Maybe it all started when my brother first went mad and if that’s when it started, then it started with that little girl dying. At her funeral her family asked my brother to film the church service. Years later the little girl’s mother told us that they couldn’t watch the footage, that all you could hear was my brother crying.
The two of them were crossing the street when a truck plowed through the intersection, hitting his friend and leaving my brother standing there, alive, while his friend lay dead on the asphalt, his red tennis shoes knocked right off his little-boy feet.But if it started there, with my brother crying at that little girl’s funeral, then it really started eight years earlier when my brother’s best friend died. The two of them were crossing the street when a truck plowed through the intersection, hitting his friend and leaving my brother standing there, alive, while his friend lay dead on the asphalt, his red tennis shoes knocked right off his little-boy feet.
That’s where I think it starts, but then again it might have started long before that. It might have started pulsing through veins generations before my brother, and my sister, and my other brother, and me. But I think that is when waiting for insanity first started for me.
Dad identified my uncle for me in old black and white photographs. In family pictures of Dad and his nine brothers and two sisters this was the uncle I sometimes confused with Dad.
Even though he was older, even though he served in the 442nd while Dad was coming of age in a Japanese internment camp, in pictures of them after the war, neither of them smile. In these photographs they both glare at the camera’s lens with their hair slicked back and tan skin glowing in the Southern California sunshine like Asian James Deans.
I never knew this uncle. He died before I was born. What I did know was that his wife was a lesbian and that he killed himself and that was when the rest of the family shunned his ex-wife and their kids were the cousins I never saw.
But as I trace back insanity I have to think it was more than my uncle’s wife leaving him. It was more than whatever he might have seen as a soldier in the 442nd fighting on the European front during World War II.
But I’m still scared to ask Dad, particularly now that he has lost all but one of his nine brothers, now that he has a hard time remembering what he had for breakfast this morning, now that he’s working so hard to live on his own, I’m scared to ask him exactly what happened to his brother.
So, I imagine scenarios. Maybe he shot himself or hanged himself. I don’t think he took pills or slit his wrists in the tub. No, he was a soldier so I envision a violent end. But the more I guess the clearer it becomes that I have no idea why my uncle left and it is quite possible no one knows, not his kids, not his ex-wife, not his brothers. No one knows why he’s gone.
Maybe there is something about this town in the middle of Oregon. There is too much crazy going on for my comfort.
Maybe there is something about this town in the middle of Oregon. There is too much crazy going on for my comfort. Mom helps perpetuate this theory. She reminds me of all the crazy, the tragic-crazy and the crazy-crazy.Mom helps perpetuate this theory. She reminds me of all the crazy, the tragic-crazy and the crazy-crazy. There was the woman who dropped her babies from The Gorge because her boyfriend didn’t want kids. There was the drunk who plowed his car through the fence, into our backyard, and then staggered away. There was the boy who was going to ask my sister to prom and two years later killed his own sister, leaving her body to rot in the Horse Caves. There was the boy who played on the baseball team and shot himself in his car at the McDonald’s parking lot with his girlfriend in the passenger seat. There was the woman who escaped from a Salem women’s prison after she was convicted of shooting her kids in her car while “Hungry Like the Wolf” played on the stereo.
Maybe it’s something in the water, or a Native burial site we’re disrupting, or some other spirit we’ve disturbed. Something makes me think this whole place is waiting for crazy.
Then there are the addicts, crazy with addiction. That was the crazy on Mom’s side: Her parents’ alcoholism made Mom uncomfortable around anyone drinking. Her sister’s heroine addiction left her a widow and brought a cousin to live with us while she recovered. Her other sister’s alcoholism kept us from visiting southern California. And drug-induced crazy bled into this generation with my cousins who died tragic deaths after struggling with substance abuse.
Drug-induced crazy drove Mom and Dad from Southern California and landed us in this small mountain town, this state, only to find that even a thousand miles away from Dad’s suicidal brother and Mom’s family’s addictions, we couldn’t escape the crazy.
Here is the crazy. Here in this small town, and wherever we go, crazy finds us.
Crazy may not have started with my brother. It can be traced back through generations, but it was when my brother couldn’t sleep, when he heard voices, when he went away to the hospital, when he came back and was not quite the same that I started waiting for my turn. That was when I first wondered when madness would find me.
But as I waited, I watched madness find my sister and my other brother, and so many others. I looked for the signs and waited. I traced the madness back, back, back through our town through our family tree through all of those generations and concluded, of course it started long before my brother, or my sister, or my other brother, or me. But it’s me writing, and it’s me waiting.
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This piece originally appeared in Meridian, issue 38.