When Did You First Feel Different? Multiple Answer Version

Was it when you ate dinner at a friend’s house and saw their family structure and customs were completely different from your own? Was it when you noticed that all the other kids in your kindergarten class were drawing pictures with light hands and you looked down at your own dark ones? Was it when you realized that was lust you felt for another kid of your own gender? Maybe it was when you realized you couldn’t squeeze into your older sister’s jeans.

I have a theory that a lot of children and teens feel “different” from other kids. I am not talking about something that makes them different—just that they feel different.

I’d already started notes for this blog post when I read a poem called “My Barbie Dated George Harrison” in Karen Paul Holmes’ new collection No Such Thing as Distance. In the poem, the speaker’s Barbie (and it quickly becomes clear that Barbie is really the speaker hiding behind her doll to mask her emotions) has a crush on George of the Beatles, instead of Paul as the other girls do.

I kid you not, but the first note on my list was “George not Paul.” You see, that’s how I first felt different. All, and I mean ALL, my friends loved Paul with his big doe eyes and his cute young-looking face. He wrote love songs. Of course he did!

But I preferred George. Did I have a picture-kissing crush on him? No, but I knew I would prefer his company and that there was more to him than met the eye. And that meant something to me, even at age 12. When the Beatles hung with the Maharishi, I knew George took it seriously. I doubted that the others did.

Just for the record, I never contemplated the truth that if I had really been different I would have selected John or Ringo as my Beatle. But no girl in her right mind would choose one of them.

George was the alternative Beatle. He had a handsome face, but not too handsome. Not a movie star face. He seemed gentle and deep.


If I had been more perceptive, I might have come to this feeling earlier. For instance, my epiphany could have arrived when I was the only girl who couldn’t do cartwheels, either because I had no upper body muscles or because I was too terrified. But I never had that feeling of “knowing” until everyone turned to stare at me when George flew out of my mouth.

But this train of thought led me to seeing that I remember in strands, like add-a-pearl necklaces where first one memory is added to strand A and then one is added to strand C and another onto A and so forth.These strands accumulate simultaneously.

When a memory comes to mind now, and it is at the beginning of a strand I think, “Oh, this is the first time this happened. There George is at the beginning of this strand so knowing I liked the ‘other Beatle’ was the first time I felt different.”

I have to remember that there are other strands. I found one of them in my memoir draft. Have you ever heard of the old movie The Boy with Green Hair? One day the boy dries off after a bath and discovers that his hair has turned green. In those days, long before the brilliant hair dyes of today, green hair was apt to set someone apart from everyone else.

I wrote in my draft that at age 11 I felt like the boy with green hair because of my father’s strict rules and loud yelling. The kids in my neighborhood would comment to me that they could hear his yelling down the street and sometimes, on summer evenings, even in their own homes.

So where is the truth in all this? When did I first feel different? Was it when George, rather than Paul, called to me? Was it when I learned to be angry and embarrassed about my father’s actions? And when would that have been? When I was three? Six? Nine? Eleven?

Sometimes someone will ask me something, and the answer I give makes sense at the time. For my favorite food I might say pumpkin pie. Later, I might think that it’s not really pumpkin pie. It’s fried squash. Or baklava. I wonder if these foods are part of different strands of memory. Maybe the fried squash goes with my teen summer days living at our lake cottage, and baklava goes with my first experience at the Omar Khayyam restaurant in Pittsburgh that I loved so much that my father drove us all back to Pittsburgh from Kalamazoo so I could eat there a second time. So you see my father wasn’t all yelling and rules, but goodness too, and he hides in various pearls on the strands of my memory.

What about you? Do you remember in strands? Do you remember when you first felt different?


