Camp of the Misfits: Finding Where I Misfit-In

I was a painfully awkward kid.

Truth be told, I’m still a painfully awkward adult. Laughing too loud, in the wrong places, at the wrong times. Trying to fit in with the cool kids and failing miserably.

Now, though, being older, I don’t really give a crap if people like me or not.

Actually, that’s not completely true. I still envy the cool kids, sitting at their cool kids’ table — only now it’s in a bar instead of the cafeteria. Having their cool kid conversations — now over craft beers and wine and martinis instead of chocolate milk.

I’ve always been the queen of the island of misfit toys. It’s as if I were born into outcast royalty — destined to play a part I don’t remember signing up for.

I learned my place at summer camp one year — Christian summer camp, where we sang songs about how much Jesus loved us — whether we were brown, or yellow, or black, or white — we were all apparently precious in his sight.

Jesus didn’t seem to be at this camp though — since it was obvious that some of the campers were more precious than others — some more favored, not just by God in heaven but by those gods on the ground — the camp counselors and cabin supervisors.

I, oddly enough, was not among the precious. I’m not sure exactly how we misfits get identified — perhaps it is our awkward, loud, out-of-sync laughter that gives us away. Perhaps it’s the air of desperation — the trying just a little too hard — that sends up the red flags.

Whatever it is, I apparently was marked from jump street.

Behold a pale horse

I thought I was doing alright — fitting in — hanging on the fringes of the cool kid clique, trailing along, trying to insert myself like Ivanka Trump at a G20 meeting — smiling and nodding, fidgeting nervously and trying to enter the conversation only to be cool blocked at every turn.

I knew I had been labeled a misfit when it came time to buddy up for afternoon swimming. Nobody wanted some good Christian parents bringing a lawsuit on the camp if one of their darlings happened to take a dip in the lake and not come back up — so we had to have a buddy — someone to keep an eye on each other.

All the cool kids got paired with their clique members and then they called out the name of my buddy. I can’t even remember her name. All I knew was she was a misfit among even the misfits. She was a person with albinism. Her skin was more transparent than mine (which is pale from living in the great indoors). Her hair was a bleached-out red, her eyelashes white and her eyes — there was really no discernible color there — they were just white — as if they were designed to emit light instead of take it in.

No one had spoken more than two words to this girl from day one. She had done her best to melt into the background, and now here I was — her buddy for the rest of the week.  I hated my fate and I hated her. My badge of misfit-ism would hold my hand all through the week, branding me as uncool for the rest of my life. I loathed my life and begged to be sent home under the pretext that I missed my dog.

“You miss your dad?” the camp counselor misheard. “No,” I sighed loudly, “My DOG. I miss my dog.”

I never missed my dad.

Embracing my ‘misfit-ism’

I endured the week with my unpigmented buddy, and though I have long forgotten whatever indignities I imagined I suffered that week, in my memory, she still holds my hand today. I think about her a lot because she exemplifies something that I remain ashamed of. I am ashamed of how I treated her. I am ashamed of how I must have made her feel — not just rejected by the cool kids but obviously seen as a burden by the only other misfit in the room.

We should have been allies, she and I. We should have been bosom buddies. We should still be calling each other on the phone today and reminiscing about that amazing summer that we met and had the best time of our lives simply because we were not with the cool kids, but had found one another — that someone with whom we had finally misfit in.

But I did not want to be a misfit. I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be seen and respected as having my shit together. It was, of course, years later that I discovered that every single one of those kids I considered to be cool all had their own hang-ups, their own insecurities, their own fears, their own feelings of not being good enough or smart enough — or even just enough.

That achromatic girl was a badge of shame in my youth, but now, she is my shining star. She was not an albatross, but my savior in short-shorts and a camp T-shirt.

She showed me who I really am — a leader among misfits — someone who was put here to be a light for the outcasts who wander in darkness, wondering if they will ever be enough.

The cool kids may have had the affirmation from the crowd. But take it from a misfit, all we really need is one person to see us so deeply that we cannot hide or look away. This pale, beautiful girl did that for me. She saw through me, past the crap, past the need to be seen as something I wasn’t. She saw me.

It scared the crap out of me then, but now I see it for the gift it truly was. I have always gathered the misfits, the outcasts, the castaways, the broken toys around me, whether I have wanted them or not.

She challenged me to embrace my calling — to proudly wear my crown as the queen of the island of misfit toys. She showed me that deep within, I was precious, because that song is right — we all are. We just need the eyes to see it — eyes devoid of color — luminous eyes that shine a divine light that can swallow you and make you whole.