Thursday, October 11, 2012

Faking the Crazy

When I was ten years old, I was not a crazy person. But I occasionally played one in the grocery store.

It was partly boredom, partly a lack of parental supervision and oversight. Mostly, though, it was a way of strange and conscious rebellion. When I was in fifth grade, I became very aware that little about me was, technically, normal. My parents had just gotten back together after a separation that was supposed to fix everything but ultimately fixed nothing. I had become acutely aware that my father was an alcoholic who would probably never recover. I had also become conscious that I was different; most of the girls in my class were starting to look like pretty young ladies with maturing bodies and faces, while I had just acquired a mouthful of orthodontia and looked like this:

If you think that's bad, you should have seen me after my Christmas perm.

The weird thing was that, despite all this, I was a pretty happy kid. With low self-esteem and an occasional sense of impending doom, but overall I did not see myself as a victim or a problem child. And yet every time I accompanied Mom to an Al-Anon meeting, or every time I found myself watching an after-school special, I felt like I should be acting out. I should have been making bad grades, running around with the wrong crowd, cussing out my parents, and having local police know me by my first name. I wondered what that might be like.

One evening at our local Thriftway grocery store I decided to find out.

My father was an organized grocery shopper who went with a list and a budget and a sense of urgency. My mother was more of a boredom shopper who went with about a dozen items in mind but wandered the aisles for 2 hours looking for The Next Big Food Thing. When Mom dragged me to the store, I lost interest before we ever got to the pickle aisle (my mother spent a large portion of her 40s searching for the perfect bread and butter pickle. That was exactly as glamorous as it sounds.) So I often asked permission to roam on my own and browse for school supplies and cheap Wet 'n' Wild cosmetics.

On this one trip, I became annoyed at a family who seemed to always be in my way. It was a large family with a mom and dad and multiple children, and everywhere I turned, there they were, blocking me from the composition notebooks and index cards I liked to buy with my allowance money. Remember, I was going through a weird phase. In my annoyance, I started muttering under my breath. I was a little loud and got their attention. And I found I liked that.

I started lightly stalking them. And whenever I was near, I would mutter nonsensical things under my breath. I developed a dramatic tic of occasionally smacking myself in the forehead just hard enough to make a startling sound. My mother was way over in frozen foods at this point and had no idea I was putting on a veritable play over by the baked goods.

For my last act, I rushed up the aisle to get the jar of peanut butter I knew Mom had forgotten to grab. Just when I was in earshot of the family, I muttered just loudlyand menacingly enough that they would be able to make out the words:


They stepped aside and I hightailed it to the checkout to meet my mom. It was ridiculous, it was rude, and it was so unlike me that I just knew security was on its way.

It was also a surprisingly satisfying release from my usual straight-A, parent-pleasing self. 

Future trips yielded a host of different characters I would turn into. My right ankle is double-jointed and I can turn that foot almost all the way backwards, so on some trips I walked entire lengths of aisles with one foot facing forward and one facing back, limping dramatically. Other trips I pretended to be blind, staring straight ahead like the actress who played Mary on Little House On the Prairie and feeling around for just the right glass jar of mayonnaise to almost drop. Other trips I was deaf and used my slight knowledge of the sign alphabet to sign "Hello" to confused strangers. Because I loved Helen Keller and read every biography of her in my school library, I sometimes tried to be both. But that was mostly outside the range of my acting abilities. Patty Duke forever has my admiration for pulling that off.

My favorite part of the whole exercise was when it was time to meet up with my mother and all my physical and emotional ailments were cast aside like a New-Testament miracle. The same people who saw me limp, stagger, wander, mutter, and sign were aghast when I was returned to normalcy at my mother's side. I made sure to look them in the eye and return their quizzical looks. Nothing's the matter with me; what's the matter with YOU?

For the purpose of the game was not to to convince anyone I had a physical disability. The purpose was to come off as completely bat-shit crazy and troubled. In that, I succeeded.

Once I took the show on the road and carried my mini-rebellion outside the Thriftway, the jig was up.

On the way home from the grocery one afternoon, a pickup truck cut my mom off in traffic. She cussed quietly and I decided this was not enough punishment for the driver. At the next light, when we pulled up beside the truck, I put my face against the back passenger-side window, snarled, and raised my middle finger.

The truck began to follow us home and I realized, way too late, that the driver was one of our neighbors.

There was a meeting between my mother and neighbor in our front yard. I tried very hard to find a place to permanently hide inside the house. When Mom came in, she was madder at me than she had ever been in her entire life. Even madder than the time she had on full hair and makeup to go out with her girlfriends and started to run my bath water, only to find that I had pulled up on the button to turn the shower water on when she wasn't looking.

"What...the hell...were you THINKING?!"

"Um...I'm the troubled child of an alcoholic?"

That didn't go over nearly as well as you'd think.

I was punished, and talked to, and told to never, ever use anything happening at home as an excuse for bad behavior. Alcoholic or not, my parents had taught me better than that and if I ever tried to pull that again, they would openly call "Bullshit."

Chagrined, I never again faked the crazy in public. Though I have been sorely tempted.

Saturday afternoon grocery-shopping has become the bane of my existence. I am a misanthrope with depressive tendencies and mild anxiety issues; throw me into a crowded canned-goods aisle with a bunch of assholes on cell phones taking 10 minutes to decide between Red Gold and Hunt's diced tomatoes and I feel a little mania coming on. Sometimes those manic words muttered in a fit of meanness almost come bubbling back out. Though this time, I would mean them.


If only.

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