Pauline‘s prism rainbow with plant shadow


Filed under #AmWriting, #amwriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, National Poetry Month, Nonfiction, Writing, Writing Talk

66 responses to “When Did You First Feel Different? Multiple Answer Version

  1. This is interesting to think about – I don’t ever remember not feeling different, mostly because of poverty and alcoholism in my family. We had a lot of secrets we were supposed to keep. As an adult, I’ve had to re-teach myself to recognize commonalities, to acknowledge that my sense of alienation is not always rational, and that making connections means you have to let your guard down. Thought-provoking post for a Monday!

    • The secrets that parents make kids complicit in are so powerful! I just read a poems: “The Gunnywolf loved secrets. How they curved / and thickened and beat the air green.” Further on, “Oh the secrets taste / like salt, they gather like wool. An engine / trying to turn over. An engine in the water / trying to turn over.” Secrets are one of my memoir threads, but in my case, I was only made complicit because the secrets were obvious by their existence and I wasn’t let in on them.
      Thanks for mentioning poverty and alcoholism, Michelle. Huge tough loads for children. As a kid I began to eschew commonalities because I didn’t want to fall short or something??? not sure, but now I love to search for them. I guess that’s what this post is, a search for a commonality we share by feeling different. Thank you for your insights, Michelle.

    • Michelle, your reply is exactly what I was going to reply to this post. I hope you don’t mind if I say: Ditto what Michelle said. Very thought-provoking post, Luanne.

      • Cheryl, so you are saying that poverty and alcoholism in your family really made you feel different from the other kids? It is so amazing how you and Michelle have managed to overcome this @#%^ from your childhoods to become the powerful women you are today. I’m so proud of my blogger friends. Look at all the @#%^ we’ve gone through.

        • Yes, Luanne. There’s also the shame that a young child feels that she often carries throughout her life when parental alcoholism is involved. No matter how much she changes or accomplishes, it still lurks beneath it all. I’ve worked through it DEEPLY, but I still have the memories. At least that’s my experience. Keeping everything secret made me feel different. Looking back, I believe there were many other families doing a similar thing. When you are young, you just feel voiceless and alone. Vulnerability has been a life-changer for me.

          • Shame has been the most difficult emotion for me to deal with. I felt it a lot as a kid, but never had an idea what I was feeling. I’m sure you’re right that there were a lot of other families going through something similar, but if everybody is afraid to speak up, isolation is what happens. Thank you for sharing your earned wisdom, Cheryl.

  2. Interesting post. I too preferred George. I knew I was different when I would prefer to read a book than a lot of other things that kids did. My dad died when I was 10 so that made me different. My mom didn’t drive. I was always begging for a ride, sometimes missing school activities. My Dad was a kind peaceful man. I remember being terrified of most of my girlfriends’ dads because they yelled or ignored us. My girlfriend who lived next door had a particularly nasty dad. I went home when he came home from work. Looking back I think there was a drinking issue but I didn’t know that at age 6. I’m not sure I ever felt “normal” in the true sense of the word. I just got comfortable with who I was.

    • Where were you in my neighborhood, Kate, with your preference for George :)?! Those are two biggies to set you apart. The loss of your father, such a beautiful man. And then seeing the ones that weren’t good fathers. Today you might have had a lot of friends without dads in the home or in their lives at all, but it was different then. The neighborhood we lived in from 5th-9th grades, I can’t think of a house without a mother and father and children. It feels good to be comfortable in your own skin, doesn’t it?!

      • Yes it does. I was one of the original latchkey kids as my mother had to go to work. It was the late 50s and no one divorced in our neighborhood. Dysfunctional families stayed together.

  3. Keep on being you, Luanne! I think I’ve always known I was different… (I’m just not wired right!) and I’m continually reminded of it. But I never wanted to be ordinary. Hugs.

  4. The first time I felt different was in the first grade. I remember reading my report card where my teacher wrote, “Jill is a sweet child and gets along well with others, but she’s shy and tends to keep to herself.” Everything after the “but” is what I always remembered thinking about myself. So, I’m blaming her for my red neck issues! LOL! Great post, Luanne.

