How to become a sane girl…an essay by Tracy Saville (Best Fiction GNU 2009)
One too many - everything.
One too many – everything.
(Please note the following fiction essay was based on and inspired by Lorrie Moore’s “How to Become a Writer”, and it contains some language and graphic descriptions which may not be suitable for all readers.)
Are you on facebook? Share this essay with your friends and ask them: what is the single moment in their life when they “found” themselves, when they left their baggage and demons behind? What was yours?
How to Become a Sane Girl
By Tracy Saville
First, admit you’re crazy, bat shit, insane. A walking, talking reincarnation of Jesus. A direct descendant of Sitting Bull. Leader of the Ninth Planetary Council. Go for broke.
It is best if you pull out every possible psychosis at an early age – say seven, right after the aluminum smelling old man with the dirty coat and gnarled fingers in the park gropes your particulars in a way that makes you want to chew off your right arm and vomit in the wind. Early, critical trauma is necessary so that at eight you can withstand hurricane-force gale ice storms while standing naked on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, wishing you were a white seal and could swim to the center of the Earth and eat Chinese food. You can feel yourself slowly breaking apart.
Tell your mom. She is a survivor and a Pollyanna. She has two ex-husbands who failed to live up to the most marginal of expectations. She can smell horseshit form three thousand miles away. She’ll smile sweetly at you, then down at her fingernails as if she were studying a very important problem, with the focus of a brain surgeon. She’ll say: “How about I buy you a kitten and that electric organ you always wanted?” Look away. Shove your oversized man hands with bitten cuticles in your blue ditto pockets. Oh, you don’t have pockets. Accidentally pee your pants. This is mandatory boot camp for crazies in training. This is only Scene I of the first Act.
In your eighth grade French class ignore Mr. Kennedy’s creep factor; so he’s your basketball coach and can make or break your college career. That doesn’t give him the right to explore your butt cheeks between floor drills. Decide French is overrated. Put all your energy into your AP English class. Write a treatise on eunuchs for your Mormon English teacher who is both religiously and hormonally predisposed to protect his genitalia. Get an “F” for the very first time. Cry when they try and suspend you. Write a lovely story about how men are born stupid. Laugh when you actually do get suspended by a married, Catholic gay known to be screwing the head of his Drama department. Decide writing is overrated, men can’t be trusted, and religious dogma is an evil that must be eradicated from the planet.
Over the summer, learn how to give and receive hickies. You don’t have to keep up the ridiculously obvious charade that you’re well adjusted and happy once you let loose your inhibitions. Lose your virginity before you can spell fornication. Secretly draw his penis because it bends like a banana. Hide your birth control pills. Die when you hide them too well and the rabbit bites it. Lie to your mother. Tell her you’re fine. She wants to believe you, it’s a busy time for her what with philandering husband number two.
Get a job at the flea market on weekends, hawking corn dogs and cotton candy. Gain ten pounds. You love culturally diverse people living in poverty who like to spend their free time buying velvet pictures of horses and lava lamps. They appreciate the widening stature of your corn-dog fed ass. Your college boyfriend breaks up with you because you’re fifteen, even though you put out. You break into his house and steal back your photos, which you keep under your pillow and soak tears into because your heart is fractured into thousands of microscopic acid knives which ceaselessly cut into your being. Nothing will ever be the same.
The divorce is a blessing; you never really liked the country, or goats or walking two miles to the bus stop in a kind of heat that made beetles explode like large road pimples. You didn’t like all those people you called your best friends anyway. Town isn’t such a bad place – big whoop if you’re a guppy when you used to be a killer whale and nobody appreciates the largess of your Norwegian, country gluteus?
Change can be good. Start writing again, but trade that for sleep. Decide sleep is overrated. Watch your brother survive a slight cocaine problem and choose to join the few, the proud. Watch your mother want to cry, though she doesn’t, because she never has, as far as you know.
Realize you soon will be joining the ranks of freshman. Try to lose weight.
