In this original short web fiction piece by Sylvia Krakauer (approx. 2300 words) you’ll find out that sometimes being what other people call crazy is the sanest thing in the world.
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Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out. –French Proverb
Crazy must be the fortress across the moat.
Everyone has been telling me how insane I am for as long as I can remember. Everyone, that is, except the therapists I compulsively seek out in my sporadic but vigilant attempts to get healthy. And they should know, right?
The last one took the cake. I was actually enjoying having THE STORY. You know what I mean. The story. The one that precludes buy-in. The one that has to be taken at face value. If you walked into a psychiatrist’s office and said that you felt relentlessly persecuted and before he could ask you about your mother and your second grade crush, you dropped that you’d been a Jew in Germany in 1934, you win. Well, at least your story wins.
Buy-in had been the stumbling block in my previous stories. But not this time. All my life I wanted a story whose reality rendered me freakishly insane and whose obvious consequences were not subject to my inarticulate explanations. I wanted a story not for the sympathy it would bring but because I really wanted to be cured. I just had to figure out what to name the disease so that people would stop arguing with my diagnosis.
Buy-in is where I always fell apart because my peers wouldn’t take me at face value and my shrinks couldn’t stop. I’ll tell the story by way of example.
I quit drinking, a year ago yesterday, in order to avoid becoming a fourth generation alcoholic. Or maybe that isn’t why but it seemed the best way to sidestep that otherwise inevitable plight. I didn’t expect this action to become the cause of a national day of celebration but I also didn’t expect to have to defend and justify it to everyone with whom I shared what had in other people’s lives seemed a declaration complete in itself. I just wanted what everyone gets automatically when they stop drinking: felicitations, concerned grunts and offers of support.
Instead, to a person, my friends and neighbors questioned the necessity, the validity, the wisdom of the act I’d wanted to be proud of, happy about and finished with. I didn’t really know how much I drank or how often it was done in secret or alone and I certainly didn’t consider it relevant to chronicle the others in our circle who drank more or were sloppier or whose lives seemed more unkempt. No one was crazier than I was but I thought sobriety was a step toward mitigation not the thing providing the evidence that my judgment was so impaired that I did not know that I did not, in fact, even have a drinking problem.
So this morning I got purposefully and unequivocally toasted and explained to Dr. Whatever that I was running away from my true addictions. In denial of my absolute ability to handle booze, I’d quit to garner absolution and met with insight I was incapable of unearthing for myself. My latest shrink-in-waiting said that I was right to have quit drinking and should consider doing it again as soon as I sobered up. He said it was a healthy and mature act I shouldn’t have questioned because my enabling buddies did. Maybe it was just the booze but I still have a headache from the session. Had I won that round?
Just as I got someone on board with my decision to quit drinking, I wondered if the whole thing weren’t just a red herring. Not the drinking. Not the therapy. The whole questioning, trying to live an examined life.
I used to live with a girl who had hundreds of books in her bedroom. They were piled all over the place and it seemed she was always preparing to open a second hand book store or furnish a small library. Since we had nothing else in common, I clung to our love of the written word as the promise that we could, in time, be close friends. I used to borrow her books and read them and then ask her about them. She never seemed impressed with my observations and never wanted to put our feet up and share literary insights over wine or coffee. One day, I asked her if she had always loved to read or if it was something she discovered at a pivotal point in her life. She told me that she didn’t even like to read, that she would have loved to have loved it but she didn’t. She tried to like it because she wanted to be the kind of person who always had her head in a book and she bought all kinds of titles in the hope that some would speak to her. But none ever did. I told her that I was thinking of quitting drinking. She said she’d never really seen me drunk and I let it go at that.
I could have said that she’d never really seen me sober, but that was a line I’d heard at an Al Anon meeting and while I had no problem stealing it for my own ends, I didn’t want to waste it on stupid Rose, who didn’t even like to read. Although she was kind of dumb, I always admired Rose for copping to pretending to like something she only wished she liked.
It seemed a big step toward something worth walking towards. But maybe I was wrong.
Because after being too sensitive and being a little insane, the most common complaint others voiced against me was that I over-thought everything. I always thought that people spent most of their conversation stating the obvious, going for the easy laugh, in short Ockham’s razor-ing their way through life.
Because no matter how many actuaries you get in a room swearing that it makes sense to “think horses” occasionally you won’t be able to rule out “zebra” or even “unicorn”. And those are the times when the only person who should be listened to is the kind of person who thinks, and doesn’t consider thinking to be the same as over-thinking. At least that’s what I told myself whenever I was still pondering the direction of the hoof beat when everyone else was looking for the colt.
After another Al Anon meeting, I had coffee with a pretty girl who’d said something during the meeting that really made sense to me. She was talking about having an odd childhood because her dad drank and her mother was distant. She said that when you live in an unnatural situation for so long it’s like riding a train in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. You have to get where you are going and you look for clues that you are headed in the right direction, but you are really confused because you can’t read the signs and you don’t have any clues as to what is going on and which way you should go. You don’t even know how to ask for help. She confessed that this is how she said she feels all the time. When you have no role model for “normal” it’s difficult to navigate the world. I really liked her share and was sure, before I’d even suggested coffee, that Lynda and I would be sitting next to each other at every meeting and going out to eat after and in time doing things not connected with us both having had a lot of abnormal in our past. Except that before she’d even lambasted the barrista for adding whipped cream to her mocha frap without asking, it was clear that her comments at the meeting came from a more vulnerable and delightful place than the rest of the personality Lynda clearly thought was good enough to show the world along with her painful good looks.
If I’d needed an excuse to leave I was going to ask if she loved to eschew whipped cream or only wanted to love hating it, because once I have decided I don’t want to spend any more time with people, I love making jokes at their expense that only I can understand and only in the most passive aggressive and obscure way. But Lynn excused herself because she was already late for another meeting which I fervently hoped wouldn’t be the AA meeting I hoped to frequent once I stopped drinking.
On the other hand, having to have regular contact with someone who had found me as unsuitable as a companion as I found her might be good for me. I’m not sure what kind of warped mind seeks out uncomfortable situations to build character but not knowing the answers has never made the questions less addictive.
At the end of my therapy session, I was no longer drunk enough to be having any fun or sober enough to be berating myself for that so I decided to go home and take a shower. I’d been putting that off all day because I was out of soap.
Well, I wasn’t really out of soap and that was precisely the problem. On my footstool was a big box with sixteen small boxes inside. It had been there for two weeks. I knew I had to open it and needing a bar of soap was as good a reason as any to open a box.
There was nothing purposeful in my not having opened the box before. After all, I knew what was inside. Well, I knew what I’d ordered, but I didn’t know what it would look like, or smell like, or how close it would match to the memory. And what was I hoping for?
My favorite soap growing up had been “Sweetheart”, not coincidentally, my favorite song had been “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” which I first heard the Lennon Sisters sing on the Lawrence Welk Show. Lord, I’m old.
And Sweetheart was what I wanted to be; someone’s sweetheart, someone whom someone was in love with, whose eyes lit up when in the same room with the one who loved me then and would love me always. And the soap was part of it, not just because it had the name, but maybe that set my mind into motion to love all the floral carvings around the oval bar, the sweet not mawkish smell, the trademark pink, never white always pink and I wondered what it would look like in blue or yellow but there was something reassuring in the fact that it only came in one color and unlike Ivory, that color was pink.
As a young girl, I used many types of soap and many types of shampoo, having my favorites but always searching for the elusive one that would be magical, that would transform my life. And always I came back to Sweetheart. And then one day it wasn’t there. Just not sold anymore. And I was upset for a while and then forgot about it. But I never really forgot. Forgetting is not my strong suit. In fact, it’s not even in my skill set. So I’d think about it and wish I’d saved some when it was plentiful although that would have brought its own bittersweet cache as well because sometimes when I knew something was about to become unavailable I’d stockpile and having something I couldn’t use was almost worse than not having it at all. At least the memory included enjoying it when it had been there and brought with it the illusion of abundance forever. Rationing takes all the fun out of things.
Sometimes I still couldn’t believe that Sweetheart soap was just not available. But then it was. Occasionally, I’d be traveling with my real life sweetheart, and we’d be in a 7-11 or drugstore and there would be two or three dusty boxes and we’d scoop them up and use them and once in a while I’d keep them in my lingerie drawer first thinking that it would make all my garments smell sweet. But when it didn’t work, I’d just shower with them instead.
And once time when he was working out of state and I was keeping him company, my husband had gone shopping without me and when I came back to the hotel room, there was a treasure trove of Sweetheart soap on the bed spelling out the word “GOAT”, our pet name for each other. And the Sweetheart Goat from my Sweetheart Goat was almost too loving and precious to have words put around it now when it’s more like a dream than an actual memory.
I did loving having so much of my favorite soap. I wouldn’t count the first or second or maybe even the third bar, I’d pretend that this was going to last forever.
And then I don’t remember when I used the last bar but it was gone and we never found it again. No sweetheart, no soap, no husband. Victims of a marketing demographic and a sudden fatal heart attack.
And I was alone, using whatever the hell soap I could find. And one day I decided to look for Sweetheart soap, not in 7-11s but using the World Wide Web. A store where I’d long ago ordered a ceramic goat for my husband advertised that they had the formula and were making their own version. This was promising and off-putting at the same time. Was it Sweetheart or was it not?
I took one out of its box and decided that it was and wasn’t. It was the same, but not exactly the same. I think that was a message from my Higher Power. Stop thinking that you are over-thinking. There are never any easy answers.
Maybe I’m perfect just the way I am. Now that’s just crazy.
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