Friday, September 6, 2013

The Thought Police (or How I Know My Parents Love Me Unconditionally)

                I imagine my parents would be hard-pressed to pinpoint exactly when they knew they were raising such a weird kid. Was it when I was nine and my mom refused to let me send yet another fan letter to Full House’s John Stamos? Or was it much earlier, when my parents would wake up in the middle of the night to find me standing at the foot of the bed, staring at them while they slept? Either way, it soon became clear that they were blessed with a kid with obsessive tendencies.
                In a lot of ways, I was a perfectly ordinary child. I loved to read, play outside, and close my eyes and pretend like I was blind for hours at a time, just like any normal kid. However, I also had a habit of becoming myopically fixated on one thing. While I’m sure my parents enjoyed each of the 1,473 times we listened to the Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat soundtrack, some of my other preoccupations were downright bizarre. They include:

Return to Oz
                Most people probably have not seen this low-budget Disney sequel to the Wizard of Oz. In it, Dorothy is forced to enter a mental institution for electroshock therapy because no one believes her visions of Oz. During a thunderstorm, she and her pet chicken escape from the asylum, jump into a river, and end up in Oz. However, Oz has been taken over by a gang of Wheelers- thugs on roller blades who have pizza cutters instead of hands. They are at the disposal of Princess Mombie- an evil woman who has turned everyone to stone. During the destruction of Oz, Princess Mombie stole all of the heads of the beautiful women of Oz, now keeps them in a glass corridor, and changes heads based on her mood. To be clear: She removes whichever head she is currently wearing and replaces it with a head she stole from someone else. This is an actual movie made for actual children.
                So it comes as no surprise that my parents were relatively concerned with my fascination with the movie. For months, I demanded to watch it every day, even though it completely terrified me. Even worse, I removed the heads from all of my Barbies and lined them in a row to simulate the glass hallway in Mombie’s castle. Recently, I asked my mom if she was concerned at that point that I might be a sociopath.
                “On the one hand, I was glad to see that you didn’t seem to have any unrealistic body standards from playing with Barbies,” she said  “On the other hand, you were beheading all of your dolls and lining up the heads. So yeah, that was cause for concern.”

“Oklahoma! is my all-time favorite musical!” said no one ever.
Except me. For like, seven years. The play follows the lives of a few plucky residents in the Oklahoma territory as they fall in love and navigate the tensions between cowboys and ranchers. The creepy dream sequence terrified me. This, of course, means I forced myself to watch it over and over again. I didn’t actually care for most of the characters, but I loved Ado Annie. I’ve always been more interested in sidekick characters. When all of my friends were obsessed with Home Improvement’s Jonathon Taylor Thomas, I was way more into Boy Meets World’s Ryder Strong- main character Corey Matthew’s mildly troubled best friend. Sidekicks just seem so much more attainable. When you’re a make-believe playing middle schooler with a nervous twitch and orthopedic shoes, attainability is a very important quality.
Every March, my grandpa would take our entire family on vacation: Aunts, uncles, and cousins would take a plane to Sanibel Island or Destin for an all-expense paid trip to a resort. The weeklong vacations played out like sociological experiments- the interminable flight delays, the long days spent with relatives with conflicting personalities, the Machiavellian posturing to get the best condo.
                The adults would vote each October about where we would go the following March. One year, when I was about seven, I started campaigning hard for us to go to Oklahoma. I wanted to see the cowmen and the ranchers. I wanted to visit a place where people sing all of the time for no discernible reason. I wanted to ride in a fucking surrey. I was devastated when my vote was passed over to go to Florida. Again.

Post Script: I have since visited Oklahoma. Even though I was in my twenties and understood that no one would be wearing prairie dresses or singing about how everything’s up to date in Kansas City, it was still a major letdown.

Bad Thoughts
I have no idea how this started. I was not raised Catholic. Nothing traumatic happened in my childhood. I was never punished in any sort of weird way involving canes or waterboarding. I didn’t see Psycho until college. But for some reason, in elementary school I developed a compulsive need to confess to my parents any bad thought I had about anyone else.
                Now, this might not sound like that big of a deal. In a way, it may have been a relief to my parents to know that their daughter was physically incapable of misbehaving in any way- not even in her mind. Still, this was a disruptive compulsion. We were at a classroom orientation when I had to pull my mom aside that very moment and whisper that I thought my teacher looked like a yeti.
                Let me clarify: I was not trying to be mean or judgmental. Just the opposite: I was so horrified by the idea that such a thought entering my head meant that I might possibly be mean or judgmental that I had to immediately absolve myself of my sins by telling my parents and having them soothe me. Or laugh at me. Or roll their eyes in exasperation.
                I’m not sure when this urge started to subside. I’m not entirely sure that it has completely subsided. I think, to a certain extent, all of us want to be mollified and understood and told that it’s okay, we’re not bad or weird people. Maybe, to a certain extent, we are all drawn to the things that scare and repel us. There is an intrinsic urge to conquer that which is dark or scary or foreign. Or maybe I’ve just spent too much time analyzing my childhood obsession with the Letter People.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Existential Angst: Middle School Edition

Always a chronicler, I have saved every one of my journals from fourth grade through the one I currently keep. My favorites are the ones from middle school.