    • Ugh, why do they have to use “but” on a report card!!! I hate that! It’s funny (well, not humor funny) that you associate the red neck with self-consciousness over being shy. I am so introverted and anxious over social issues and yet was never considered shy. I was sometimes called reserved or diffident (which probably means shy but I didn’t know what it meant) but mainly seen as a secret chatterbox. I couldn’t stand up in front of the class without being traumatized, but had no problem sitting behind somebody and yakking their ear off. I think teachers and parents need to remember that shy children need special care instead of being “poked at.”

  5. Hmm. Interesting to contemplate. I think I almost always felt different, but it wasn’t until I was 22 and in the Navy that I felt the full impact. My ship stopped for a few days in Hawaii, and while I was wandering around Waikiki with my buddies I noticed that in this place EVERYONE looked like me. First time that had every happened! By the way, my wife was a George fan, too. Her George doll sits on a shelf in my writing shack. 🙂

    • Interesting how the recognition came when you recognized your sameness rather than difference. My son had a similar experience, according to him, when he first went to Korean Heritage Camp in New Jersey. He was raised in a California town that at the time was not incredibly diverse (but became more so over the years) and he avoided issues of difference. But at 11 we sent him to camp on purpose so that he would be around counselors and kids who were Korean (and Vietnamese and Indian, too). When we got to camp, I watched him have his epiphany because his jaw literally dropped as he looked around him! True to form for him, he came home “burdened” with girlfriends. (Memory lane . . . )
      Hahaha, I love that your wife has a George doll!!! She’s my kind of Beatles fan!

  6. Great post, Luanne. I think I always felt different, except probably with my sister when we were kids (but then she must have felt different because she came out to me when we were in our 20s). I liked George, too, but I was the nerdy kid who listened to show tunes and classical music until my teens. When I was in elementary school, we were the Jews from Philadelphia living in Dallas. I had no interest in football and just wanted to read. I actually wanted to sit in the classroom and learn stuff instead of going to a pep rally! 🙂
    Don’t t you think one of life’s big secrets is that we all feel different somehow?

    • I can imagine but not know what it was like to have your sister. I was the first and eight years older than my brother so I always felt like I was “in it” by myself. Is your sister older or younger?
      Did you have a lot of “nerdy” friends who liked the same things you did or did moving to Dallas really set you apart? How long were you there, by the way?
      Yes, I do think everyone feels different for one reason or ten. Sometimes it our arrogance (haha) that we want to be different (which in our brains means better) or sometimes it’s because we feel bullied or maligned for not being the same as someone else in some respect.

  7. I first felt different when I went to school the day after my father’s funeral. The teacher had told the fifth-grade class that my dad had died. When I got to school and walked into the room, I realized they all knew by the way they avoided looking at me. I took my seat knowing I was now the only kid without a dad.

    • I’m so sorry you lost your father at such a young age, John. What a heart-breaking time for you. The other kids didn’t know what to do or say, I’m sure, but it still set you apart in that moment and then latter on as you were around their fathers, etc. In those days when so many families were headed up by a mother AND a father it would have difficulties added to the grieving.

  8. Before I forget, thanks for the pingback 🙂 That is a fabulous photo! I was wielding my camera and getting some sparkle shots yesterday too, it’s the right time of year for rainbow captures.

    This is another great article Luanne!

    Your opening sentence took me back into the shock of recognition of differences…. I was born into a family of violence, alcoholism and abuse. The first time I saw my friends family meet up at the end of his working day – husband, wife, friend aged about 10 or 11 – I went into shock. The smiles and hugs and kisses and warmth with which they greeted each other was something I had never experienced. It was another waking up moment in my young life. I’d always felt different – and I was different. But I do wonder if that feeling is part of being human – we experience ourselves as ‘apart’ from every one else, it’s the ego of course. I think the stronger that feeling of difference is, the stronger is the impulse to understand the concept of unity.

