One of the bigger problems with being the only Classics major at a Jesuit university is that all my friends were fairly old men before I had even reached drinking age. Now, they are pretty much gone back to the cradle of the grave, save one, who is on his way to a remote retirement home. As a young woman, my coterie wasn’t a terrible problem for me because some deep part of my psyche had been convinced, since I was about nine years old, that I myself was an old man. I sort of felt at home reading about the Second Punic War and identifying with the sexual ramblings of the naughty old Latin poets, noting between me and my teacher-purveyors of such materials only the occasional, modest differences in skin elasticity and dental sheen.
I never felt like a girl, although, to be sure, one’s ability to assess such a thing is limited to one’s observations and conceptions about what, for example, a girl is or does or thinks. I found myself “ungirlike” in comparison with my conceptions of “girl-ness,” perhaps most notably in the operations of my mind. I felt “old” and “serious.” I remember contemplating with enormous focus the abstractions of total being and absolute nothingness from my nursery room. My big wheel was solid black, and my Dad got me into fishing and hooking live bait. I had read Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil by eighth grade; my favorite book was Camus’ The Plague until it was replaced by Hesse’s more romantic investigations in Narcissus and Goldmund; and I spent my days writing philosophical poems and trying to teach myself to paint in the style of Chinese ink and wash painting. I couldn’t stand Sweet Valley High novels, and even my doll play was odd. I had a gay Ken doll, whom I named David, and his best friend was a shaven-headed Western Barbie, whose backstory was a woeful tale of drugs and topless dancing.
I was smart and friendly, but I didn’t fit in so well, finding myself little interested or skilled in doing and being and vibing what appeared to me to be girl typical. I felt like a clown when I tried to do my hair, especially lacking in art of bang-poofing (which was trendy, God help us, in that day). My make-up was inelegant, when I applied it, as many a yearbook picture (especially from 10th grade) bears witness. I recall dressing up for my first day as a freshman in high school, looking like a cross between a closed-cult escapee and a depressed, middle-aged bank teller. I wore white, scuffed pumps; a fuddy floral blouse; a too-long pencil skirt with a slightly color-mismatched blazer, and a silk necktie. I carried inside my jacket pocket a copy of J.D. Salinger’s Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, sneaking reads, under my unevenly applied eye shadow, between classes and beneath desks.
When I look back now, I realize that I was, legitimately, misfit. My interests and aptitudes were not well aligned with my context, or, in the very least, I was not able to communicate myself sufficiently to my context in a way in which I felt engaged in an authentic way. I was not depressed, or weird, or dangerous, or off, but rather, misplaced in my social location and even in my sex and gender vis-à-vis my own assumptions and observations about social and behavioral normalcy.
As I look back, I also realize that every person is misfit to her or his milieu in some essential ways. And, part of every human task is to be in relationship — moreover, to be in relationship so fully that one’s participation creates an occasion of meaningful belonging and possibly of transformation. Oneself, through one’s presence and participation, can change norms and create new spaces for what was not present before. You just have to show up in your skin and make something new, each and every time. I wish I hadn’t been so covert back then about what I was reading–I might have improved the literature curriculum. I wish I had written Mattel about my creative stories for Barbie and Ken. Perhaps they would have, who knows, released alternative lifestyles doll options into their collection. As for the bank teller outfit, well, that would have been a sound argument for stylish uniforms in public schools.
In my search for peace and purpose in this phase of my life, I discover that my sense of being a misfit has never gone away, but, to the contrary, has expanded. And I find that my challenge now and into the future is to accept my role, whatever the part, and to allow myself to be an occasion of real encounter, especially where I get that old familiar feeling of being yet again in some odd place or oddly placed. Gratitude and courage just have to win out over fear and presumption or judgment and normalization, especially when that fear and judgment and presumption are directed at oneself and even born of oneself. This is what I am trying to tell myself, at least, as I realize I am losing my last old man friend. I think I’ll make him a Chinese-inspired ink and wash painting of a lone girl setting up her fishing hook, to accompany this, translated into Latin metered text:
My friends are all in Florida,
That is, those who haven’t died
Guess I’ll read the funnies
So we won’t care why I’ve cried.
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.