I’ve never felt like I fit in anywhere. The most common first greeting I would hear from someone in California was, “You’re not from around here.” Statement, never a question. That’s one reason I’m constantly looking for validation. In addition to general social awkwardness, or maybe as a part of it, it’s why I have trouble entering group conversations. I believe there are social rules, but I don’t know what they are. Even the ones I have managed to learn, I know there are appropriate times to bend them, but even if I knew when to bend them, I wouldn’t know how. Will I be butting in where I’m not wanted? Will they be polite on the surface, but inside wish I would shut up or go away? Or both?

I can never tell and I think that’s why I always had a thing for trying to prove to myself that…well, I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to prove, which is probably why it’s never been a particularly effective strategy.

Take car headlights, for example. Ever since I learned to drive, I’ve had a thing about not turning my lights on until it was fully, completely dark. Not really sure what I was trying to prove; that I’m so cool I don’t need lights? That I can see better in the dark than other people? That I’m the human equivalent of a bat? Most likely it was something I noticed my brother or other kids my age doing and I focused on that as a way to show I was like them; that I fit in to the crowd.

After we moved to the PNW, where the days are often overcast, I realized that not turning on my lights meant that other people couldn’t see me. Yes, I know that should have been, or at least become, obvious to me before I was in my thirties, but I really had never thought about it from their perspective. So I started to turn on my headlights even when it was only mildly dusky outside.

And I replaced that neuroses with not turning on my windshield wipers unless our resident drizzle turned to actual rain. I know what I was trying to prove with that, though. That I was a local. I had decided this is what a local would do. And I was right. We had lived here around eight years when Zoo Keeper started occupational therapy. The receptionist in the office was a local, born and raised, and she made fun of people who turned their wipers on for anything less than a downpour.

Thus, I was vindicated. And local. Yay me!

But sometime in the years since, I realized that’s just as idiotic as not turning your lights on. Driving requires being able to see and pay attention to the road. I don’t text or even talk on a cell phone while I’m driving, but what difference would paying attention to the road make if I couldn’t see the road? I still wait until there are drops of water to keep the wipers from squealing as they scrape across a dry windshield, but I do turn them on. Someone suggested to me not long ago that, if you need your windshield wipers, you need your headlights, too. So now, for me, that’s the rule.

Lest you feel this is all about cars for me, I have similar issues with umbrellas, heaters, and coats.

I was a military kid, so we moved around a lot. By the time I was 11, I had lived in six different states. We’d moved more than that, but the states totaled six. That’s actually pretty good for a military brat – I had friends who had moved a lot more. I spent my teen years in Colorado. In Colorado, there’s a big thing about being native. I’m not native to anywhere, but I wanted more than anything to pass as a native Coloradan. To me, for some reason, this meant tolerating cold weather. I lean this way naturally, so I had a head start. I never wore socks. I wouldn’t wear a coat unless absolutely necessary. Our high school had a “Hawaiian Day” in January – I was the only person who wore shorts. I only sat in hot tubs if they were outdoors and it was actively snowing. I went to college in California, where coats were never a problem, and I lived in Texas until I was over 30. I don’t think I even owned a coat when we moved to Seattle. Possibly a jean jacket, but nothing that would protect me from anything but dust.

I have one now, but I start sweating if I even put it on. I have lighter coats, but I always err on the side of not needing one. I like the cold, so it never occurred to me that sometimes I actually do get a little too cold for my own comfort. We have the heater in our house set to turn on if the temperature goes below 66°F. Last year set high temperature records, especially here in the fall and early winter, so I don’t think our heater has automatically turned on once since last winter. Our house, however, often hovers at 66°F. I’ve noticed that my fingers get really cold sometimes; that I get really cold sometimes, yet I don’t do anything about it. I just continue what I was doing, feeling cold, and a little self-righteous because I’m such a native Coloradan. But recently, once again, I started to wonder what I was really trying to prove. Or, in this case, who I was trying to prove it to. I was the only one around to notice. And I was cold. So I got a zippered sweatshirt to put over my t-shirt. My fingers still get cold when I’m typing, though, so I sometimes turn the thermostat to 68°F so they don’t ache.

I visited Seattle with my mom about seven years before moving here. I hadn’t even met Sparky yet. I loved it here and knew this was where I wanted to live. I took a bus to the University of Washington while Mom was in her conference and took pictures and dreamed about earning a PhD in such a beautiful place. One thing I noticed about the people living here was that, while most wore rain jackets with hoods, none of them had umbrellas. Downtown, where the tourists were, lots of people carried them, but it was obvious that the residents didn’t. So, I didn’t either. I bought a couple over the years, but they collected dust or got lost because I never used them. We bought some at the zoo one day while observing the animals in a downpour. I don’t think we ever used them after that.

We live within walking distance of our kids’ elementary school. This year they’re going to the same place, so we try to walk them there every day. I’ve started to walk them home, too. I used my rain jacket with the hood up when it was raining, ended up feeling like a drowned rat, and thought WHAT THE HELL AM I TRYING TO PROVE?

I went out and bought two of the biggest, brightest umbrellas I could find and an umbrella stand. Because I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

Except I did. I needed to prove to myself that I belonged somewhere. That I fit in.

So, I did need to prove myself to someone. Me

Now, maybe you all could see where I was going with this from the beginning and think I could have skipped all of those paragraphs up there. Yes, yes, you’re very smart, but I’ve got a process here that I’m trying to work through.