“There’s a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”
― Diane Arbus
My sister often refers to me as “freak magnet.” My husband has picked up the name for me as well. If asked why they refer to me that way, they will be happy to share the stories of people (grocery clerks, waitresses, people in waiting rooms, strangers) telling me their story.
When my sister still lived in Charleston I would drive her to Jacksonville every three months for medical procedures she needed at Mayo Clinic. On our first visit I chose a comfortable seat by the large window overlooking the beautiful landscape of Mayo. A women seated several chairs away called, “come sit with me.” I obediently grabbed my things and went to the chair opposite her. They called Jill to come back for her test. She looked back over her shoulder giving me one of those “are you serious” smiles. When Jill returned I introduced her to the woman. She invited us to stay at her home when we returned to Jacksonville. I gathered my things and the woman stood to hug me. As we walked away, Jill coined the nickname “freak magnet.”
It is of course meant as a joke but it often bothers me when we refer to another person as a freak. I will tell you that I do seem to be a “magnet” but I am still not comfortable referring to those who seem drawn to me as freaks.
I spent a great deal of my life thinking of myself as a freak. One definition in Webster’s describes freak as “one that is markedly unusual or abnormal.” I’ve always thought of myself that way. I didn’t have the kind of childhood, parents or life experiences other kids had. I seemed to think about things differently. I related to the phrase, “you are ugly and your mother dresses you funny.” I spent much of my life feeling different and alone. Kids at school and church made fun of me. I went to a small private church high school. There were two or three girls I considered friends but only one true close friend. She has been my best friend since I was seven and she was five.
Maybe that’s why these so-call freaks seem to find me. Maybe they intuitively know I will understand. Maybe they see the part of me that still feels afraid others still see me as a freak. Maybe they see what the “normal” people can’t see; the part I work so hard to hide.
This afternoon we made a trip to my least favorite large discount store to purchase a few necessitates for the house. My husband headed back to the home and garden center while I made my way to look for batteries. I stopped at one the displays when an older woman came up behind me. My friends all know the dangers of approaching me from behind. I have a horrible startle response. As I heard her say “excuse me” I jumped and twirled around with a small squeal. She apologized and held up pair of what appeared to be men’s semi high top tennis shoes. They were a black suede type of material with black vinyl Velcro straps and fluorescent green soles that peaked around the top. They looked like the cheap version of something my 14-year-old grandson wears.
She held up the shoe and said, “Do you think this would be OK to wear to a funeral?”
I paused looking for just the right words to answer this impossible question. “Are you going to be wearing pants?” I was hoping the answer was yes. At least then the shoes would be partly covered.
“Oh, yes. I don’t really have any dresses. I have such big feet and it’s hard to find shoes. I can’t wear heels because of my arthritis.”
I paused again. “You know what? I think you will be fine wearing those shoes. Do you like them?”
“I………..I guess so.”
“I hope the family and friends would just be glad you came to support them.” I explained. One of the things we stress in teaching basic counseling skills to our Hotline volunteers is to never assume anything. And boy was my assumption off on this one.
“Well, the funeral is for my son. His girlfriend said he had been drinking but he wasn’t like that. I don’t know what happened or why. But two days ago he shot himself.”
Oh shit! Deep breath. “I am so sorry. Sounds like you are hurting a lot right now.”
“Yeah. And I don’t have the money to bury him. I gotta have him cremated. This is the second son I’ve lost. My first one is buried at the cemetery and I wanted him to be there too. I guess I could take his ashes there.”
“I can hear how hard this is for you. I do want you to know there is a place you can call and talk to someone any time. There is also a support group here for people who have had someone died from suicide.”
“Oh, I didn’t know. I’d really like to find out about that.”
Funny how quickly I went into crisis counselor mode. I wrote down the numbers for her. She continued to tell me her story. She moved here to be closer to her son. She had to quit working a few years ago. She now gets social security. She lost her food stamps because she didn’t reapply in time. And well, you get the idea.
I heard the sound of R2D2 telling me I had a text message. “Where are you?” Larry asked. I replied explaining that I was talking to someone. “So what else is new?” was his reply.
The conversation went on for about 15 minutes. I started to reach for my business card a couple of times. I reminded myself about boundaries. I used my wrapping up/closing skills to end our conversation. As she started to walk away, I asked if I could give her a hug. As she walked away from me, she turned and with tears in her eyes she simply said, “Thank you. I just knew I could talk to you.”
As Larry and I walked away he looked at me and said, “Freak Magnet.” Maybe it’s true. Actually I hope so. I left that conversation with such a feeling of gratitude. I am so grateful for all the “freak magnets” who opened themselves to me when I needed one.