I have weird thumbs. They’re at a funny angle to the rest of my hand, but that’s very me. There’s a lot about me that’s unique; that’s a funny angle to the rest of life.
In our elementary school, students picked instruments in third grade that they would play in fourth. I wanted to play one of the big brass band instruments. The older kids all sat in a line in the cafeteria—a flute, a tuba, a saxophone, an oboe, a bassoon and some sort of horn. I stopped in front of the girl who was playing the trumpet. She was a fifth grader, so much older than my third grade self. She was tall and pretty, with long blonde hair and preppy clothes; in other words, the complete opposite of me. I was short and a little pudgy, with brown hair and hand-me-down clothing.
“Here.” She extended the trumpet my way.
“I don’t know what to do with it.” I wanted to know though.
She brought the trumpet back up to her own mouth. “Like this.” She puckered her lips up against the mouthpiece and somehow made a pretty sound. (Or, as pretty as trumpets can be).
I took the trumpet gently. I too wanted to make a pretty sound. But when I held it up to my mouth the way I had seen the older girl do, but nothing happened.
“You’re doing it wrong,” she told me, taking the trumpet back. “Like this.” She demonstrated again.
I took the trumpet back with a dubious glance at her.
“You have to get your lips better on the mouth piece. Sort of like a fish-face, but sort of not.”
I tried again, but I still couldn’t make the instrument make any sound.
“I think your lips are too big,” she informed me, in the voice of a much older and wiser student. “They’re a little…weird.”
I heard that all the time. I was weird because my clothes weren’t brand label. I was weird because of the food I brought for lunch. I was weird because I always had my face shoved in a book. But this was different. She wasn’t talking about something I was doing, something I had a choice in. She was talking about…me.
I realized then that I wasn’t right for brass or wind instruments. I didn’t fit. My lips were, as she had so eloquently put it, weird.
With that, a string player was born. I liked the violin. It was small and compact and made lots of high notes; I was a soprano back then, and had a firm appreciation for the higher register. But the violin cost money to rent, money that we didn’t have. In the back of the tiny orchestra room where not many students gathered were two racks; one rack had a line of cellos, and the other a line of basses. The school loaned them out to students, using the appeal to finances to draw them away from the shiny appeal of the violin. And I went for it. I chose the cello because it was not quite as heavy as the bass.
Playing the cello ended up working out for me. I played on the school’s cello until I got to high school, at which point I started teaching private cello lessons for a downtown music store to help pay off my own cello. Eventually I played at weddings and in symphonies. So while I started out with the cello because I didn’t have any other option that fit me, it became a part of me.
Not all teasing works out that well. That girl teased me, and it ended up leading me to something positive I still do to this day. But teasing and bullying don’t always end positively. There are many ramifications that never get considered. And things stay with you. The good, and the bad.
My thumbs never really bothered me until I started playing the cello. They kept me from holding my bow properly. To this day, they still do. The other kids would make fun of me; my hand gets tired easily from trying to hold the bow, so I have to switch periodically to an almost club-like grip while playing to give myself a break. My teacher used to offer me prizes to hold the bow properly, but I never really could. And in my head, I thought that if she was offering me something for the desired end result, there must be something wrong with me if I couldn’t change myself.
My thumbs have always been the way they are. But I never knew they weren’t normal until I realized there were things they kept me from doing. Until my teacher told me they were wrong, my grip was wrong. That’s the funny thing, about being weird. Weird isn’t weird until someone points it out to you.
Once you know, it’s like none of you fits. So sometimes, it is one hundred percent better to say nothing. To not know.