Authors: George Harrar
Houghton Mifflin Company
Copyright Â© 2003 by George Harrar
All rights reserved. For information about permission
to reproduce selections from this book, write to
Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
The text of this book is set in Utopia.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Not as crazy as I seem / George Harrar.
Summary: As fifteen-year-old Devon begins midyear at a new prestigious prep
school, he is plagued by compulsions such as the need to sort things into
groups of four.
ISBN 0-618-26365-9 (hardcover)
[1. Obsessive-compulsive disorderâFiction. 2. DeathâFiction.
3. GrandfathersâFiction. 4. Funeral rites and ceremoniesâFiction.
5. High schoolsâFiction. 6. SchoolsâFiction. 7. VandalismâFiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.H2346 No 2003
Manufactured in the United States of America
QUM 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
"Hello, Devon. I'm Dr. Wasserman."
The big, black-bearded shrink jabs his hand at me. His fingers look huge, like thick pink sausages.
"I just washed, Doc." I shake my hands in the air so he'll get the idea. "I'm still kind of wet."
"That's very thoughtful of you. Have a seat wherever you like."
He sweeps his hand across the room like there are a million choices. I see twoâa black vinyl chair with a small rip in the cushion and a white couch with a few brown spots on the arm. You'd think a doctor charging a hundred dollars an hour could afford better furniture.
"Is something the matter?"
"I like standing. It's good for you."
"I suppose it is. So, you want to stand right there?"
Not here exactly. Not here at all. I'd rather be standing almost anywhere else in the whole universe. I back up a few steps. "Here, I think."
"Okay, well, I understand that you're fifteen years old, and your family recently moved to town from the western part of the stateâAmherst, right?"
"Not Amherst really. More like greater Amherst, you know, like how they say 'greater Boston'?"
"Yes, I have heard that. And you've been in therapy before."
"Oh yeah, for five months and six days."
"Did you find it helpful?"
I wish all questions were either yes or no, then I could
nod or shake my head and not have to think any more about them. Was therapy helpful? That depends on what it was supposed to do for me. Make me normal like other people? I don't want to be like any other person I've ever met, especially the normal ones. Normal is boring. Normal is going through life half-asleep, never really seeing things. But that's not what a shrink wants to hear. "Maybe."
He lifts up a folder stuffed with papers. "Your last doctor sent me your file. Apparently he didn't complete his analysis before your family moved here, but the notes indicate you've been experiencing generalized anxiety. Does that sound right to you?"
The anxiety doesn't feel very generalized to me. I'm not anxious about
I'm not anxious about most things, in fact, if you count every little thing there is in the world. It's just some things, at certain times, in some places that scare me out of my skin.
English, Algebra, Biology, Lunch, Free Period, Gym, Classics, Done. EnglishAlgebraBiologyLunchFreePeriodGymClassics Done. EnglishAlgebra...
A knock on my door interrupts the words flowing through my brain. I can tell it's my motherâshe always knocks twice. She'll want to come all the way into my room. She won't even ask.
"I'm naked, Mom."
"Just pull something around you."
I sit upright on my squeaky new bed with the new purple comforter she bought me. Purple doesn't seem comfortable to me. I'd rather have blackâblack sheets and black pillowcases and a black comforter. Black doesn't make you think of anything. Black doesn't keep you up at night. Why don't they make black sheets? Kids would buy a ton of them.
I'm not naked, but I grab a pillow to hold in front of me. With my mother it's always better to have something to hold on to.
She opens the door a little.
"I'm kind of busy, Mom."
She slips into my room and looks around. "It's coming along. I like how you've arranged your things. It's nice to start over in a new place, isn't it?"
No. I liked my old room on the third floor of my last house, fourteen steps between me and the parents. Mom never just dropped in at my old room. She hates steps ever since she twisted her back playing tennis. Mom used to have a killer serve, but now she just taps the ball over the net. It's kind of sad to see.
She picks up one of my snow globes and shakes it. Silver snow falls on four tiny fiddlers in Nashville. Dad still brings me a globe every time he goes on a business trip. No CDs or T-shirts or video gamesâI get snow globes. I have fourteen of them. Actually, I think they're kind of cool.
Mom puts back the snow globe and stoops down to look at the paperbacks on my bottom shelf. She reads the titles out loudâ
Rats, Lice, and History; Mushrooms, Molds, and Miracles; Satan, Sin, and Sacrifice.
"I don't remember buying these books for you."
What's she think, I'm still, like, ten years old, when I wouldn't go to a store without her? "I bought them myself, Mom, at Annie's."
Everything cost two bucks at Annie's Used Books in Amherst. Annie said I was her most regular customer. I went in every Friday after school and finished a book every weekend. That really isn't hard when you don't have
anything else to do. I don't mean to sound like Poor Devon the Friendless. I could have made friends. I didn't try. Friends are a lot of work.
Mom opens my Chinese lacquer box, the one with the alien-looking butterflies on the lid, and then closes it again when she sees it's empty. She grabs a handful of my small white meditation
from the straw basket on the bookshelf and massages her fingers with them.
"You want something, Carole?" I think it's funny when I use her first name. It makes me feel like I'm forty years old. She gives me one of her faster-than-the-speed-of-light fake smiles.
"I just thought we should talk, since tomorrow's your first day."
She lets the stones drop through her fingers back into the basket. "Private school may be a little tougher for you. And starting midyear in a new place isn't easy. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. You don't need to get straight A's, you know. A B now and then wouldn't kill you."
How does she know that? Why are people always so sure bad things won't happen if you don't do everything exactly right?
She leans over my desk to look at the row of faces from the newspaper that I just taped to my wall, and I see the sharp angle of her breasts pressing out against her white blouse. I wonder if she leans over much in the courtroom, and do the jurors think she's hot?