Proudly wear that platinum mullet and your mother’s polyester, polka-dot sun dress on the first day of high school. Pretend the laughs are because in town, people are always happy. Get over your first period class being called “Gifted Acceleration Study Hall”, and let the drama geeks steal your heart. Go with the stoners when they claim your lunch period, and for Christ’s sake, embrace the jocks when they come calling for your basketball skills. Give each and every one what they need. That empty feeling inside your skin is nothing to worry about. Everyone loves you.
Mr. Clark decides you should be in broadcasting, so you become a great debater. Mrs. Bellino knows you have a Sally Field living inside your inner actor. Mr. Scott recognizes your highly unusual verbal and writing skills as something other that severe low self-esteem, and introduces you to Charles Bukowski, the great beat poetry writer of the 1960’s. Bukowski’s words become your words; his books become your bibles.
Mrs. Butcher, the senior AP English teacher, catches you smoking on the lower field, then introduces you to Hemingway. You learn to write like he and F. Scott, but this is useless. There can be only one “Grapes of Wrath” or “Great Gatsby”, though you are from farm people and cannot escape your earthly origins.
Decide verbosity is for you; there are far too many words inside your brain to keep them under wraps. Overwrought profusion becomes your main course of study. You excel at excessive, compulsive behavior and over-achievement. You dream of killing cheerleaders and yourself.
The lines at the free clinic to explore your psychotic ramblings is too long; “This is just a phase,” so says your mother and the bus driver who seems to be the only one paying attention to the fact you’re carrying two razor blades in your wallet, in case you lose one.
Decide you hate high school. Develop a reputation for being too good for anyone. Pretend to be a harlot; you are amazing. The accolades over your false sexual exploits become the stuff of legend.
Refuse to hide your rejected pain from the world. Meet Kara, grower of may jane and knower of cool skater people. Forget what you hate and learn how to windsurf. Buy a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses from money you earn as an Assistant Manager at Gallenkamp Shoes. Decide neither feet nor windsurfing are your thing. Decide to become a good looking version of Barbara Walters without a lisp.
Decide to care about getting into college and what people think of you. After all, this is the beginning of the Second Act. Start dating ski guy as you mull over colleges and courses of study. So what if he’s ten years older than you and you’re seventeen? That’s legal, in like, fourteen states.
Lie to your mother. Tell her you’re fine. Get good grades your senior year, lose weight, party with adults with adult-sized substance abuse problems; become an adult well before you can spell twelve steps.
Slip further away from you. Touch the dark.
See how everyone thinks you’re just super? “How do you manage it all?” They ask, and sometimes “Was that you having sex with Mike in the backseat of your orange VW in the parking lot of K-Mart?” Everyone thinks they know you. Who you have sex with becomes the stuff of urban legend. But you don’t protest too much. No, you protest not at all, because by your count, and that’s the only score card that matters, three does not a slut make. Well, four, but there wasn’t any penetration on the fourth.
On days when you would rather stick a fork in your eye than listen to one more under-articulated word come out of the mouth of a shallow, snarky girl who is just as bent as you – you write. Your words are garbled; your lies are legion. You hang onto the ledge of the black hole by chewed fingernails, and they all look at you, hanging there, removed from cause; clearly disinterested in your predicament. They die a little inside, over how beautiful and talented you really are. They whisper. They wish you were dead. So do you.
Days and weeks melt into months, when Playboy’s party school comes calling. They could sure use a girl like you. Decide against academic sincerity in favor of naked bar cycles and social drinking clubs called Red Barn in search of leaders. You are a born leader. You’ve always been lucky this way. Take thirty-two upper division units, live with five roommates, use three refrigerators, sleep with two foreign exchange students, and tell ski guy you’re tired of his shit. Fail to write a single, redeeming word.
Lie to your mother. Tell her everything is fine.
Decide Chico State University and hot buns contests are not for you. Go home. Realize you can’t go home. Wake up in Monterey in the arms of a beautiful, mysterious soldier poet from Maryland who falls in love with your brand of crazy. Ratchet up the stakes. Drive cross country. Ride the bull at Mickey Gilly’s in Pasadena, Texas; eat fresh shrimp freshly plucked from the bayou and cooked open fire on a gas stove in your hotel room at Mardi Gras; eat cold Dominos pizza in bed while watching a black and white TV and “Dawn of the Dead” in broken, horizontal glory on your first year anniversary, in Key Largo, in a freak, cold sleet storm, with a hemorrhoid, on your period, getting over the flu, and nursing an epic hangover from too much tequila imbibed the night before with a group of Cuban, gay bikers on Quaaludes.
