Owning My Freak Flag
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. The geek who spent Friday nights at home playing around 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. Game over.
Suddenly I was cutting off black tights at the knee and wearing doc martens under my private school kilt (racking up uniform violations in the process). I started to come out of my shell in classes and venture into creative extracurriculars like theatre and the school newspaper where I could be around other misfits - like me. The 1980’s (And Madonna in particular) formed who I would become as an adult. Someone who was not like anyone else – because she didn’t want to be.
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 who was so visibly different, it made me uncomfortable and self-conscious.
At the big Saturday night party, the DJ started playing 80’s music and everyone flocked to the far corner of the dance floor. Wistfully, I scooted closer to watch. My boyfriend suggested we join them but I didn’t want to draw more attention to my disability. I looked down at my 25+ year old Doc Martens - freshly shined and re-laced for the occasion. Maybe I could be content with them as my only nostalgic celebration tonight.
Then Lucky Star came on and I couldn’t sit 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 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, quirky girl they knew 25 years ago. And just like that, I was back.
That’s what I loved most about growing up in the 80’s - the freedom to be who you are without being judged. It was not only ok to be different, it was cool to be your own kind of different. I just needed a little Madonna remind me that even MS couldn’t change that.
My lessons from Generation X? Embrace your imperfect soul. Fly that freak flag high. Own your limitations and every inch of ground you’ve fought for. Bravely wear your scars with pride. And never give a shit what anyone else thinks.