How to be Normal

by Nina Rodenko

First, accept that the concept of normalcy goes hand in hand with the sense of belonging. You can only reach happiness if you’re fitting in. Start early and get a boyfriend in kindergarten. Hold his hand in front of other girls and learn to be valued for having a man beside you. Catch him showing doggies on his underwear to Mindy Johnson. Act as if nothing happened. 

Wish to be a singer when you grow up. Tell everybody you’d rather die than do anything else. Excel in art and humanities, fail in everything else, then blame it on your left hemisphere. Develop a crush on your middle school teacher and call it platonic. Write a poem about your love and drop it in her bag. When your handwriting is deciphered, get lectured by your crush about numerous grammar mistakes you’ve made. Write a poem about misunderstanding. Convince yourself that you don’t have romantic feelings for your married, old, female teacher. 

Dress like a gothic slut, attracting pedophile’s attention. Listen to Evanescence, sitting on the windowsill and contemplate suicide. You’re a teenager and the world just doesn’t get you. Take singing lessons and break your karaoke machine for making you sound like a pig at the slaughterhouse. Believe in yourself. Even when your own mother tells you your voice is bad and you should forget about the stage. The same mother who signs you up for dancing school and piano lessons, drawing classes and macrame courses. That mother who never pushes you into studying law or dentistry, who gives you the freedom of not seeking money and prestige in unwanted careers.  

  Lose your best friend to a spindly guy with pockmarks and long hair. Realize that you’re the only one in your high school who has never been kissed and lie that you were. Keep your unwanted feelings for older people to yourself and start dating the most popular guy in town even though his sweaty hands and body odor put you through nine circles of hell. Your friends will ask you why you have some woman’s name carved on your desk; tell them it’s just an admiration for a pop star or something. In your essay about Dostoyevsky compare Crime and Punishment to being in love with the wrong person and how you wish to club the feeling with an ax. Hope it is treatable.  

When your music teacher  ells you that your voice is more frail than a burned wick in a tealight candle, cry for three days, then choose a career that will satisfy your insatiable desire for attention. Like acting. Join a local theater club with five people in their troupe and believe that one day your face will adorn a skyscraper in Times Square. 

Move to a bigger city after graduation and apply for the best acting school in the country. Fail miserably and attend cheap community college, carrying the whole unfairness of the world on your shoulders. When you get a job at the local grocery store to make ends meet in the city where no one cares about you, think about Jennifer Aniston who waitressed at a burger joint right before becoming famous. Download Tinder and start dating like normal people your age. Attend parties even though loud music and booze make you numb and depressed. Leave your introvertism at home and approach strangers — you never know which one of them is a producer you can sleep with.  

Learn Neuro-Linguistic Programming and tell yourself that you will be accepted into your dream school next year no matter what. Practice your monologue in the broom closet outside your dorm room every day after a six hour shift and three general education classes. Spend all your money on an Acting tutor and try not to fall for her. Keep your eyes on the prize and not on her electric blonde hair or the diaphanous sleeves of her gooseberry green dress. You have a boyfriend for God’s sake. He steals Snickers bars and old crockery for you, teaches you to cook artichokes and tells you he’d give his kidney for you if there’s ever a need. Love him back. As much as you can. 

Never give up. But when your acting school rejects you once again walk to the side of the highway and tell yourself you can finish this mistake some call life. You are the biggest loser in this galaxy and there is no point in trying to prove nature wrong. Close your eyes and make that step forward. Hear a beep and recoil — you can’t do it after all. Walk around the city till you get a sunstroke and vomit in the bushes right by your building. 

Try a silent retreat — that way you don’t have to tell anyone what has happened. That you have no talent and from now on, no self-esteem. On your way home from Safeway, carrying another ice cream cake in a plastic bag, notice an audition flyer on a pole. They are looking for a girl your age, your height, your bone structure. Think it’s a sign, think that perhaps God was just testing you and this is your chance to show the bastards in that overrated school for show-offs how much they have lost. Dress in your best outfit you stole from Zara a few months ago and act like Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice. Get a we’ll-call-you-back line from a casting director and sleep with your phone for a week before acknowledging your naiveté. 

Go back to your hometown and stick a black ribbon on your life: it’s over. Get choked on the wanness of your existence. Die.

The harp strings of light will wake you up even with the curtains closed. Stay in bed till you have to pee. It’s funny how you can decide your life is over but your body disobeys your wishes. Throw your phone away — the silence of it is intolerable. Realize that all the connections you’ve made were based on lies and even your so-called friends are nothing but obnoxious brats. Rediscover yourself in books. Tell your father to fuck the normalcy. Pack your old poems, your high school diploma, your Save the Mermaids T-shirt and run away with the circus.

About the Author

Nina Rodenko is a student in Creative Writing and Public Speaking at College of Marin, California. She also has BA in linguistics and is currently working on her first novel. Nina lives in San Francisco Bay Area.