teenager? Why did all her attempts at the goal of fitting in, of truly being a member of her extended family always backfire, and make her seem even more flighty, moody, artsy?
Something extraordinary happened when she left her room in her parents’ house behind, and moved into an apartment in the city. Here, she had 3 roommates who didn’t know her family, didn’t expect her to be a certain way, to be conventional, conservative, cautious. The city embraced spontaneity, loved sparkling, flashing eyes, made room for free spirits. She blossomed in ways she never thought possible while she was on her fitting in regime. Her parents said she was changing, becoming less like her brothers and sisters. This was a welcome comment; before she would only see that look in her parents’ faces when such comparisons were made, and she always came up short. Her family would never understand her, nor be an intricate part of her world. Fairy princesses, ETs, and birth parents were the stuff of dreams; to create a past that fit with the present and the future. Now, she could create a present and a future, she didn’t need to look so much into the past.
She took several calligraphy classes through an evening education program and found an art form she DID have the talent for. The last evening of her more advanced class, each student was to present their own, special piece of calligraphy. Skill in the existing alphabets blended with each person’s own unique character, creativity, and voice to produce something that was more than just an exercise in skill. She was nervous, especially since she had help with part of the project. She whispered that into her instructor’s ear before class started. The lettering was all hers, the artwork, not. The teacher nodded her approval of full disclosure. Student after student revealed incredible word paintings, interactive designs, funky, satirical observations. Each one unique in its own right.
She took a deep breath as she moved to the front of the classroom. She was surprised at just how nervous she felt; nervousness that had eaten at her through her childhood and teenage years. She greeted the class, exclaiming how amazing the projects were, thanking the instructor for her hard work and creativity, and explaining the role an artist friend had played in her project. Then she unwrapped the large package she had gripped the corners of all night. There were two picture frames on a wallpapered wall. One contained a painting of her family – done as she explained, by a friend. The other frame, larger and more ornate, contained words written in a calligraphy style all her own. “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.”