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Call Me Crazy
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From Chapter 2: Centuries of Memories
We were members of the country club and of the church -- just like other normal working families. Abi and Nathan were members of the swim team and won ribbons at all of the meets, where they would chug pink Jell-O sugar before they dove into the frosty waters. I was jealous. I wanted to do everything my older siblings did. They dove off the high dive at the pool and had friends that would give them the equivalent of high fives when they won. I really don't know if people gave high fives back then. It's a trend now that's so silly I can't believe we all do it, but we do. Whenever someone does something good it's "High five!" And we smack hands. Hilarious.
(Human behavior is so intriguing. I find myself giving thumbs-up signs all the time. I know I look like an absolute dork, but I do it anyway. I want to get a trend going where we're giving each other thumbs-up signs for just being alive and walking down the street. Sometimes life is so hard and we judge people rather than realizing that it's an accomplishment to simply get up in the morning. So . . . thumbs-up! You're awake.)
I was so anxious to learn what Abi and Nate were doing that one day I climbed to the top of the high dive. Once there, I realized that I was scared out of my mind. For some reason, my father was there, which was a rare occasion. He climbed up behind me and pushed me off -- no warning. This was the subtlety of my father. Maybe he was right. After that I don't remember being scared of anything, at least not anything that I would admit publicly or in front of him. Someone at the club must have taken notice because soon after that I was asked to be a replacement on the swim team, and I was happily winning ribbons too. But the swim team didn't last.
I don't remember what happened first or last in the series of events that follow. The truth is I don't remember a whole lot about this time in my life or the years to come. My memories have come back sketchy to say the least -- somehow our bodies and minds protect us from the whole truth -- but I'll tell you what I know.
I remember getting a weird feeling when we were at the country club restaurant one night. We rarely went out to dinner, but we were there and Dad was talking to the maître d'. Talking turned to arguing and the next thing I knew, Dad was pocketing the wonderful-tasting butter mints that were sitting on the counter near the exit. I don't mean a couple of mints either -- I'm talking the entire dish of mints. And then we were gone. Not only from the restaurant, but from the club altogether. We never swam in the pool or ate in the restaurant again.
I was in the middle of second grade by this point and Dad was disappearing rapidly from our lives. He was supposedly going to New York on business. His trips were getting more and more frequent the longer we stayed in the house. It was very curious to me, seeing that the only thing I had ever known my father to do was go out to the garage and look at the fabric samples he had collected. Yes, fabric samples. He had tons of them piled high in the garage out back. You know those books that you can flip through when you're trying to decide how to redecorate? Well, those books were littered by the hundreds all over the floor along with some carpet samples. Certainly this was strange for a man who didn't have a job, but his excuse was that he wanted to go into interior design and he knew some women who were helping him do just that. Well, Mom didn't say much to Dad about anything, but whenever he brought up those women or the whole interior decorating thing, you could tell she was upset. If I didn't know Christians better, I might have thought she hated those women.
Dad had dropped out of medical school when they were in college and Mom was pregnant with Susan, and although it wasn't mentioned often, you could hear her disappointment hidden in sentences like "Donald!" (Oh, yeah, that was his name.) "If you had only stayed in school and become a doctor we would have food to put on the table! How long do you think I can feed these children on five dollars a week!?"
Mom rarely spoke to my father that way. He would purse his lips like a prissy old woman with no sugar in her tea and stomp away with a condescending "Good Christian women respect their husbands! Don't ever say that to me again, Naaannncyyyy!!!"
Nancy was her name, and when he said it like that she shut up. I guess five dollars a week was what he got for playing piano on Sundays at our new church. That was the only job he seemed to keep. That and choir directing. He loved choir directing. He would sway his arms in the air like a fairy and everyone loved it, including my mother. He was good at music. Music and fabric samples. So when Dad told Mom that he was going to New York on business and the business was gas and oil, you can imagine her surprise.
Gas and oil, that's what I said. Now how on earth could a choir director from Aurora, Ohio, who doesn't have any skills other than knowing what shade of pink complements what shade of black and which notes are played in the key of G find himself in the business of selling gas and oil? No one could figure. Especially not my mother. But this was a perfect time to exercise the number-one rule. No questions asked was also a rule my mother had to abide by, and it was followed quickly by her number-two rule: Good Christian women believe anything that their husbands tell them no matter how absurd it may sound. This worked out well for my father. God knows it was absurd! My mother was stuck with a houseful of kids on a few dollars a week while Dad went off to New York City on whose tab no one knew, to develop a business in gas and oil, which he knew nothing about and had never mentioned before in his life. We kids, of course, were kept in the dark about all of it. We dutifully did everything we were told and didn't question when Dad was out of town on business for weeks at a time, because we didn't want to get beaten with a spoon.
We also didn't question anything when we stepped outside to be driven to school one day and the car was gone. Just gone. No sign of it anywhere and nothing to be said about it. Dad was out of town, so we knew he hadn't run off with it, but it was all excused with Mom's cheery "I'm sure it's just some sort of mix-up."
Like good children we nodded our heads in agreement. "Sure it is, Mom. Just a little mixer-upper. No worries."
We trudged back inside and made bread. Homemade bread always made everyone feel better, and it was food that was cheap. We sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on the buttered stuff and we had sandwiches for a whole week. Who knows how we got along without a car, that part escapes me.
When Dad didn't show up for three weeks, claiming that he was snowed in and the airports wouldn't let any planes out, I think my mother started to get suspicious. The weeks that he had been home the previous months, he would fly in on a Saturday night, tell the kids that they were singing in church the next morning for the congregation's entertainment, and fly out on Sunday night. He couldn't rehearse the choir he used to love so much, spending as little time at home as he did, so we had become the choir. Dad had taught us to sing on key and we looked cute up on stage in our homemade clothes, so. . .why not? We sang the same songs over and over, our version of a hymn in three-part (our fourth was off to college by now) harmony. And like a good Christian congregation, no one said a word. They, like good wives and good children, kept their mouths shut and looked like they were enjoying each phrase we sang as if it were the first time they had heard it. Like the story of Jesus turning water into wine, Christians can listen to anything over and over again and seem to stay interested.
When I mistakenly asked about this phenomenon one Sunday after church, I was given the lovely speech my mother so often gave as I pulled up my dress to expose my young rump: "You know I don't want to be doing this, honey." Then she smacked me raw and sent me upstairs, hoping I would once and for all learn the number-one rule.
"What will it take to get the question mark out of that child's brain?"
she must have thought -- never questioning that she too was questioning, and
even though she didn't want me to see it, I saw it in her eyes.
Excerpted from Call Me Crazy by Anne Heche. Copyright © 2003 by Anne Heche. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.