"Who are these people, Devon?"
Weirdos, crazies, maniacsâall-American nuts, that's who. People who make the headlines. People who look like everyday goofy kids in their high school pictures, and then crazy mountain men when you see them in the papers twenty years later.
"Nobody special." I know she won't leave it at that. A lawyer never stops asking questions until she gets the answer she wants. She taught me that. But what answer does she want from me?
She spins around, as if trying to catch me doing something, and I hug the pillow tighter. "Why did you pick these particular people to put on your wall? What were your criteria?"
"Kids don't have
they have impulses."
"Okay, then, which impulses made you choose these particular faces?"
I slide down on the bed and pull the pillow over my head. Suddenly I'm seeing pillow, feeling pillow, breathing pillow. My world is pillow.
She tugs it off me. "All right, you don't have to tell me. You can relax."
She takes a long, deep breath as if she's the one who needs relaxing. She used to do my breathing exercises with me in the living room. Now she mostly does her back exercises, rolling up on the floor and rocking back and forth. She looks kind of like a giant flipped-over snail.
"I haven't told anyone at the school about your tendencies, Devon. I wanted you to know that."
Mom has a nice way of putting things. When we moved to Amherst after my grandfather died, I developed a
to wash my hands, a
to stay in my room, a
to eat foods in certain ways. If everybody had left me alone, there wouldn't have been any problem. But nobody ever leaves you alone. They always think they know what's best for you. I bet it's no different here in Belford.
She's staring down at me now, and I wonder how I could have such a pretty mother. Her face doesn't have one wrinkle on it. Doesn't she ever worry about herself?
"That's what you wanted, isn't it, Devonâa clean slate?"
What I want is to have no slate at all. Why is everyone always watching me? Aren't their own lives interesting enough?
"You can keep yourself under control. You've done it before for periods of time. If you get too anxious, you can go to the school nurse and tell her you don't feel well. She'll let you sit in her office for a while."
"I know the routine, Mom."
"I guess you do." She fluffs my pillow and puts it behind my head. "But it might be better if you develop a new routine rather than falling back on the old one."
What's the matter with the old routine? Is it a crime to wash your hands a lot and keep your books in alphabetical order? And what is so odd about doing things in fours? Lots of people have favorite numbers.
She picks up a picture of me with my old dog, Lucky, the two of us rolling in the snow outside our big Victorian home in greater Amherst. "It's funnyâsometimes when I look at this I see two dogs playing with each other, and sometimes I see two children playing. I never see a dog and a boy."
I laugh at that, because here is my actual Mom thinking something totally strange.
When she leaves I straighten the edges of my paperbacks so that they line up perfectly. I love that they're all 4 Â¼ by 6 Â¾ inches. That's all I buy now. Sure, they're different thicknesses, but that can't be helped. You can't tell every writer in the world to write the same number of words. Besides, it's height and width that matter, not thickness.
I put the lacquer box halfway between my old broken stopwatch, which I used to time myself holding my breath under water, and my Swingline stapler, which I've never used because the staples come out crooked and I don't have anything to staple, anyway. Then I take the chrome Zippo lighter from my jeans pocket and put it back inside the Chinese box. Mom won't look in there again for months. I shouldn't have to hide it, since I don't smoke. But she won't believe I just like holding my old Zippo and flipping the top open. It makes a nice clinking sound, open and close, open and close. I can do that for hours.
I leave the meditation stones as they are because there's no way I can get them back exactly how they were. Some things are like that. Some things that happen you can make un-happen, but not everything. So I just rotate the basket a little past ninety degrees to get the tag saying "Made in Thailand" turned to the wall. After checking my room for another minute, I'm ready to go downstairs to eat dinner with the parents.
I abominate dinner. That means I hate it. But I hate so many things that just for a change I like to abominate.
Sometimes at dinner my throat tightens up and I can't swallow, no matter how much water I pour in. But what's worse than eating with my particular parents are Dad's questions, which start with "How was your day?" My day always sucks, but I'm not allowed to use that word in front of them. So I say, "It could have been worse," even though usually I don't think it could have. I know there are kids in other countries who are forced to be slaves or prostitutes or soldiers. I see them on TV sometimes. If I were suddenly dropped into their world, things would definitely be worse. But in my world, my day always sucks.
My father's next question is even more irritating than his first: "What did you learn that was interesting today?" I never learn anything interesting during my day, at least that I feel like telling them. Besides, I don't like everybody
eating and talking. It isn't polite. Sometimes the sloshy sound coming from my father's mouth makes me gag.
He wipes his mouth with his napkin, leaving a deep green smudge of chewed peas. "I heard something on the radio this afternoon that I thought was fascinating. If you took out the spaces between all the atoms of the nuclei in your body, you would end up half the size of a flea but still weigh the same."
Mom breaks open a roll so neatly that not even a crumb falls on her plate. I don't know how she does that. She looks at Dad. "I thought the human body was mostly water, not air."
He drops a gob of butter on his mashed potatoes. "Sure we're water, but I think it's inside the molecules of the water where all the space is. Of course, I'm no physicist, so I don't know if that's really true."
I break open my roll, and a few crumbs fall on the tablecloth. This is the kind of thing that's not supposed to bother me anymore, since my old shrink taught me ways to distract myself at dinner. The thing is, I don't want to be distracted. I just want to clean up the crumbs. So I sweep them up with my right hand and dump them on my bread plate.
I know they saw me. I have to distract them. "Wouldn't it be a biologist you aren't, Dad, not a physicist?"
He stares at me as if I'm making fun of him, but I'm really just wondering. What he actually is is a funeral director, which means he embalms people for a living. That makes me Son of the Embalmer. It sounds like some weird late, late movie on cable.