Saturday, September 17, 2011

Not Very Normal

I had a very normal childhood, up to a point. I was raised by very nice crunchy liberal Christians who practiced the eighties version of attachment parenting. I went to good schools and on nice family vacations. No one in my family ever did anything scandalous, like drink too much or get divorced. My family was so normal, like the families you used to see on TV, that it took me many years to realize how abnormal it was to have such a normal family.

I don't know how my life got so strange. I think it might have been a lot of little things. I did move around a lot. I was really smart. I think my brain is weird. I was deeply religious until, as a teenager, I stopped being religious at all. I was a geek, and a girl, and a very serious tomboy, and I really didn't get how to do fashion at all. I do remember that I never woke up one morning and thought, "when I grow up, I want to do very strange things."

As it turns out, though, I have done a lot of weird stuff in my life. I think maybe the most surreal period was when our first baby was six months old and we had to move out of the first house we had bought together. It was an ok house, but it was not in a great place. We bought it because we were young and it was cheap and we could afford to live there and not work. It was in a "bad" neighborhood, but living there was probably a pretty good experience for a while. There were some nice people on the street, just like everywhere.

J made friends with some of the local kids, and once a bullet was shot into our house when one of them ran up on our porch to dodge it. That was scary, but it didn't exactly happen all the time. Something clicked, though, when we were living there with a baby and then a man was shot to death on the street a few doors down. We were broke then, too, and didn't feel like we had a lot of options, but I kind of started to freak out. We talked about all sorts of possibilities, from living with our parents to moving to a commune. In the end, though, none of that made sense, because it just so happened that we also owned a commercial building several blocks away on a major street...populous enough that it felt safer, and plus, we could turn the third floor into an apartment, with a locking steel door and windows high enough to be out of the way of stray bullets. So.

The thing about this building was that I'd been given quite a lot of money a few years previously. We didn't want to do anything as bourgeois as invest the money in a capital sense, so we'd used most of it to buy a building we could barely manage the upkeep of in the hopes that it could one day be made into a radical community center. (That did happen eventually - and that's another surreal story - but not until years later.) At the time we started living there, it was in lousy shape, and not particularly habitable. We had gotten as far as demolishing the internal walls, so that each floor was one big room. Also, it was January.

The first floor was minimally heated, so we curtained off a portion of the room about eight feet square, and it was tolerably warm in there. We moved our bed in and set up a computer with internet access, and that was that. J started spending nearly all his waking hours making the third floor into a habitable studio apartment, and the baby and I spent most of our time in the tent. Every day while he napped, I would put on my coat and hat and go into the kitchenette to make some kind of food and hand-wash dishes and diapers in ice-cold water. I know. That sounds insane. And it was. But we didn't have a car, or even a stroller. Once a week, we would bundle up, put the baby in a sling, and walk a mile to Whole Foods with our internal frame backpacks to buy groceries. I know. I think I was washing the diapers myself because I couldn't handle the thought of doing that walk two or three more times per week, alone, to get to the laundromat.

When I think back on the three months or so that it took before it got warm and we moved upstairs, there are layers upon layers of weirdness. Why didn't we sell the building and rent an apartment? For that matter, why didn't we get jobs and rent an apartment? Strangest of all, why were we shopping at Whole Foods but not buying a $25 stroller? I don't know. Or, rather, I know a lot of little reasons. Everything we were doing, every single decision, made sense at the time based on certain values - organic food, not driving, baby wearing, cloth diapering, staying out of the capitalist system (haha), etc. We were trying very hard not to have any privilege, or to make up for it somehow, and mostly I think we were just trying not to make things worse.

I still sometimes feel like I don't really know how to make decisions.

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