Growing up as I did with a Catholic grade school education, I heard a lot of stories about lepers. It seemed like they were everywhere. As unlikely as this probably was, there always seemed to be a bunch of them hanging around wherever Jesus might be taking a walk (so that he could heal them, I assume). Be that as it may, the idea of “the leper” – someone so horrifically disfigured by a disease that was seen as a curse that no one wanted to let that person anywhere near – was the lesson that I actually internalized. And when I was in high school, I was that leper. Or so I thought.
I was cursed (or blessed, depending on who you asked, or the prevailing style) with naturally curly hair. Unruly stuff. Silky, fine-textured and unwilling to conform to any alternate configurations – I suspect unless I applied some really strong chemicals, which I never did. As it grew it expanded out from my head at the same time it encroached more and more into my face and eyes, and would still do so today if I let it. (Most of it grows forward from the back of my head.) But I struggled with it, since long hair was in then. My hair was the stone around my neck. I figured everyone (especially those blessed with long, smooth, shiny tresses) had to hate me. Like it was contagious, or something? What was I thinking?
I was a teenager. Obviously, my brain was malfunctioning, as teenage brains are wont. I stumbled through my high school years avoiding interactions with all but a few of my classmates, positive of their censure. Dummy. I’m so glad I’m several decades older and wiser now. If I felt like a leper for having curly hair, what horrors might the “cool kids” be dreaming up to make themselves feel inadequate? Duh. Although I’m sure there were those among them who were completely confident of their coolness, I’d bet there weren’t as many as I’m sure I thought at the time.
Now, thanks to the internet, and FaceBook, I know a lot of my classmates a lot better than I ever would have imagined. And they’re a cool bunch. But now I know I’m cool, too. Who’d’ve thought that? I have written about this before , and it just so happens that some of us are getting together again this weekend for a pre-Christmas party and maybe a little reunion planning. And maybe some of us will swap “I was a teenage leper” stories. It could happen.