No one ever taught me how to act “normal.” As a child, I cried every other day to where my melodramatic episodes of whining became routine in the Wang household. The deafening shrieks intensified when no comfort was offered in the form of a hug or “it’s okay.” However, by the age of five, my vocal signs of distress ceased to sudden silence. I stopped talking.
I never figured out why I couldn’t muster a simple “hello” or “thank you” to anyone outside my immediate family. Perhaps it was the irrational fear that these strangers would kidnap me through the night or that I would stand trial before an imaginary judge who held every word I said accountable.
When I was forcefully dragged into kindergarten, I tried my best to be invisible, silently existing in the back of the classroom to engage only with the characters I created through pretty pink and purple crayons. At home, I was faced with blunt questions from family as to why I never talked or why I never behaved like other kids.
I couldn’t find the puzzle pieces to my answer. Instead, I watched my parents bicker over my teacher’s demand that I seek special attention. That was one of the first times I really cried in awhile. I knew that in my parents’ eyes, I wasn’t the brilliant and talented daughter who followed in her sisters’ footsteps. I was the daughter who caused problems.
Over the years, I worked harder to compensate for my flaws. In my mind, the high marks on tests would bury the inevitable concerns brought up at parent conferences. I talked only when pressured. I didn’t have many friends besides the classmates who seldom approached me. Rather, I delved into my own world of fantasy adventure books from my sisters’ collection. The heroines were brave, outspoken, charismatic, determined—everything I wanted but was too afraid to be.
Entering high school with clean slate, I summoned the courage and officially declared I’d reinvent myself as the heroine I always admired. I joined many clubs, took initiatives, and performed the unorthodox stunt of raising my hand. I formed meaningful connections with peers through common interests and aspirations. I was finally a changed person—or so I hoped. Every time I stepped out of the bubble, there was this parasitic thought lingering in the back of my mind:
You’re making a fool of yourself. Everyone’s judging you. Just stay quiet.
My newfound confidence deteriorated the more I let my inner thoughts dictate my actions. I noticed my lips quivering, my eyes watering, my cheeks flushing every time I spoke in front of a sea of condescending eyes. I was going back to my roots. I felt chained by the past I tried to run away from and eventually succumbed to the fact that I’ll probably never be normal.
Nevertheless, these turbulent four years made me realize that maybe my obsessive pursuits of normality and narrowly-defined greatness weren’t the solution. When I joined the school newspaper, I found that I had the ability to express myself on a greater scale, not with speech but with words that told a story, carried weight, and incited conversation. I met amazing and patient people who helped me crawl out of my shell, and I sincerely am grateful for their support. I realize change doesn’t happen overnight. There will always be ups and downs, and growth requires small steps and patience.
Although I don’t act “normal,” I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps it’s better that way. I still struggle with a simple “hello” and “thank you,” but I’m slowly and surely becoming more vocal. I am a person with opinions, ideas, feelings, and a voice ready to be heard. My cries will only grow louder and more obnoxious from here on out.