This seems like an appropriate place to share that, as a kid, I was pretty extraordinary. I didn’t realize it at the time, though. Back then, I was healthy, quiet, well-behaved, made good grades, and stayed so far below the radar in all aspects of life that I felt terminally ordinary and completely unremarkable.
I remember feeling jealous of my older brother and sister for being unique, standing out in the crowd, and always getting attention, whereas I was so boring and nondescript, I was practically invisible.
Now, had they known I felt that way, they probably would’ve smacked me in the face for my nàiveté and ignorance, because much of the attention they received was negative. My brother has a mild case of Cerebral Palsy and my sister is Korean, but I don’t think it was till we moved from Chicago (with a brief stint in New Jersey) to a small town in the South that the three of us realized how atypical our family looked to outsiders.
My sister used to love wearing the same or matching clothes and telling people the two of us were twins, just to see if they’d dare to contradict her.
The kids in our new town rarely let us forget our uniqueness, believe me. In retrospect, I bet there were days my siblings would have welcomed the chance to blend in and be completely inconspicuous.
Another thing I realized when we moved to South Carolina is that insects are pretty damn terrifying.
Nothing up North could’ve prepared me for the wide spectrum of bugs I was about to be introduced to, for the shock and awe that the quantity and quality of Southern insect life would inspire in my young heart. I soon developed a particular fear of “bees,” a term that encompassed hornets, yellow jackets, wasps, and even dirt daubers—anything flying and buzzing that looked like it could sting you.
When I was about eight or nine, I got stung by a bee and discovered I was allergic to them. By “allergic,” I mean that when it stung me, it really hurt, and it made me even more afraid of them, and I started responding, “Bees,” anytime an adult asked me if I was allergic to anything.
You see, my petty childhood jealousies included not only orphaned and/or abandoned children and those with congenital health problems, but also kids with allergies. Adults seemed to sit up and take notice of them, and it always seemed so important when a teacher or den mother or parent would take extra care to make sure Susie didn’t get exposed to any strawberries or Jack to any tree nuts or whatever. So when that nasty bee dug his stinger into me, it was probably the worst pain I’d experienced in the charmed, uneventful, accident-free life I’d been living up till that point, but at least it gave my twisted, illogical kid brain an excuse to feel special and worthy of some extra care and attention.
After a couple years, I realized that pain is not, in fact, an allergic reaction to a bee sting, so I went back to checking the “no” box for allergies on medical forms and field trip permission slips.
But it was too late. Little did I know it, but I apparently had the incredible, innate power to make my own wishes come true (if not the ability to make wise wishes). I’d put an ill-advised wish out in the universe, and that genie was not going back in the bottle. The Laws of Attraction sat up and took notice, sending some legit allergies ever so slowly in my general direction, to come crashing into my life many years later.
First, of course, is my “wheat allergy.” Okay, so I don’t technically have a food allergy, but it’s what I tell waiters when they give a blank stare to the term “celiac disease.” “Wheat allergy” is easier to understand and is taken more seriously than “I’m on a gluten-free diet,” so that’s the language I tend to use. For the rest of my life, I get to feel like a special snowflake every time I eat—and I eat quite frequently, at least three times a day most days. I get to go out of my way to make sure anyone handling my food is going out of their way to make sure it has no gluten in it. Never again do I get to blend in and get overlooked and be nice and quiet and low maintenance. Lucky me.
Next to arrive was the pollen allergy, which only cropped up a few years ago and which could be chalked up to moving inland, where the seasons are more pronounced than they are on the coast, or to climate change and pollen proliferation. But in reality, we all know that the thanks should go to that monkey’s-paw-like wish I made thirty years prior.
Spring in this corner of the world is a magical time, the landscape painted by a vivid profusion of saucer magnolias, forsythia, redbuds, dogwoods, and azaleas. I now get to gaze upon this beauty with red, itchy, crusty eyeballs brimming with misery while trying to breathe through a sniffly, stuffy nose.
The moral of this story is if you find yourself pining to be something that you’re not and that can never be, pretend you have me there, your big sister who knows better, to shake you by the shoulders and smack you in the face and tell you to stop green-grassing your way through life.
I’d tell you not to waste one more millisecond of your precious time on this planet wishing you were taller, or needier, or more unique, or that you had a really interesting snakebite story to tell at parties. Take it from me, none of those things are as fun as they may seem from the outside.
Be careful what you wish for, because I’m living proof that dreams can come true.