There was always something wrong with my head. It didn’t look weird or anything. My mother always said I was a cute baby and that a couple people even tried to kidnap me, but something’s always been off. My mother liked riding roller coasters, and being pregnant with me didn’t stop her. My guess is during one or all of those rides, some of the wires in my brain were knotted and a couple plugs fell out of their sockets.
Dad was born that way too.
“You gotta be a little batshit to make it in this world.” We sat next to the soundboard in the recording studio. He wore a Sex Pistols shirt and jeans with ripped knees. I was five years old sitting on an oversized rolling chair, stick legs poking out from under a nightdress. He woke me in the middle of the night and drove us there last minute. “If you got a hairlip, a curved spine, or–” he pulled a folded paper from his pocket, “–borderline personality disorder. Pft.” He tossed it to the floor, where he hid a syringe with his bare foot. “They say take this pill, and, see this person. And you’re scared ‘cause, if you fix it, you’re not you anymore, but, if you don’t, you hurt everybody else.”
He rubbed my chin between his thumb and forefinger. “You and me, we were born feet first, and the world is our puddle.” I didn’t know how babies were normally born, but the way Dad talked, doctors dragged him out against his will. He picked me up and sat me on his leg. I pressed my nose to his shirt – he smelled like nicotine and fresh wood. “So make a splash. Can you do that, Hannah-Bear?”
I had no clue what he was talking about, but I nodded anyway because it sounded important. He kissed my forehead and pet my hair. By the end of the week he was lying on a gurney, needle in his arm, and I was still nodding. My mother slept in my bed for a week.
Other kids teased me and shouted “Crack baby!” because that’s what their parents called me. During a game of tag I threw woodchips at Meredith Gromwell’s face, and the punishment was no recess for two days. At home, I stuffed a plastic shopping bag with dirt and put it in my backpack. The next day of my punishment I asked Mrs. Brewer if I could grab something from the cupboard and, when inside it, stuffed their lunchboxes with dirt. My mother was called, and Mrs. Brewer banned me from recess for the rest of the month, but after that I was never “it.”
Third grade was worse. We were playing floor hockey, and Ross Macklebee’s hockey stick caught me in the shoulder, and he smiled, so I swung like a batter and hit a grand slam in his hip. He crumpled onto the waxed floor in a heap, trumping up a lot of fake tears. Mr. Kotlowitz lumbered over and asked him what happened. He jumped up, face dry as sandpaper, and pointed at me. I got detention, and he limped whenever a teacher was looking.
My mother scolded me on the drive home. I sat in front as Cal tried unsuccessfully to unbuckle himself in the backseat.
“You can’t have this temper anymore.” She eyed me cautiously muttering, “Just like your father.”
“Don’t even. Do you see the other children acting like that?”
She had a point.
At home, I sat at the kitchen table staring at Cal as my mother cooked. He fidgeted in his chair, picking his nose and tugging at his sprouting hair. Was that what normal kids do? Granted, he was four, but he’d done it before and my mother never said anything. So I dug into my nose like a miner and pulled at my hair like antennas. My mother turned to see, threw the spatula down, and screamed. Apparently, this was the last straw.
She sent me to a therapist. He was an old man with an ill-fitting suit, more white hair on his upper lip than the top of his head, and a framed picture of Sigmund Freud on his desk next to a bookcase where a whole shelf was dedicated to some guy named de Sade.
“What do you like to do? Any hobbies?”
I shrugged, focusing on my thumbs. “Reading.”
“’Cause it’s fun.” I also liked throwing watercolor paint on my neighbors’ windows, but I didn’t mention that.
He asked me what I remembered about Dad, his absences, and growing up with Rolling Stone readers knowing my family’s last name before I could spell it. Then, he shifted his legs and leaned forward. “Any alone time with your father you’d like to talk about?”
“Um,” I said. “We played lotsa thumb wars and he’d ask if his guitars sounded good.”
The Old Man leaned closer, laying his hand on my knee. “Are you sure?” My hairs froze into spikes. He slid it up my thigh as I dug my fingers deeper into the arm chair. “This doesn’t remind you of anything?” The wires in my brain sparked. He leaned in close enough to bite. Instead, I swiped at him, and strips of skin hung off my fingers like loose threads. He screamed and clung to his face like a mask.
My mother got me out fast, dragging me by the wrist to the parking lot. She buckled Cal in, tore open the passenger’s side door, knelt down, and shook me. “What’s wrong with you?!” It was rhetorical, but her tone wasn’t. I stuttered as fearful tears welled in her eyes, the first I’d seen since Dad’s funeral. She really wanted a response, any response, just like the therapist, the teachers, and the kids at school who called me “crack baby.”
But I wasn’t a crack baby.
I just had some bad wiring.