I never quite fit in when I was growing up. A natural introvert, I struggled make friends because I didn’t feel like anyone else. I wasn’t the pretty one. The athletic one. The popular one. The smart one.
Instead I was the girl that classmates laughed at when her chubby corduroy-clad thighs rubbed together as she walked. The geek who spent Friday nights at home playing on her Commodore 64 computer. The late bloomer who filled journals with dreams of a boy (someday) who might overlook her many imperfections.
Then one day after school, Madonna’s Lucky Star video was on MTV and I stopped breathing for a full 3 minutes and 30 seconds. She wasn’t a preppy stick figure. She didn’t have perfect hair. She was wearing all black. She wasn’t the best singer or dancer. And she didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about her.
The year was 1983. I had just turned 14.
Suddenly I was cutting off black tights at the knee and wearing doc martens under my private school kilt (racking up uniform violations every week). I started to come out of my shell in classes and venture into extracurriculars like theatre and the school newspaper where I could be around other creative misfits - like me. The 1980’s formed who I would become as an adult by giving me the freedom to embrace who I really was. Someone who wasn't like anyone else – because I didn’t have to be.
The 1980’s formed who I would become as an adult by giving me the freedom to embrace who I really was.
Jump ahead 33 years. I am attending my 25th college reunion and worried what people will think about my mobility scooter.
You see, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2009. While I use a cane to get around normally, I knew my legs weren’t strong enough to handle a full weekend of parades, picnics and parties. Grudgingly, I agreed to use the scooter so I didn’t miss a minute of celebration with my life-long friends. But when I noticed that I was the only one in my class so visibly different, I became self-conscious.
At the big Saturday night party when the DJ started playing 80’s music, everyone flocked to the far corner of the dance floor. Wistfully, I scooted closer. My boyfriend suggested we join them but I didn’t want to draw more attention to my disability. I looked down at my 30 year old Doc Martens - freshly shined and re-laced for the occasion. Perhaps I could be content with them as my only bit of personal nostalgia tonight.
Then Lucky Star came on.
I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer. Like a sign from the 80’s, I was suddenly reminded of who I was then and always will be, scooter or not. I stood up carefully, grabbed my boyfriend for balance and slowly started to move to the song that changed my life as a teenager. Not long after, two friends came flying over, insisting we join the rest of the group. “You want us to carry you over there? Because you belong with us. Come on!”. They cleared the way, and something magical happened.
Because I danced. And danced. And danced.
I knew my friends wouldn’t let me fall. That they didn’t see me any differently than the life-loving, Doc Marten-wearing, unapologetically quirky girl they met almost 30 years before. And just like that, I was back.
What do I love most about growing up in the 80’s? That it was not only ok to be different, it was cool to be your own kind of different. I just needed a little Madonna to remind me even MS can't change that.
Like a sign from the 80’s, I was suddenly reminded of who I was then and always will be, scooter or not.
So here are my lessons from Generation X:
Embrace your imperfect soul.
Own your limitations and every inch of ground you’ve fought for.
Bravely wear your scars with pride.
Design your own freak flag.
And never give a shit what anyone else thinks.
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