    As to memory while I often can’t remember what I did yesterday, I find more of my younger life pictures, impulses, feelings will coalesce into a moment when something occurred to me, or woke me up – or both. There’s lots of blanks in my early life so I don’t know if they are real memories or imagined memories or memories of convenience to hang a realisation on. Whatever it is, however it comes, I’ve grown to value my difference and appreciate the many gifts it has given me.

    I liked Ringo. 🙂

    • First I have to say, I LOVE YOU! A girl who loved Ringo! I finally found her! Good for you, Pauline.
      The rainbows are taking over my living room, and I’M SO HAPPY!
      Wow, what a shock it must have been to see that things didn’t have to be the way they were in your house. You have come so far from those days!
      I agree with you about the ego being behind some of this stuff, and then also it does come from outside, too, especially with bullying and ignoring/neglect. The ego is a very handy buddy for pulling us up off the ground, though, and making us think: of course, I’m different–they don’t understand my unusual assets, etc. Thank goodness for the ego!
      Your comments about your memory and how it works are absolutely fascinating. You have really come up with some brilliant ways of examining your memories!

  9. How interesting to go back to what you wrote at the age of 11. It must be enlightening, for sure. The only diary I ever kept was when I was in second grade. I know I have it somewhere in a keepsake box. You’ve made me want to go back and revisit it. Now, to find it…

  10. On a light note, I don’t like summer, or most things associated with being warm. I was 9 when I realized it.
    Unfortunately, my deeper different feelings are harsh. They’re associated with the same pain now that they were then. I wouldn’t like to re-cap. Still, this is an interesting, thought-provoking post and you’re to be commended for your perspective.

  11. I first felt different when i realized in first grade that I wasn’t pretty like my cousin, but I realized through my teacher’s reaction to us that I was smart, and that became almost as good.

  12. How fascinating to go back and search the memory for that moment, Luanna… first of all, I was a George girl – but I loved hm in my mid-twenties, which was when I found the Beatles in the early to mid sixties, via my teenage cousin!
    That awful moment of separation from the rest of humanity? when I started my expensive little private school, and realised that we were neglected – that my mother didn’t care enough to meet us at the school gates like the the others, and we walked home alone… and later living with my stepmother, I felt that no-one in my family loved me, and it seemed so shameful not to be loveable, that I was always trying to hide this, and trying to pretend that my parents did love me….

    • Ah, another George girl. Somehow I suspected that!
      But your story of “separation from the rest of humanity” is so sad. How I wish I could go to that little girl and make a difference in her life. I’m sure you wish you could, as well (if that makes sense). XOXOX

  13. A really profound and thought-provoking post. I’m sure my differences would have emerged at grammar school, but I really was a conformer. I do remember discovering girls rather late – 17 in fact.

  14. I think it comes in strands. From my first recollections, I remember wondering why I lived with this group of people called my “family.” I didn’t understand them. By the time I was in 5th grade, I decided I was actually an alien (yes, an ALIEN) placed down on Earth to do some research, but then they forgot me and I was left here with this weird grouping called human beings. So, ummm, yes, I’d say I felt different!!
    (On the other hand, I must confess, by 9th grade I was in love with Paul) 😉

    • I laughed so hard at the alien thing!!! Hahaha, that is truly a good one, Pam. You have forced me to admit that when I was thirty (3-0!) I was still telling people I was a changling. My people were somewhere in the mountains waiting for me to come back.
      I love that you see memory in strands, too! Maybe you loved Paul because you are a romantic, which is why you write love stories!!!

  15. I preferred George too 😉 I could never warm up to Paul. John looked like he’d never give me the time of day, and Ringo was too goofy. All that said, I preferred the Monkees over the Beatles. I feel like I remember in snapshots. I’ll have a vivid visual memory but no context, no idea of how old I was or what day or year. Sometimes I can put the photos together and make a short film. I like your analogy, and how one memory may lead to another, and the idea of how we change or, more accurately, respond differently under different circumstances. Like with your favorite food. We are not so easily categorized, sized up and known on the basis of a few details. We should be ever-changing, ever-evolving, even if we forget how we got here. And that’s it for my “not making sense” moment 😉

    • I so agree on your sum up of the different Beatles! and my friends and I were more into the Monkees, as well, because of our “generation.” I had all the Monkees albums, but not all the Beatles, for instance. But my first real album WAS Meet the Beatles. I love what you say here about memory, and it makes perfect sense!!!

