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.