I never minded being a misfit. Think of every major character in every story and you'll be thinking of someone struggling to fit in. My problem was when people tried to push me into a category or clique that I did not agree with.
When the kids called me "One-ear" or "Lop-face" I couldn't argue that with them. I do have one ear; I do have a lopsided face. I also have a fused back bone that restricts the movement of my head. The kids couldn't quite figure that one out. They only knew I looked funny. I have other deformities that are not immediately observable. These further restricted my ability to fit in with the other kids. The final insult would be how the shape of my jaw forced me to speak with an east-coast accent. I'm a California dude! Why do I have to sound like a New Yorker? Man. What a drag. But irrefutable.
In early elementary school the kids were less cruel. They didn't have the cultural programming that says we must shun those different. I remember having a "girlfriend" because she thought my head cast was cool. As the grades flew past, more and more kids started to notice me. Fourth grade saw me dumped in trash cans and pushed up against chain-link fences. In fifth grade the boys started getting even more physical, punching me or pushing me down. Through it all I survived through books. I would always have a paperback novel, usually tucked in a back pocket. At the recess bell I'd walk to a line of trees at the back of the playground and settle into a story. This was my refuge.
Somehow, I made it through elementary school with a strong sense of self. I credit all those Sci-Fi books I read. Robert Heinlein, Issac Assimov, Arthur C Clark, these guys taught me to think like a hero. They told stories where an outcast saved Earth from aliens or robots or plain ole evil humans. You see, I identified with these characters. One fictional scientist explained his spotty memory and social skill deficiency with perfection. He said that he conserved mental space for the important things. He never bothered to assign brain cells to such trivial things as social grace. Yeah! Me too!
The mis-categorizing started in sixth grade. People started trying to associate me with the "Dork" crowd. The too-tall bespectacled guy with a chronic running nose or the girl with eyes too far apart. These people never defended themselves. They accepted the social classification as "uncool kids" or "dorks." They sat where the other kids told them to sit. They cowered when the bullies chanted, and they allowed others to define them. I could never accept this. In my head I was cool. In my head I was saving Earth from aliens. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't crazy. I just did not accept the moniker "Dork."
My solution was a bit extreme. You see, one of my problems was I was skinny. I didn't have the bulk to face down the bullies. So, I turned to my mind and spirit to fight for me. One day a kid pushed me down. I remember his name but it's not necessary to bring it up here. As he sat on me, punching me, I snapped. Instead of freaking out and wailing back I taunted him. "That's all you got?" I shouted. "Do it again, asshole!" I dared him. And he did. Over and over. He got bored with beating me, stood, and with his little band of guffawing friends, walked away. As I laid there, bleeding out of my nose, I thought "Hey, that wasn't so bad!"
From then on, when the bullies approached, I taunted them and withstood anything they threw at me. "Are you finished?" I'd ask in a bored voice. For a while they weren't finished. Then they were. It's no fun to beat on someone who doesn't cry or snivel or cower. They left me alone. This solution carried me through seventh grade. Some kid would try to shore up his own insecurity by attacking me and would find it "unsatisfying." So, they left me alone.
Alone is great until puberty rolls around. Now it’s critical that I become part of some clique. The loner deal makes a person invisible. Remember, in my head I'm a hero. I found myself identifying with a different kind of protagonist. Nicky Cruz from the Cross and the Switchblade, Ponyboy in the Outsiders. I found myself drawn to kids that lived on the criminal fringe. I wasn't violent, I didn't want to fight or hurt people. I had a strong sense of justice that would not let me victimize people. But I could steal from them, no problem.
From sixteen on I sank into alcohol, drugs, and petty crime. It was the seventies, so Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll was a generational thing. I didn't get the sex thing though. Remember, I'm still a funny looking kid. I wound up in a clique known as the "Partiers." We drank, we drugged, we caused mischief and we had a running battle with the jocks. Just like in Outsiders! Again, I was no fighter. Even still, I saw some epic "gang fights." Unlike Nicky Cruz, I never took up the blade. My power was in humor and intelligence.