  16. kpaulholmes

    I’m glad my poem inspired this! Thank you for referring to it. Here’s a link if anyone wants to read it. As you said, it’s also in my new book. Cheers! http://www.freezeraypoetry.com/karen-paul-holmes.html

  17. Oh my goodness, Luanne! You could interview hundreds (thousands!) on, “Who was the Beatle you liked best?” I have several Apple 45’s, but only one Monkees’ 45. I liked men with glasses, so John with his aloof mannerisms and tiny wire, granny glasses attracted me. Ooh, he was smart and didn’t seem self-centered! 😉
    I didn’t “like” my Ken (doll) but still have auburn haired Alan in his red and white striped t-shirt and tan tennis shorts (with a tiny zipper on the front, not a bathing suit like Ken wore.)
    I was embarrassed about my Dad’s intellectual passions, his enthusiasm was catchy to some people but I saw eyes of neighbor’s Dad’s glazing over. He definitely was strange when he talked about UFO’s. It wasn’t until he and the guys from Ancient Astronauts Society met, did I realize intelligent men (and women) could believe in them without being “crazy.”
    He was also loud! This part I could relate to you on! I’m not sure why, but my Mom said it was a “street punk reflex.” She honestly told me he was chasing her, joining so much of her clubs in college. (“He was relentless!” 😁) My Mom’s Dad told me, the oldest child, she thought she could “tame him!” They loved each other, danced in the kitchen and he attended her schools she taught at, serving as chaperone and dancing with her there. I liked their passion, but it also was embarrassing at times. He made people laugh once he retired. 😀 A whole different man emerged, a wonderful Grandpa for my three kids and loving Dad to my single Mom-self. His last personal message was to me, “Protect your heart, Robin.”

  18. George was also my favorite. I wanted to marry him but I didn’t feel different about that. It was my secret wish. This is an interesting and thought provoking post, Luanne. I think I first felt different when I asked for books as a Christmas present and my brother said I was weird. Who would want books as a present! Another strand was that I always felt different when it came to being in a group. I felt like an outsider, like I didn’t belong. Also, in a group I soon learned that there is a “leader” which certainly wasn’t going to be me.

  19. Luanne, I always love hearing more about your childhood and your reflections on your life. I feel honored to get to know you a little better. I felt badly for that little girl who lived in a house with a yelling father. I want to reach out to her and tell her it’s okay. Probably because we had a stepfather in the family from when I was age 12 (my sister, 10) and he was terrible. From Brooklyn, so, he was a caustic nasty “teaser” for whom nothing was done right, no matter how hard we tried. Stole my mom’s time and affection, too. I’m not even going to mention the stepchildren (his children) who came into the home a year or two later and threatened us verbally and physically. It’s a wonder we grew up and made lives that were not too tragic!

    Thank you for having the courage to share your story. 🙂

    • Oh no!!! A nasty stepfather and vicious stepsiblings sound awful! Like a gender switch Cinderella cast! Thank you for sharing your story here, Theresa! Of course, I want to read more . . . .

      • yes, it was not great. That’s the ’70s for you, no one talked about this stuff. My mom wanted to think we were “The Brady Bunch,” I think. Luckily my sister and I have stayed connected, actually recently reconnected, and we have each other’s back now. We totally get the other’s feelings about this, and that is very helpful. And my stepfather is gone (died in 2011, yay), the vicious stepbrother (alcoholic/layabout) is completely out of our lives, and the stepsister keeps to herself, thankfully. Whenever my mom goes, it will be a pleasure to know we’ll never have contact again with that part of our lives (for sure). 🙂 Thank you for the kind thoughts!

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