Belong

January 8th, 2006

I’ve never really felt as though I belong.

That’s not entirely true. I didn’t know it at the time, primarily because it’s not the kind of thing I thought about then, but I think I felt like I belonged when I was a kid. I’m talking about everything prior to eleven-years-old.

Oak Park, Illinois, was a real neighborhood. Chris and I played wiffle ball with Sean and Dusty. The four of us organized football games with kids from other streets. We roller skated, played kick the can, tag, the works. There was a real sense of inclusion, or community. It was, perhaps, such an apparent thing, that only in its absence did I begin to miss it.

In August of 1982, my mother packed Chris, me, and our springer spaniel Alfie into our brown, wood-pannelled Oldsmobile station wagon, and drove us to Berwyn, Pennsylvania. It was like moving from Mayberry to “Beverly Hills 90210.”

In Oak Park, our neighbors were nurses, teachers, mechanics, and policemen. They drove Chevy Novas, Mercury Cougars, and Ford Granadas. Prosperity was a new jungle gym.

Berwyn was a whole different planet. Our neighbors were doctors, lawyers, professors, and principals. They drove Saab Turbos, Audi 5000s, and Porsch 911s. Prosperity was a place on St. Barth’s.

More importantly, though, kids grew up more quickly there, and I was way behind. They were experimenting with kissing, drinking, and drugging. I was reading “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.”

Worse yet, I wasn’t interested in the things the other boys were. Baseball? No thanks, I’d rather sing along with the radio. Football? Nah, I’ll be over here listening to Duran Duran on my Walkman. Kickball? Nope, I’ll be talking with the girls.

When I was home last week, I found a video tape of my last day of high school. In some ways, it shattered my memory of those times. I wandered from table to table in the lunchroom, and from group to group in the hallways, embraced and accepted by all. But I remember that day. I was stoned. And I was stoned for a reason.

I was stoned because I didn’t feel like I belonged. I lived day to day, moment to moment, with the creeping sense that nobody liked me. It was like a low-level buzz, a white noise machine that was always on, and always whispering in my ear, “They don’t really like you. They think you’re ugly and stupid.’ It was all about what I wasn’t, not what I was.

Of course, none of it is that simple. It’s more of a feeling, one that developed over time. And it took me a long, long time to identify it, and even begin to remedy.

Last night, though, amongst my brother, and cousins Bill, Brian, and BJ, it was impossible not to feel as if I belonged. It’s not that I don’t feel a little bit like a fireman amongst policemen. I am, after all, the only unmarried, non-parent amongt them. But they are the very face of home: mobile, every-changing, chaotic, joyous, and fleeting.