The height of our petty crime came in the form of burglary. We'd run along the roofline of our small-town main street and drop into a closed restaurant or bar. The target was hootch. Sometimes we'd get into a house but those were more about excitement than loot. We had a couple target homes where we knew they had "quarter jars." We'd steal enough to go play but not enough to be obvious to the jar's owner.
And play we did. Again, this was the seventies, so keg parties were the norm. Too young to buy alcohol was no barrier. We got plenty. We were local heroes because we'd get kegs down to Second Beach or we'd show up with one at parties. The high life. I was doing "crank" because it let me drink more beer. I was smart, I stayed away from needles. Everything else was A-OK.
I'd dropped out of high school because, duh, I was eighteen! I went on an adventure to Salem Oregon with three other friends from my "clique". I was fitting in now! Wow. We got a dose of reality in Salem Oregon. No parents to support us, only one of us had a job, another had access to a trust fund, so he paid the rent. The rest of us collected cans for five cents each. That bought us day old bread from Hostess and of course, Budweiser. Meanwhile, back in the hometown, friends were dropping dead. The twins died in an alcohol-fueled car crash; another friend OD'd. The motorcycle dude slammed into the side of a van.
Life in Salem opened my eyes. No diploma meant no job. The group of friends I was with began fighting. Over a girl no less. She was worth fighting for though, I must admit that. It worked out that we all wound up back in the hometown. I made a smart decision and went to my bio-moms place in the countryside. I studied for my GED and passed the exam. I graduated before my peers at my high school but missed the graduation ceremony.
I still had no direction. My group of friends were still living the party life. And the deaths continued. My best friend and I made another smart decision. We got out of the hometown and went to his dad's house in another state. I had a bumper sticker that summed things up nicely. It read: Since I gave up hope, I feel much better. We did OK. I had a diploma so I got a job. My friend was Adonis with a hammer, so he got a job. We were in construction. I was a parts runner; he was on the crew. We still partied, but we were respectable now.
I was fitting in. My native smarts pushed me in to managerial roles but my lack of education kept me from management. We were still partying, coke replaced crank. Beer was a constant thing. But man were we happy! The boss of the company we were working for got divorced and went on a drug spree that destroyed our little crew. I found myself alone again as my friend returned to our hometown. I survived on jobs like a Circle K clerk or a fast-food cashier. At night I roamed the streets, liking myself to a "night walker," becoming a patron of strip clubs. I facilitated a few small drug deals and got to know the girls. I met a "diamond in the rough" so to speak. A clean girl working to raise her two boys. We got married and I became a step-dad.
The lack of education bothered me. I was ambitious. I knew the party days were over and I was anxious to be a good stepdad. So, I got an associate degree at a local technical institute. Another smart decision and one that set me up for a pretty successful life. While I never did fit in with the others at work and my social life was non-existent, I was no longer alone. I belonged. It was nice and I credit this with saving my life. I had always figured I'd be dead by 25 but here I was, a homeowner with a new car and a family.
Drugs are no longer a part of my life although alcohol continues to plague me. Most of my "clique" are now dead or incapacitated. My inability to fit in will always be a part of who I am. So will my belief in myself. I never allowed others to dictate who I am. That was my journey and mine alone. The road I took to get where I am now is definitely not one I'd suggest to others, but I would not have changed a thing.
In the years since I have influenced others with my stories of how to take the wrong path. One of my stepsons grew up to be a successful fireman with a beautiful family. A nephew in prison came out, got clean and has a home and a family who loves him. Another nephew who faced a life-direction issue is now an international student. There are others but I am not here to brag. I'm still kind of invisible. I'm still an outsider looking in; but I have met my internal hero and brought him into the light. I don't fit in, and I am cool with that. I've got stories to tell and a yen to tell them. All my protagonists will be misfits and every one of them will make their own path to their destiny. Misfits rule.
About the author
Man, I have lived at least five different lives so far and I'm not even 60 years old.
Young punk - Step-dad - Corporate climber - Artist - Teacher in South China - Family man.
I've sold photos, published short stories, and marched in parades