Adele had been weird for a very long time.
I remember our early years of school together vaguely, a hodge-podge rough sketch of interactions and moderately blurry vignettes. I recall that she often smelled like cauliflower, that even as a small child she dressed like an elderly Russian grandmother upon whom all the miseries of mankind weighed, and that she had the teeth of a velociraptor. Adele would often sit in class beside me as a grade two and cut her own hair with safety scissors, her bewildering smile peering out from behind her lips as locks of her long, stringy black hair fell to the desk around her and I slowly cringed away, even embarrassed as a seven-year-old.
My real understanding that Adele was pretty weird came in high school, when she would regularly claim to be a 400-year-old witch who knew jujitsu. Whether this was simply a teenager’s way of clawing at some semblance of identity and attention or an actual omen of burgeoning schizophrenia was always unclear. But as a bored teenager with little else to do, listening to her stories (which included midnight knife-fights, tales of miraculous healing, and regularly battling the shadow minions of her witch-nemesis, Naomi) provided boundless entertainment.
Adele was, of course, a social pariah except for the outskirts of a few loosely-bound cliques. She orbited the outer strata of some of the nerds or the burn-outs or the goths, who were slowly transitioning into becoming emos, as was the style at the time. As an obnoxious, awkward weirdo myself, the tangents of our social lives would often briefly cross like two confusing comets in the night sky, and I would marvel that there was someone at our school so obviously less normal than I was.
Not that our schools were bereft of the gawky, the inept, and the soon-to-be-crazy. I knew kids who ate mayonnaise out of the jar by hand. I knew teenagers who took a well-known and terrifying delight at our grade eleven biology project where we got to dissect a foetal pig. There were chronic masturbators and intensely aggressive social isolates, there were kids who ate nothing but cucumbers for lunch all day. We even had the high school standard-issue bullied, death-metal and gloom powderkeg who kept a deathlist stashed in his locker and would constantly mutter to unseen parties.
I was as vicious and petty as every other teenager and had no patience for most of my peers, never mind the ones that called even more attention to themselves and their quirks than I did. I had no coping skills with which to approach their personality types, which I assumed were handed down from trickster gods to make the world more interesting, or inherited through dozens of generations of in-breeding.
But suddenly I am a teacher, confronted with dozens of tiny little people. There are funny little people and intelligent little people. There are strong and weak ones, energetic and lazy, social butterflies and loners. Even at six years old, barely out of the mold, they are burgeoning on personalities, new selves to develop and grow. They are constantly emerging out of new chrysalises, exploding forth in new forms every second of every day.
And there are a number of weird kids.
In the intervening years since my own childhood, I have acquired the necessary bodhisattva patience. I have developed a stunning poker face, an unyielding commitment to generativity, and a wrought-iron capacity for remaining ungalled. Daily I listen to stories, break up fights, negotiate conflicts and take strange found objects from children’s mouths. I manage a flock of what I assume will one day be society’s next great artists and writers and free spirits, as well as probably a few of society’s next basement-dwelling conspiracy theorists and urine-bottling obsessives.
I think now as a teacher of my own educators when I was young, and how they might have thought of me, fat and awkward and alternately depressed and bitterly cruel and weird beyond the telling. How they might have thought of Adele, who earnestly told us about the unicorn that she owned in a way that we would come to recognize as disturbingly erotic only years later. How they might have thought of Daniel, who sat underneath the climbers with a cheese-string and an asthma inhaler and stared at the children playing in the distance with his enormous, owl-eye glasses. How they considered speaking to Katie, who rubbed her face across her desk and stole dozens of pieces of chalk to eat.
I wonder if they were like I am now, marvelling at the space dust between the ears of some of the children I meet. Stunned at their bizarreness, stultified by their starriness, struck dumb by their lunacy. Bewildered by their brilliance, amazed at how little some of them care or by how much they do, wondering always what they’ll say next. Heartbroken when they realize their own oddity and how it sets them apart or silently cheering when they embrace it and ride off on their dragons into the sunset. I wonder if they, like me, hear story after story about dead brothers that never existed, look at pictures of children eating cabbages from ninjas hidden in closets, and join in games that involve wriggling around like an earthworm. And I wonder if they, too, cherished every insane, confusing second and hoped no one ever stopped those kids from being just as weird as they could be.