“Why can’t we be like normal people?” I hated the whine in my voice.
Mom just stood there. Did that one eyebrow up thing that I couldn’t master no matter how much I tried in front of my mirror. Her mouth twisted the way it does, when she fights a smile, or a laugh out loud laugh, the one I love, but now so embarrasses me around kids my age.
“Normal people?” she said quietly, “Who wants to be like normal people?”
“I do!” I yelled. I never yelled at my mom. I just wanted to fight today, ever since I got up late, got to school late, had to see the principal . . . again. Because mom didn’t wake me.
She and dad think we are old enough to take responsibility.
“When you go to college, no one will wake you, no one will make you breakfast, no one will do your laundry or change that toilet roll when it runs out. Might as well learn now.”
John and I had heard that refrain over and over when we griped about how most moms still did stuff, how school and homework were hard enough without having to do everything else.
“You don’t know from hard,” Mom would say. End of the discussion.
“We are so weird.” I kept going, knowing full well I shouldn’t but it spilled out.
“Jackie said so on the bus. She was two rows back, but I could hear her. Those weird Waffenschnellerschmidts.
I hadn’t turned around, stared straight forward, my face warming, likely beaming scarlet. Heard them all laughing. “Weird Wanda Waffenschnellerschmidt.” Jackie had yelled, barking that laugh of hers, making her gang giggle.
That was one weird thing about my parents. They each had their own last name, and my classmates liked to run the two names together. Schneller and Waffenschmidt. Now forevermore Waffenschnellerschmidt.
I knew I shouldn’t have invited Jackie’s friend Holly over. Should have known she’d go running back to her ringleader to report my weirdness. But I liked Holly. She didn’t seem like a mean girl. She was a good writer too. In English class she shared some great poems. I thought she might be different. And yes, I guess I thought, if she liked me, I might be able to join the popular crowd, the cafeteria table of girls who everyone wanted to join, the laughing girls, with Jackie at the head of the table.
I invited Holly over to write, to show her my private writing space Dad had built in my room.
“Every writer needs a room of her own,” mom had pronounced when they did the big reveal. A big window seat, complete with a curtain to give me total privacy, a thick scarlet fabric, my favorite color. It made me think of the loft in my favorite childhood book, Heidi.
Holly squealed when she saw the space. Went running over and climbed in. We sat facing each other on the window seat, legs crossed. “This is so cool,” she kept saying. “I could do my best writing in a place like this. You are so lucky.” I remember how excited I was. “She thinks I’m cool.” Maybe I was making a friend. Maybe I wouldn’t always be the odd girl who started school as a Junior when all the cliques were already formed.”
The next day it started.
“Weird Wanda Waffenschnellerschmidt.” They sang it to the tune of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. Followed me down the hall singing.
Mom stood now, waiting, eyebrow raised. “Normal people?”
“Normal people don’t have bookshelves and books in their entry way!” I yelled, feeling it all bubbling up, the embarrassment from the exchange on the bus. “Normal people have shoes and boots and jackets and, and . . . sports gear.” The exact words Jackie had proclaimed loudly so the whole bus could hear.
When Holly had commented on the big bookshelf packed with books taking up most of the entry, with just room enough for one curved wood coat rack, and the scarlet umbrella I had left open and dripping, I’d felt proud.
“Wow!” Holly had said in a surprised voice, “You have books in your entry, so many books.”
I thought she sounded impressed, really. She was a writer after all. Which meant she had to be a reader. My family are big readers, all of them, even John, the only one of them who even had sports gear and that was only his soccer shoes and ball. There weren’t only books in the entry, but books filled every room of our tiny house. Books stacked on side tables, on the coffee table, on the kitchen counter.
Of course, there are books in the entry.
Why wouldn’t there be?
Kathie Hightower is the author of nonfiction books, now writing her first novel. She is also co-founder of the Manzanita Writers’ Series. This piece is the result of a writing prompt during WordPlay at the Hoffman Center, writing in response to one of the art pieces in the Scarlet show, The Vestibule, ink by Robin Clear.