Pia Savage

Odd Girl In

The Hippie Era Was Made for Me: Funky Freaky Girls Wanted

Having undiagnosed Non Verbal Learning Disorder wasn't a bad thing.

Posted Mar 02, 2011

I didn't know that I wasn't supposed to be social or have good social skills. True, I hated it when my parents made me sit in the children's dining room in hotels and I had problems interacting with kids I didn't know. But then came college and my 20's and the world was mine for the taking.

I loved meeting new people. There would be seconds of fear quickly quelled by the excitement of making new friends.I was the girl many found fascinating. I wasn't sure why but I wasn't going to let my uncertainties stop me from living or from loving.I didn't know I wasn't supposed to like change.

The first time I went to Europe by myself I was 20. It was a time when kids like me were traveling to find ourselves and explore. I didn't expect to find myself as I didn't know I was lost, but I wanted to explore. I wanted to meet people and know cultures far different than the one I had grown up with on Long Island. Unlike many other people, I loved getting lost.

I picked out landmarks. I memorized street names. It seemed almost intuitive and I thank my parents who had let me go to Manhattan from Long Island by myself from what now seems an absurdly young age, twelve. I always had confidence that I could, eventually, find my way.

It was difficult for me to begin conversations. But people talked to me first and I smiled and continued the conversation. I couldn't learn other languages but people loved to practice their English on me, and somehow it worked. Except when it didn't work and I knew that people found me weird, strange, not somebody they wanted to share time with.

But more people, or the people I liked, wanted to know me.

When I was 22 I went to visit my sister who was living in Cambridge, Mass. for the summer. She had three waitress jobs. I went to visit her at one job and her boss immediately offered me a job waitressing. It was a 24-hour diner and I made the worst waitress in the world. But the tips were great. Truck drivers and rock stars alike gave me the change from a dollar for a 25 cent of coffee.

One night I showed up for work and the owner asked why I was there. I was confused. He hadn't told me not to come; he hadn't said I was off the schedule. Was it the NLD I didn't know I had that caused me to misread his signals? I will never know, but I think there was more to it. I think he was purposely playing with me.

My NLD made me an easy target. Usually I was wary. I had an internal meter the size of Pittsburgh that mostly worked and kept me from being taken advantage of. I knew that I was different but every construction worker on the street, every man in bars and on street corners let me know that I was attractive. If I didn't notice, my friend Rich Smiley would tell me how he loved walking with me because it made him feel as if he were walking with the prettiest girl in New York. I guess my looks translated to Cambridge as they had to England, France and Israel two years earlier. So I was confused that night in the coffee shop in Harvard Square.

It turned out I had been hired because the owner liked my body and wanted me to hostess in a nightclub he was opening. The more he talked, the more I realized that this job entailed things I didn't want to do such as letting men touch me. It was the '70s; the era of Plato's Retreat, but I was a nice girl underneath the almost too hip exterior.

I ran from the restaurant back to Putnam Street. It was summer. The sun was out and I sat on the stoop smoking a cigarette. The most beautiful, exotic-looking girl I had ever seen smiled at me. Jasmine and I began talking. It turned out she lived in the duplex on the other side of the double-decker building, with two first floor simplex apartments and two matching duplexes, I was staying in. We smoked a joint and went to a club. The next day, Jasmine got me a job at the store in Boston she was working in for the summer. I worked there all year.

I moved into the duplex that day. There were eight of us. Mostly Harvard grad students. No, we weren't a commune. Yes, we had fun. I had my differences with some of my roommates and some of their friends, but mostly I remember that year as a continuation of an amazing journey. I was aware that the hippie era suited me and my quirks.

Jasmine was an undergrad in a school in Boston and I transferred to Boston University, the first school I learned I truly could be an exceptional student in. Actually that lesson didn't take. I just loved going to classes. I loved writing papers, doing my internship and talking to my advisor. I never opened my transcript reports; a fear left from the two schools I had gone to before.

I should have realized that I had an almost perfect GPA and that those grades would count more than the one on the school on Long Island I loved but wasn't exactly known for my academics in, or NYU where due to circumstances beyond my control, sorta, I never finished. If only I hadn't been scared to talk to my adviser when I had pneumonia during exams the first semester; and was even more scared after I was in a car accident the second semester and had to miss a month of classes and finals. But idiot as I fondly called myself was scared of her own shadow though few people realized that.

I should have stayed for grad school. I should have had faith in myself. Something stopped me from believing in me. Something I couldn't explain if you paid me a bazillion dollars. My friends were leaving Cambridge. I missed my New York friends. Cambridge was becoming too ragged for me with scraggly haired kids sleeping in front of storefronts.

So I went home to the new punk New York. Made sense to me then.

© 2011 pia Savage