The other day some of my faraway family came into town for a visit, and I got a chance to see my little cousins. I say, “little.” One is nine the other just turned a dozen, so they’re already pretty grown-up. Or at least I thought I was so at that age.
I can’t stand the 12-year-old. She’s started staring at people. Not to any practical purpose or to win a staring game, but just to do it.
It doesn’t bother me that she does it to me; it bothers me that she does it all. I had thought that was my thing.
Yes, I was that kid in Junior High and High School. But it was okay because I had figured out that it was socially taboo to stare at someone for a long period of time with an expressionless face, and I had figured it out on my own. By doing this simple thing, I could make other people intensely uncomfortable, which is far more entertaining that it has any right to be or you may be able to appreciate now.
But now she’s doing the same thing and for the same reasons (at least I assume), and that was my thing that made me oh so clever and unique.
She’s a cute girl, and will likely grow up to be very well-liked and well-adjusted, but I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive her this, ever.
There are some things I just don’t like to acknowledge, and my lack of uniqueness is one of them. Yes, yes, we’re all unique and beautiful snowflakes, but when you’re a child, you’re told and can honestly believe (because everyone else seems to believe it) that you’re really super special and no one else is like you. When you’re five being bright is enough to be called a genius. No one is actually talking about you, they’re talking about what you may one day become. But life goes on and potential shrinks and one day being “smart for your age” no longer matters, just being smart does. By early adolescence, you aren’t actually as smart, artistic, or athletic as you had been convinced you were, but you still want to be special. And as you exit childhood, you start to realize other people actually perceive you. If you can’t excel, one of the ways to stay special is just to do something weird.
Maybe I’m drifting off topic here, but what an amazing revelation it was then that you can affect someone else’s life by doing nothing but looking, just looking. How proud I might be of figuring it out–if not for a cousin coming along to throw in my face it’s just something some people do.
Not that I didn’t know all of this before. Working at a convenience store quickly horrified me as I (and I’m sure anyone who’s worked a customer service job) realized that people are all the same. If you place us in a given situation, we will all behave in the same way, ask the same stupid questions, and make the same tired jokes everyone before us has, all the while fully convinced of our own individuality and wit.
So I wasn’t even weird. I was just common without virtue or benefit. It’s insulting, and she insulted me whether she realizes it or not.
I’m totally not getting her anything this Christmas.