Poor Norma had every reason to develop a psychological disorder. Her father was an obsessive toenail-clipper, her older sisters both suffered addictions (shopping and Doritos, respectively) and her childhood best friend Abbie ended up getting diagnosed with Maladaptive Socialization Dysphoria. When they started middle school, Abbie began appearing in class ripped up knee-to-shoulder with strange scars. At some point about a third of the way through lunch, she would leave Norma and their other companions to do who-knows-what in the bathroom. At the 8th Grade Pi Day 5K, Abbie dumped Norma, publicly, and also wouldn’t pin her number on her jersey. Norma got Alexis to pin her number on instead and she made something like 27:33, a personal record. Afterwards she went home and stuffed screams backwards down her throat until her parents called her for dinner, always a silent affair suspended by spiders’ tenuous lines.
Poor Norma went through high school surrounded by shadowed influences. Abbie still showed up to stare her down sometimes, when she wasn’t in the convalescent home or the cigarette bar. She’d always blamed Norma for her week in the mental hospital right after that Pi Day 5K. It was true, the teachers had noticed her arrhythmic gestures and unusually acute eye-gaze while she was dumping Norma and they had called Abbie’s parents. The psychologist who first saw her lived in a cave of candy wrappers and years-old issues of hairstyle magazines. Abbie blamed Norma for that too. Poor Abbie. Maybe she had Arbitrary Projective Disorder on top of everything.
Anyway, one must move on. Norma tried to make new friends in high school. It always seemed okay at first, but later on she’d find out the person was hiding some secret malady, always waiting to strike and splinter them both apart. Her first boyfriend Kai threw himself off the roof of the office building across from the preschool where he worked. While reconstructing his skull, the surgeon discovered symptoms of a possible phobia regarding children, which she submitted for consideration to the committee that names such disorders.
Norma wanted to take a year off before college and travel the world. “You’re not worth it,” her older sister said. Or maybe it was just a voice in the dark. Through the crunch of Doritos it was always hard to make out tonality or timbre.
So Norma went to a community college. Her anthropology professor suffered from Inappropriate Associative Disorder – that is, his prejudices about the world eroded his perceptions of those around him. The diagnosis was filed in early November, after he had thrown a book at Norma and told her to leave class 30 minutes into lecture because it had occurred to him that she was a redhead and redheads bring bubonic plague as do white cats. Norma knew he was just disturbed, so she stayed to get the rest of the notes for that day’s lecture before reporting his need for intervention to the school psychologist.
It was a hard world Norma matriculated into with her crisp diploma. Jobs were always scarce. Employers wanted you to plug your two sit-bones into a cubicle in a sterile corner of the unknowable. You had to twitch your fingers, but only on the keyboard. Other cubicle-sitters would send a few petals of spring her way in a smile at the caffeine station, but they’d wilt as soon as she thought of asking their name or weekend plans. Her voice slipped back into her diaphragm, cascaded back through the cracks in the broken ventilator. Perhaps it was because 60% of employees had Borderline Selective Listening Dysphoria. They were unable to hear her. She prayed for them.
The poor employees did not get better. Despite all the counseling and medication they were receiving, they seemed to worsen, until coughing fits exploded into caterwauling brawls, and ultra-sensitive files became mysteriously dotted with blemishes – a naked picture here, a straight paragraph of FFFFFFFFFFF there. Norma busied herself cleaning up the files, but even working 24-7 she failed to keep her job. Out in the streets, men that could have been unshorn llamas wailed at bus stops, paranoid about not having change. Teenagers smirked sidesaddle from pickup trucks, spitting sugar-bombs at anyone who dared brave the sidewalk, itself cracked like a skull that had been superglued together too tightly around an earthen brain ready to burst out in all its blubbery flesh – to flash its blue daisies at the glaring sky – to rumble earthquakes in this constantly spinning world that could at any moment Norma knew stop short and eject her like a pie-faced clown —
But she mustn’t think like that. She had to stay strong for the poor others who suffered in a universe so unlike her own, a planet where the cracked crystal that englobed her normal sky had been tapped and had shattered, letting in cold winds, letting out necessary demons. A world that stood straight when it should spin, should roll like her fingers in the dirt searching for a waste of time.
Meanwhile, in her own world no psychologist could have found a flaw. Age and life came and went and there was no blown-glass breakage, no swallowing of bowlfuls of sun only to rain prickly stars out the other end, no pathological distaste for butterflies, no affinity for spiders. In other words, Norma was normal. The last one in the world. There must be something special about her.
Image credits in order of appearance:
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=334103
By Vibria – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15401500
By Edvard Munch – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43572859
By PD-Art (Corpus Etampois) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons