Life Is Crazy Story

I Must Be Mad

In this Life Is Crazy Story, Jack admits that he must be mad, only to discover the true definition of madness and the value of a simple life well lived.

Jack, tall, lean, wearing a grey t-shirt and a clean pair of jeans, leaned forward on the plush chair in the therapist’s office, nearly tipping it, and stared his doctor in the eyes. His words were as honest as they were incredible. “I believe I am going mad.”

Dr. Burns held back a sigh. Not of despair but rather of relief. If he had put a dollar in the bank every time a patient had insisted that he or she was not mad, he could’ve retired years ago. Keeping his face impassive, he merely nodded and asked the obvious question, “Why?”

Apparently flabbergasted by the direct response, Jack flopped back in the chair, his gaze rising to the ceiling.

Though the tiled ceiling told no tales, plenty of secrets had floated to its heights. What agonies of the soul would bounce against its solid surface today?

“Well, my wife—ex-wife, I mean—says that I was a lousy husband and an insensitive lover. I forgot to put the toilet seat down, I bought candy for her birthday when she was trying to lose weight, I liked sex too much, I didn’t hold her hand in public, I liked hanging out with my guy friends sometimes, and, because she was always tired from work, she needed me to take away her stress, but I never did that in the way she wanted.”

The good doctor refrained from a quip about humanity and original sin. Stay on target, he reminded himself. “So, that’s it? You think you’re mad because your ex-wife complains about you?”

Swooping arm flaps and Jack appeared much like a beached whale waving useless appendages. “Good Lord, no. I’ve been terrible all my life. I just didn’t realize it. You see, I must be crazy. I always thought I was a pretty good guy, but now I look back, and I see all these patterns…” Jack’s eyes glazed over. “A professor in my poly-sci class gave us a book to read, “The Evil Within,” and I get it now. I’m not just a crazy guy; I’m a bad crazy guy.”

A tinge of a headache sprouted from Dr. Burn’s temporal lobe. He tried to soothe it away with a gentle rub. Stay focused. “Tell me about these patterns.”

The chair was not a recliner but Jack leaned as far back as humanly possible, his long legs sprawled across the carpeted floor. “Well, when I was a kid, my parents fought a lot. Mom thought Dad was a selfish jerk obsessed with his university studies, so she drank a lot to cover her loneliness. Got a few warnings for driving under the influence, but see, that was kinda my fault. I was supposed to get her stuff, but I was obstinate and refused to go to the store.”

Warning bells rang in the doctor’s head. “Get her stuff?”

He shrugged. “Booze, cigarettes. Sometimes she’d want a deli sandwich. But I hated how everyone looked at me when I’d pass the note to the cashier with the money. Guess, they knew there was something wrong with me.”

His attention caught on the odd image; Dr. Burns sat up. “How old were you when you had to go to the store for her stuff?”

“Oh…gosh…” Jack squinted into dim memories. “Seven…eight…nine. By the time I was ten, I would hide, so she couldn’t make me go.” He dragged his body to a more upright position. “I really let her down. Poor dad couldn’t help. They just weren’t cut out for each other. He was one sober dude, literally.  Professional and serious. Mom was totally different. Funny, liked to act things out, and could tell awesome stories. They were great people individually but not so happy together.” Jack looked up. “See? I could never make things work between them. No matter what, I reminded Mom of Dad and Dad of Mom. Brought out the worst of each.” He shrugged awkwardly. Life was an uncomfortable burden.

“So, when I read the book about the evil within, how we did terrible things to the native races and women never had a fair shot, it all started to make sense to me.”

We? Dr. Burns stiffened at the familiar, all-encompassing assault.

“Then, when my wife hit me with the divorce papers and said that I was a lousy husband, I had to face the truth. I am the bad guy.” Tears filled Jack’s eyes. “And you know, I’ve been lying to myself, crazy-like, because I honestly didn’t think I was so bad. Sure, I made mistakes. Messed up plenty! Should have seen my chemistry labs. How I didn’t blow up the whole school, I’ll never know.” Jack shook his head, misery in his dark brown eyes. “After I found my wife sleeping with my best friend—Roland” his gaze shifting as he muttered the profane name, “I ran off to the wilderness for a while.” A far-off expression was warmed by a gentle smile. “I managed to free this squawking blue jay from a twine that had got wrapped around its leg, and I helped a bickering couple keep from starving to death before their big family meet-up. And then, there was this old guy… Said that even if you can’t help yourself, you can always help someone. So, I went home again. Determined. I was going to be a better person. But…”

A buzz sounded from somewhere around Jack’s person. With an embarrassed grin, he slipped his phone from his back pocket. “Sorry, I promised…” He checked a message and tapped in a response, then he balanced the silent phone on his leg. A half-shrug. “There’s this kid at work…struggling a lot, so I meet him for coffee once a week in town. He wanted to move up the time, so I told him to meet me at four. I can make it easy if I leave directly from here.”

Dr. Burns’ ears perked up. “What do you do for this kid? You’re not a therapist on the side, are you?” He tried to soften the accusation with a non-accusatory grin.

Waving the phone like a flag in high wind, Jack pantomimed his denial. “Not at all. I’m just a guy who drinks coffee and listens to stories without saying too much. This kid is figuring things out for himself. He knows he needs to stay away from his druggie pals, but he gets lonely. And sometimes…”

Dr. Burns leaned forward, his hands clasped, his eyes focused on Jack, waiting.

“Well, see, he’s trying to get his GED, and sometimes he needs a little help with the math. I got a B- in Algebra, so I may not be the greatest, but I can help him figure out most of the practice problems.”

Leaning back, Dr. Burns reappraised the man in front of him. Bright shafts of light broke over the dim room. “Doesn’t sound like the work of a bad guy. Or a madman.”

“Oh, that. Well, no. Like my brother, Markie, used to say, even a busted clock can be right once a day.”

Dr. Burns nodded through an internal groan. “Tell me about your week. What do you do?”

“Oh, really? Uh, nothing much. I manage a small store in town, keep it stocked and the workers paid. That kind of stuff. Not hard. Mostly routine. Not a huge salary, but I always pay my bills on time. Before I met my wife, I’d go to Al-Alon meetings on Wednesday nights to listen to how other folks managed. It helped. But then I decided that I needed to do something more…you know. Something where I could help out a bit. So, I joined the church fix-it crew. Still do that sometimes. Saturdays mostly. My ex didn’t like it, so I had to quit for a while. But I help out again now that she doesn’t care. She’s moved on to another guy.”

“Your best friend?”

“Ah, no. That was only a fling. She’s got someone else now. Not sure who. I lost track a while back.”

Dr. Burn’s initial desire to know the ex-wife’s name dissolved into a cauldron of revolving relationships. He merely hummed an accepting hmmm. “You go to church on Sundays, then?”

“Saturday nights. Catholic. Sorry. Most people don’t understand how I can keep the Sabath by going to Mass on Saturday, but it’s all rather beyond me. I just go and pray and then go home again. I usually feel better. For a while.”

“And Sundays?”

“I head out to nature. A hiking trail or a lake. Stay by myself and rest up for the week. Might bring a book and read.”

As if creeping vines had wrapped him tight to the chair, Dr. Burns forced himself to stand up. He strode across the room to the solid oak coffee station and poured himself a cup. He looked over his shoulder. “You want some?”

Jack shook his head. “Better not. I’m meeting Cisco, and I’ll have coffee with him.”

After pouring a healthy dollop of creamer into the dark swirling brew, Dr. Burns returned to his chair, but he didn’t sit down. He sipped and peered at the bowed head of the young man in front of him. Dear God, what do I say?

No immediate revelation forthcoming, Dr. Burns returned to his seat. He set his mug aside and leaned forward. Their hour was coming to a close, and he wanted to make his point very clear.

“Jack, I just want to say a few things before we end for today. First of all, it has been a pleasure meeting you. Rarely do I get a chance to listen to a perfectly sane and wonderfully kind person describe his everyday life. Second, I want you to walk out of here with the understanding that though you are not perfect, you are not mad. No one is perfect, Jack. Few people are truly insane. Most of us muddle through as best we can.”

Jack shook his head, his hands up, warding off the dismantling of his poor self-esteem edifice. “But my parents…my ex-wife, my friend! Things went really bad, and I didn’t fix any of it.”

An image of a battlefield filled Dr. Burn’s mind. “Listen, Jack. You can’t fix other people’s lives.” A sigh erupted from his middle. “Honestly, you can’t even fix your own life. Hell happens. Whether it’s in the form of misunderstandings, blatant narcissism, drug abuse, cancer, broken homes, and wounded childhoods, all we can do is whatever good we can manage, as situations allow.” He scooted forward. “Listen, Jack, I’m not Catholic, but I do believe in something greater than myself. With most clients, I call it God, the mystical reality of our creation, life on earth, suffering, and death. There is more here than we see with our eyes and yet we must inevitably make decisions based on imperfect knowledge. We screw up. Kind of like your chem labs. But, if we are gentle with ourselves and others, we can learn. We can keep trying. Good things will happen some days, and we’ll make it through the bad days.”

“So, you’re saying that I’m not really crazy…but life is crazy hard?”

An explosion of joy filled Dr. Burns. “I’ve never heard it put so succinctly…but, yes, that is exactly what I mean.”

Jack tilted his head, listening, new thoughts rising in his mind. He flashed a glance at the good doctor. “There are crazy people, though, right?”

A cloud covered the afternoon sun and plunged the room into momentary gloom. “Yes. Sadly, and for a number of reasons, some people have lost the ability to choose healthy options in life. Their destructive actions hurt themselves and everyone around them.”

“So, the long and the short of it is that sometimes we do good and sometimes we do bad, but it’s when we can’t choose good anymore…that’s when we are really crazy.”

Dr. Burns nodded.

Jack rose to his feet, new resolutions taking shape on his face. “The old man was right.”

Dr. Burns stood and walked to the door. He opened it and smiled at Jack. “Feel free to make a follow-up appointment any time you want.” He shook his head. “I don’t think you are crazy, but if you need support, I’m always here.”

Grinning, Jack crossed over the threshold. “Thanks, Doctor. I’ll keep that in mind. We all need support, don’t we?”

As Dr. Burns watched Jack pace down the hall and turn the corner, he stood quietly, recognizing an old ache rise from his chest. Once in a blue moon, he realized afresh that he was not alone on this confusing human journey. He remembered his coffee and returned to his office. He stared at the cold cup—wishing that he could sit in a local diner, solving Algebra problems with a friend.

A. K. Frailey is the author of 18 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

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