The Crack of Crazy (A True Story)
As children, there was a rhyme the neighborhood kids would chant while skipping down the street–“Step on a crack, break your Mother’s back.”
The first time I heard this saying I was horrified. The idea that I could turn the same woman who let me stay rent-free in her womb for nine months (something I was reminded of at least twice a week) into a quadriplegic, was more than I could bear.
From that day on, I vowed to never set foot on a crack again.
At first it was just a matter of keeping my eyes on the ground, changing my gait so each foot would land squarely between the grooves.
Because my body resembled that of a beach ball with limbs, getting to school on time was my biggest challenge, the once ten-minute walk now forty-five, not including the fifteen minute rest/snack-break taken immediately after passing the Myers’ residence.
But soon I began to wonder if maybe my ignorance was causing the rest of my family to suffer as well– Dry hump this boulder or your Dad hurts his shoulder? Say everything twice or your sister gets lice?
And if that was the case, then who was to say that my actions weren’t also causing inanimate objects unnecessary pain? Not physical pain, mind you (I wasn’t an idiot, I knew that furniture didn’t have nerve endings or anything), but rather mental anguish, offending the ottoman when I didn’t low-five it, or hurting the dining room table’s feelings when I’d walk by without affectionately brushing my hand against its smooth, er…table-like surface.
And what about my limbs? If I did something with my right hand, like pick up a sock from the floor, I couldn’t help wondering why in heaven’s name did I choose that hand to do it?
Was I giving it preferential treatment? Or was I making it do all the dirty work, while letting my left hand get away with murder?
There were just too many variables to consider, and soon I found it easier not to pick up anything at all.
“Are you deaf?” my mom would yell, returning home from work to a complete pig-sty.
“Of course I’m not deaf,” I’d mumble. “I just don’t believe in favoritism, that’s all.”
The only way I could keep all of my parts happy was by making everything “Even Steven”. If I scratched the left side of my nose with my left hand, I had to then scratch the right side with my right hand. If I kicked a rock with my right foot, I had to go back and kick the same rock with my left.
It worked for a while. But then I started worrying that maybe my left foot felt inferior. “Why does righty get to kick first? You don’t think I’m a good enough kicker? Just because I’m not on your dominant side doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings, you know!”
The harder I tried to make things even, the more overwhelmed I felt. I know there had to be something I could do to make the voices inside my head stop. But what?
When a deaf lady came to do a presentation at school one afternoon, I had my answer. As she stood in front of the class, her hands flapping wildly as Bette Midler’s “The Rose” played in the background, I realized the only logical answer would be to spell out everything I said in sign language.
“What’s wrong with you?” my mom would ask. “Why are you walking like that? And what are you doing with your hands? Pay attention to where you’re going, that’s the third street light you’ve slammed into today.”
I imagined her pushing the stroller carrying my sister faster down the sidewalk, darting across intersections so that passersby wouldn’t assume we were together.
“No officers, I have no idea who she is. She just started following me. …Looks like it could be a seizure. Is she wearing a medic alert bracelet? Perhaps you should take her to the mental institution, they’ll know what to do.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was doing it for her. Waddling down the street with my legs glued together, spelling out “What’s wrong with you?” in sign, all because her fate rested in my hands.
Just as an added precaution, every night I would kneel beside my bed–just like Half-Pint on Little House on The Prairie–and list off the names of people that I wanted God to keep safe.
But as time went on the list became longer and longer, and eventually I was turning in at 5:30pm, just so I could pray for everyone from my second cousin Whatshisface to Geri, Blair’s cerebral-palsy afflicted cousin on The Facts of Life.
I had no idea what was wrong with me, but I knew it wasn’t typical child-like behavior. Nobody else my age was heavy-petting the toaster, or slamming the left side of their body into the wall so it didn’t feel less important than the right side, badly bruised from an earlier rollerskating accident.
Still, I thought I was doing a pretty respectable job of keeping my crazy hidden from others, and it wasn’t until the night of the church Christmas recital that all hell broke loose.
My parents finally realized that my quirks weren’t as little as they thought when, instead of singing “Silent Night” along with the rest of the choir, I spent the entire performance in the front row, punching myself in the face and swaying back and forth like some deranged Stevie Wonder groupie.
Afraid these tics were a precursor to demonic possession, my parents sent me to see a child psychologist. The woman made me so uncomfortable– taking notes as I played with the naked Barbies in her office (“Ok, now show me on this doll where he touched you.”)–that eventually I had no choice but to stop doing all the things that made my parents send me there in the first place.
Instead, I channeled all of my energy into starting “The Bloodhound Gang”–a cross between Nancy Drew and ‘To Catch A Predator’–enlisting the neighborhood kids to help me solve mysteries like “Who’s That Kid Hogging The Good Swing At The Park?” and “BLOODSPORT—The Case of The Dead Bird On Our Lawn.”
“Good job, Lo!” I’d say to my sister, Laura, who would run up holding another severed wing she’d found in the yard. “Now go put this evidence in the freezer and we’ll have Forensics look at it. -Oh, but make sure mom and dad don’t see you.”