It’s not easy being the only one.
My dad used to say that they can’t discriminate against one. In this case, “they” refers to whatever majority that doesn’t look like you is (generally, white) and “one” refers to you, the chocolate dot in the vanilla ice cream; the chocolate dot in the custard; the chocolate dot in the mocha; the chocolate dot.
I am the chocolate dot and I spend a lot of time being a dot of one.
It doesn’t often bother me, at least, I don’t think it does. If it did, at one point, I suppose that I have either gotten used to being stared at – I don’t think anyone stares, but if they do, it sloughs off of me like dead skin and I don’t even notice – or, I have gotten used to being ignored.
I am rarely ignored. While I would prefer to fade into the background, put glasses on and just be like everybody else, getting ignored is a rarity.
In Poland, I was accosted by a group of elderly Polish grandfathers and grandmothers who wanted to hug me, kiss me on the cheek, confirm if I had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and take a picture with me. They also delighted in making me repeat after them the hardest of hard Polish words, and seeing that basic Polish is particularly tongue-twisting (you say Czyżew or Szczecin or Szczuczyn, and by the way, they all sound different!), I wasn’t offended. I played along. Why not? What is the point of being offended? That is more about you than it is about them, is it not?
In Westchester, I attended a wedding where there were other chocolate dots, but they had server uniforms on and I had a dress. I was not stared at; the eyes were on the bride and the bride. I was not ignored; I had friends there, new and old. But, there was a prickle of discomfort that pressed between my shoulders coupled with a whisper that brushed against the lip of my ear: “Are you sure you belong?”
That one was harder.
In Long Island, I attended a wedding where I was the only dot. I didn’t think I was uncomfortable until, months later, sitting on a white sofa in a homey room and having my weekly talk, that I admitted that I found that wedding in Long Island to be the scariest thing of all.
Because, sometimes, when everybody looks like everybody else, they share heritage, they share tradition, and in many ways, I have always felt like I don’t have that. When you spend enough time being a dot of one, you get used to just being, well, one. And when surrounded by a many that you want to be a part of, all of a sudden, being “the one” brutally metamorphosizes into being “nothing.”
For the first time, I had wanted to be a part of something more than just me, and I felt invisible, like I had nothing to bring forth to the table, and that I would never, ever, fit in.
When you desperately want to fit in is exactly when you realize that it is impossible to “fit in” because the box has already been made too small for you.
I never told my date to that wedding how I felt. Partly because I didn’t know it at the time, didn’t feel it, it was buried so deep underneath the surface that all I did was drink, dance, laugh, and have a good time that night. Partly because when I figured it out I didn’t have yet have the right words or understanding.
Partly because I was worried she would confirm that my fear was true. That would have been the worst outcome of all.
After all these years, I am tired of being a chocolate dot. I like chocolate, I do, and I like vanilla, and custard, and mocha. I like red velvet; I like strawberry; I like pineapple. I like everything and so I both loath the state of being a dot, but I also would loath the state of just being, too. Neither of those extremes are ideal.
I suppose I just wish – and we know how much wishes are worth – that there were so many different dots that you could not distinguish them anymore. I wish that no one need ever feel that feeling I had, of being nothing when you want to be everything, of being invisible even when you are solid, real flesh and blood.
I ‘know’ that “they” can’t discriminate against “one,” but no one ever tells you just how hard it is to always be just the one. The dot. The chocolate dot.