The man shuffled into the room, not really wanting to be there, but reluctantly, and on the advise of his doctor, his friends, his wife, he had accepted the fact that he should go.
Nervously, he looked around, gathering up his surroundings in one sweeping gaze. There was nothing that he missed, from the utter emptiness of the room, minus the seven chairs arranged in a circle, six of which were occupied, to the wooden beams supporting the ceiling. Every footfall he made echoed in the cavernous room, keeping pace with his beating heart.
He’d always known he’d had a problem, but had never come to accept it. As a child, he just wasn’t like the other children. He never fit in. As an adult, he’d had to cope with his family, his friends and co-workers. No matter where he was, how old he became, he just was not like everybody else.
One of the six other people, a woman, came over to him. She wore a sticker nametag on her blue sweater, its baggy arms and midsection looking made the garment look too sizes too big on her small frame. Her name, he saw, was Kathlene.
She smiled at him, a big, fake smile, one that she probably gave everyone who came to the support group.
“Hello, are you Jack?” she said, her voice high and sing song.
The man just nodded.
She handed him a nametag with his name already on it. “Good. This way, please. Come, join us.”
She ushered the man over to the circle of chairs. He stepped in, sat down, looking at the faces of the others who’d come, the others who knew they weren’t like everyone else. There were two other women, and three men. Some looked happier than others. One looked down right depressed. Two had blank faces, absolutely devoid of emotion.
Jack felt like he’d just stepped into a prison, his own personal cell, his own private hell.
The woman, Kathlene, sat down and turned to face each of the people in the circle, one at a time. The damnable smile on her face never left.
Such big teeth you have, Grandma, thought Jack, looking at that smile.
Kathlene clapped her hands together. “Well, it’s so good to see you all again.” Again, she turned to face everyone present in the circle.
“As you can see, we have a new member to our group today. Why don’t you tell us who you are and why you’re here?”
Jack stood up, his hands anxiously brushing at his sides. He looked down, eyes avoiding the gazes of the other six gathered. He cleared his throat before he spoke.
“Um, uh, hello. My name is ... my name is Jack. And I’m here because I’m normal.”
“Hello, Jack,” came six voices, all in unison. It freaked the hell out of Jack.
They’re like cattle, he thought sarcastically. Dumb, damn cattle.
Jack took his seat.
Kathlene smiled, her focus totally on Jack. “Jack, since you’re new, why don’t you tell us why you’re here.”
Scratching the back of his head, Jack looked up, then, finally, at the faces of the other members of the support group. His gaze lasted briefly; as he began to speak, he lowered his eyes once again.
“I, uh, well, I have always known that I was normal. That there was nothing wrong with me. I didn’t have manic-depression, or even regular depression. No A.D.D.”
Jack turned his head, his eyes darting up and then down and then up again, trying to gaze everyone’s reaction to what he was saying. Nothing, he saw. They’d probably heard it a million times before.
Jack continued on: “As a child, I was always less creative than the other kids. They could all draw or write or play music. I couldn’t. I was just a normal kid. I didn’t feel isolated, or draw within myself. I was just me. No mood swings. Nothing.
“As I grew older, it was the same thing. I remember taking this art class, my senior year in high school. Most of the kids in there were brilliant, absolutely astounding. And then there was me. Just a regular Joe. Yeah, there were always a few of us who felt left out, who couldn’t do anything. We just hung together. We didn’t know what was wrong with us, and we were afraid to say anything. But we all knew that we were different.”
“How do you feel now?” interrupted Kathlene. “What’s your life like now?”
“Terrible. It’s just the same as when I was a kid.”
Jack stopped, his breathing deep. Like everyone else, he’d spent years with a therapist. Of course, he’d never felt the need to talk to anyone. But it was just something you did, like go on picnics or church on Sundays. Jack had never come this clean before, never told this much, not even to his assigned doctor.
“After college, I got married to a beautiful woman. My wife, she was-is-bipolar. I got a job at a local firm, and for the first time, everything seemed to be going well. Yeah, I’d get upset at my wife’s mood swings. But that’s normal, isn’t it?”
No reaction from the other five. Kathlene just smiled.
“But things started going bad about six years ago. That was about the time my firm landed a huge project, and I was put in charge of it. It was also the time that my first son was born.”
Jack wrung his hands together, his palms balmy and sweaty. “I thought I was doing well with the project. It was an account, and we had four years to make it work. I thought that I could handle it. I guess I was wrong.
“By the time the fourth year came around, my boss took me aside. He asked why the results were substandard, why I wasn’t being more creative. I told him I was doing the best I could with the resources provided. But that wasn’t good enough for him. I couldn’t handle late nights, or all-nighters, and, looking back, the quality of work was just, well, normal. I was replaced, and over night, the guy who took over for me, well, he turned the whole damn thing around.”
He cleared his throat again. “About that time, my son was diagnosed with having bipolar disorder, just like my wife. And that really did me in. My wife sheltered him from me, refused to let me see him or play with him. She’d always tell me that she didn’t want someone who was ‘just a normie’ handling our son’s budding creativity. He was four years old damn it-sorry.”
Kathlene reached over and patted Jack’s knee. “It’s all right. This is a place to get our emotions out.”
Jack offered her and the rest of the group a small, sheepish smile. “Sorry. Thanks. Anyway, she then began secluding me from our second son, who was two. I was just too normal. She didn’t want to take any chances. ‘We have to keep their condition in mind at all times,’ she’d say. ‘We have to make sure they come out right.’ Well, I guess that meant I couldn’t be involved in their up brining. About a year ago, it got so bad, that I just left. Just took off and left. I quit my job, and moved out here to the coast.”
“And how has that affected you?” questioned Kathlene.
Jack just shook his head. “It’s the same all over. I haven’t been able to get a job, at least, not a real job. I’m just not qualified. Every employer wants someone who’s bipolar. Someone who’s ‘deeper,’ or ‘thinks differently.’ They don’t want someone who thinks normally.”
Before Jack could continue, Kathlene held up a hand and stopped him. She took in the entire group with her smile, encompassing all the faces and stares. “Well, I think that we all know how Jack feels. I know it may seem hard, living in this world. We can’t help who we are. The world has evolved around us, and, in a way, beyond us. There’s nothing any of us can do to change that. We just have to accept the fact that we’re not like everyone else. That we’re just normal. And normal is good enough.”
For the first time, Jack’s heart jumped. He’d been told, countless times by countless people, that he was a relic, a fossil of a lost age, where being normal was just that-normal. A dinosaur of a time when having some mental affliction was actually considered a stigmata, not a sign of humanity’s next evolutionary step.
Jack felt at home.
Kathlene stood up. “Now, Jack has been very brave in coming here and telling us his story. I think he deserves a group hug.”
The others stood up, some moving faster than others, and enclosed Jack with their arms and bodies. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move, but for some odd reason, he didn’t mind.
Jack had found himself with other relics, other dinosaurs. And now, Jack did not feel alone.
back to the Short Story Page.The Last Normality, 31 December 2000