Soldier poet boy buys you a silver lame mini dress to wear at your homecoming party in Severna Park, because it makes you look like Sharon Stone. And you do, actually better. His mother hates you on sight, and your silver lame mini dress. She has no idea who Sharon Stone is, though she does favor ice picks. Manhattan’s at five o’clock are the high point of every day. You decide she sees how tipped over the moon you are, that your feet are touching the wet, coldness of the abyss. She can see how you are dangling by one misshapen finger, the one you suck on when you’re most insane. You do the only thing you know how to do; you run.
California here you come! Lie to your mother and yourself about why. Cringe to realize college is still calling, only this time it’s on your tab. Your mother is far too consumed with her own degree programs to be bothered by your flighty, irresponsible needs. Talk to your poet soldier every day, until the one day he calls you and admits he left your Chevy Blazer running in an alley, with the keys in it, to take a leak while on a job hunt. Don’t freak out when he tells you he stopped paying the insurance on the unpaid for Blazer three months ago. He tells you he loves you and can’t wait to come to California. He promises to iron your suits and bring you orange juice in the shower. You can’t remember what his penis looks like. A banana, you know has been played.
Wake up the next morning from your new cocktail job, sleeping next to a meth user named Lennie, who steals your thousand dollar winning lottery ticket and most everything you have. Explore the joys of eight straight days of sleeplessness and clinical depression. Meet dysfunctional you. Divorce your beautiful, mysterious poet soldier. Lose more weight. Lie to your mother. Tell her everything is fine. Let go of the rim of the black hole. Get caught on a branch a few feet down. See all those people looking at you, like you are the insane bird? Decide they may know a thing or two about a thing or two.
Thank God for short term memory loss due to alcohol overconsumption and insomnia. Decide the first person you will forgive is you. Years go by, Scenes run from one to the next, and the curtain goes up on the Final Act. Wake up one day holding a nine pound savior in your arms, a baby boy direct from God, and it must be, because he has all his fingers and toes, and is perfect, whereas you were anything but. “How did this happen?” Your sometimes father who divorced your mother when you were four and promised everything would be fine, asks you. Here is when you decide the second person you will forgive will be your father. Decide to embrace your future and become a sane girl. Look into your baby boy’s molten brown eyes and see how he saves you from yourself. Notice how he pulls you back from the black hole and heals your bruises and gaping wounds.
It occurs to you on the eve of the boy you made’s second birthday, when he tells you your skin is like roses, that God gave you a boy; God gave you many boys. Why did He make testosterone your drug of choice and the great equalizer in your life? Are you the chosen one? He decides to give you one more testosterone love test, and that one sticks, sort of, but that one is hard, kind of crunchy and demanding. Ask the right questions, but don’t expect to find the answers.
Sooner or later, you write about it all. Truthful, painful, joyful word by word.
Quit jobs. Quit men. Get new jobs. Find good men. Fall in and out of love. Discover the beauty of living in your own skin. Fall down again and again. Stand up. What choice do you have? Quit smoking, quit doing things you know are bad for you, and wake the fuck up.
Write your first novel.
Break your leg.
Try not to get cancer.
Watch your son become a good man.
Forgive and forget what must be forgiven and forgotten.
Write about it all.
And when that girl who likes to throw herself into oncoming traffic knocks on your door and announces it’s time to hit the bars, invite her in for some chamomile tea. Visit, remember, then smile and look at the time. “I can see you’re doing alright without me.” She’ll say, in that wistful, regretful way she can. You tell her crazy just doesn’t work for you anymore. You love the light too much.
Outside, you wave goodbye as her rusted Vega disappears around the corner. You decide this relationship has run its course, but you’re grateful for what she gave you.
Inside, find that boy of yours who makes your stomach itch and your skin actually vibrate with joy. Tattoo his nickname and spirit on your left shoulder, in memoriam of the arm that held him until he could hold his own.
Wake up tomorrow. Your life is calling. Sane has its advantages.