Middle school is a difficult time; a time in which kids are asking themselves questions. Questions like, "Who am I?", "What is my place in the world?", and "What is the point of a Giga Pet?" (if it's 1997).

I hated middle school. No, it was more than that- I was baffled by middle school. From a social standpoint, I had no idea what was going on around me. My peers quoted Seinfeld and listened to Green Day. Sarcasm erupted as the main form of communication. Meanwhile, I listened to the "Evita" soundtrack while practicing figure skating routines in my socks on the hardwood floors of our living room. I wasn't clever enough to exchange what passed as witty repartee and usually ended up overly angry and in tears. My parents didn't let me walk to McDonald's with everybody after school and I never saw the point of going to the mall to hang out. The only boys I was even remotely interested in were Devon Sawa from "Little Giants" and Ryder Strong from "Boy Meets World". JTT was overrated and real-life boys were terrible (except for Mark, my brief 8th grade boyfriend). I dressed purely for comfort and sported what was dangerously close to a unibrow. 

To be honest, I kind of love that I was so clueless regarding the social mores of junior high. Don't get me wrong, it was miserable at the time. But now I'm thrilled that I was more concerned with getting an A in Social Studies than impressing some asshole who thought he was cool because he could chug an entire 2 liter of Surge.

And when everyone else was making out during Titanic? I was obsessing over Devon Sawa. But I was also tackling the big questions, like:

Who Am I?


You know, I am so confused! I am popular with a group at school, but the other group whispers about me and spreads rumors. Dad says I'm stronger than I think, but I am a weakling. I like Devon Sawa so much. He looks like a sweetheart. And boy, what a hunk! He has my heart pounding. I love "Little Giants". Devon Sawa is in it! I am going to buy it. I feel better. Bye!

What Kind of a Person Am I?

January 24, 1996
I feel soooooooooooooooooooooooo horrible. Today, I invited Stacey over on the bus. No one was home. We came in, ate (a lot), and then we played on the computer. Then we went downstairs and we played a game. I was trying to fix a lampshade (tilt it) and it broke. Dad can't fix it. MAYBE IF THEY SEND ME TO BOARDING SCHOOL I WON'T DO ANY MORE DAMAGE. MAYBE I WOULD. HOW? I WISH THEY'D GIVE ME THE PUNISHMENT. I DESERVE IT. I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL THIS WHOLE NIGHTMARE IS OVER. I AM EXTREMELY MISERABLE. HURRY UP, D&M! I DISERVE THE MOST HORRIBLE PUNISHMENT THEY GIVE. I HAVE BEEN BAD. I HATE TO SAY IT, BUT I THINK I'VE BETRAYED MY PARENT'S TRUST.

January 25, 1996

Mom and Dad chose extra chores and 4 days off the computor. I AM GOING TO DIE.

What Happens After We Die?

Dear Journal,
I’m at the Morehead’s, babysitting William.  He’s 2.  We’re playing cars.  Later on, I’m going to Emily’s to babysit the three year old twins while Emily goes to her grandmother’s funeral service.  Her grandmother’s being cremated.  The weather is fittingly grey.  I don’t know if I want to be cremated or not.  I mean, do you want to be remembered as ashes in a vase?  Or even worse, a zip-loc bag?  And I’d rather not be sprinkled anywhere.  How do they burn them?  What an awful job.  Do family members watch? 
          Well, c-ya!
          Erin Seals
And, Of Course- Will Princess Diana's Kids EVER Be OK? 

August 30th, 1997
Dear Journal,

It is 11:21.  Princess Diana is dead.  I never knew much about Princess Di, but there is a deep sadness, a turmoil in my heart.  Maybe because her children are 15 and (my own age) 13, and how would I be able to live without Mom?  I don’t want to find out.  She was younger than Mom!  I am crying.  I’m so sad.  I am going to find out more about Princess Di.  She died in a Mercedes Benz accident.  The Mercedes Benz was black.  She was with a friend (a man, killed; and a bodyguard, I’m not sure).  It was a Mercedes Benz 600 series Sedan.  She was 36 and Mom turned 37 nine days ago.  I’m so sad.  It’s a deep feeling in my chest.  Oh God, please help the world in our time of mourning.  Oh God, please help her children!  Please help her children be strong and please comfort them.  Help us, God.  We love you.
-          Erin Seals
P.S. Please help her kids, her children.