Michael C. Bryan
“Anything you can do in excess for the wrong reasons is exciting to me.” – Carrie Fisher
CRAZY: full of cracks or flaws, crooked, askew, mad and insane, erratic, impractical, being out of the ordinary, distracted with desire or excitement, absurdly fond, passionately preoccupied.
Not too long ago I pitched an article to a very well-known magazine and said to the illustrious Editor-in-Chief that I wanted to talk about how far I’ve come after having being raised by a truly crazy mother.
“Oh, we’d never used that word. Crazy,” said the illustrious Editor-in-Chief in a breathless tone. “You can’t say that. It’s wrong. Nobody who deals in mental illness will talk to you if you say that word. We won’t publish it. We just won’t.”
I felt myself frown on the other end of the phone and the familiar flutter of frustration, mixed with anxiety, rise in my chest. “But she was,” I replied knowing full well that was the last thing my potential employer wanted to hear. “She had borderline personality disorder. Well, as far as we can tell she did. It’s hard to tell now because she’s dead. She killed herself a little over 8 years ago.
I always used to joke with people that growing up was like living in a 3D version of a mash up of Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf meets Long Days Journey Into Night with a dash of the original Willy Wonka movie not that horrible remake. Johnny Depp looked like he had those fake teeth older rich gay guy have put in that makes them look like they have Chicklets crammed in their gums. My sister and I think she had borderline personality disorder, but it’s hard to tell after the fact, you know?
Ever had anyone in your family kill themselves? I don’t recommend it.
It sounds oddly more literarily romantic than it is. Is that really a word? Literality? Am I talking too much? That Venti did seem strong. Although when I found her secret diaries after she croaked after loving her pills way too much and her wine and I read her erotica in those secret diaries, well, let me tell YOU. That was an interesting read. Still is. Sometimes I read them when I’m bored or depressed. I’m not a fan of the part where she wrote she wanted to kill my sister and wished I’d never been born. Call me crazy! Oh, sorry. You don’t want me to use that word.
Fascinating stuff to read about your mother wanting to have sex with her pharmacist. Wonder if she ever did have sex with the pharmacist. His name was Ted. I used to have such a crush on him. He smelled like Irish Spring and had the hairiest knuckles. So. Anyway. Hello. Hello?”
I wasn’t surprised by the thick silence which greeted me on the phone.
I’ve always solicited one of two responses from people in life. Cackling or dead silence. Nothing in-between. Ever.
Sometimes there are blank stares and a bit of a step backwards, but more often than not the response is thunderous and full of glitter and loudness or the sound every comic fears which is glass breaking (a single one, mind you) in a large, large hall filled with mouth-agape audience members.
My mother most often solicited the same response from people when she was alive. Now that she’s dead, well, I’m sure she’s slaying them in The Great Beyond. My psychic told a few weeks ago that “your mother can’t come to the reading right now. She’s enjoying a bowl of vanilla ice cream” which made perfect sense to me. She was always devouring ice cream when she was alive and often said that she only liked to eat foods that were white because they gave her great comfort.
“I know I scare people,” she told me for the first time when I was around 8 or 9.
I can’t remember exactly. A good friend of mine who is a celebrated author of memoires told me it’s wise to address the fluidity of memory when talking about my past. I agree the idea of doing is wise, even if I feel it unnecessary. We all know that memory is a slippery thing. We remember as we need to remember that time we’re detailing what we’re remembering. So my telling you, the dear reader, at what age my mother did indeed tell me she know that she scared people was somewhere between 8 or 9 but exactly when is anyone’s guess.
I do remember she was eating a huge bowl of vanilla cream dotted with fresh, red raspberries from our garden as she said this to me. “And I’ll tell you, creepy kid, if you’re anything like your crazy mother you’re gonna be experiencing the same thing as well. Just you wait.”
I spent most of my time in Junior High and High School disproving my mother’s theory that my general way of being wouldn’t scare people but it was of no use. I dated sweet girls with pendulant breasts (all with areolas the size of dinner plates which I never fully understood) and joined the track club and even tried to be on the football team, but in the end, I was always the one who didn’t so much play on the football field with the other guys but in their bedrooms in our underwear when their parents were shopping at The Piggly Wiggly.
I had a secret fear as I got older that I would one day lose my mind and no know it. I remember the day I saw a movie where Halle Berry was made to think she was losing her mind by some very mean people and I thought, “Oh, fuck. That’s why worst nightmare.”
To not know I was losing my mind as I was losing my mind.
My mother was crazy. She was. She spoke her mind and it drove people (yes) crazy. She had been fed such a pile of lies as girl she loathed any form of bullshit. She wanted the truth no matter what. She was sexually and physically abused and told she wanted it and deserved it and she knew that as bullshit. So she hated artifice and fakeness and anyone who pretended to be something they weren’t. Ironic I’ve become a man who has spent most of his professional life in the entertainment business which has a well-deserved reputation as being filled with people who make a living off of manufactured sincerity.
As I got older, I got wilder. I smoked weed, I drank and I did the sorts of things that may seem odd to most, but to me seemed like a normal way of life. Dancing the night away with drag queens, dating men and women, having sex parties in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, going to leather festivals, climbing up on stage at concerts and dancing blasted out of my mind, getting arrested, stealing – I was, to put it bluntly, crazy.
But what I didn’t get back then – and what my mother never got, and what I wish she’d had gotten, oh, oh what I wish she would have gotten – was what a blessing it is to be crazy. And I’m not going to quantify that by saying I don’t mean people who are certifiably crazy and who have lost a substantial grip in life and don’t know who they are, or where they are. I don’t want to have to be so literal people can’t see I don’t mean that.
I’m different. And by different I mean different than different.
Do I have a wiring that’s different in my brain? I don’t know. Perhaps. What I do have is a need when I’m at full speed to go and go and go and explain what I see when I’m going. It’s what I am. What I do. My mother was the same. Her brain (spirit?) fired on all cylinders. It was often too much for her which is why she numbed the force of her with pills and booze and why I did for years with booze and weed.
No more. No more for her since she’s now (apparently) still eating ice cream in The Great Beyond and no more for me because I’ve spent way too long doing all I could to censor the madness that is me, the crazy that’s me which is the glory that is me and which was the glory that was (is) her.
I want to tell you about the days where I was haunted by invisible forces which forced me in bed for weeks at a time riddle with depression and fleeting thoughts of suicide. The days where I couldn’t breath as anxiety attack after anxiety attack tore me apart (yes, I’m dramatic even telling true tales of my mad days).
I want to tell you that now I love all of who I am, and that I’ve love to finally meet a man who loves the madness that I am. But I can only mean that if I mean what I just wrote, and I do. Mostly. I had love once. Actually four times. The last time many years prior was with someone who liked me but didn’t like me to be me. That was a mind fuck, let me tell you.
But mostly I want to tell anyone who may be reading this, and who may feel many things they don’t know how to work with, that they have been gifted with a certain form of a very practical super power. I know that sounds goody-goody. I know I’m supposed to be acerbic here and catty and say how feeling that one is a tad crazy is cause for alarm, but I’m going to go full-on delusional and say it’s the greatest sign of great things to come if there ever was.
I sat for years on the edge roofs asking what the point was.
I sat alone in rooms drunk and stoned out of my mind asking what the point was. I denied the flood of escalating (and then cascading) emotions which fell around me like are jewels. I spent most of my surrounded by jewels and yet I saw only battered rocks.
This is classic gay-guy-who-was-abused-by-his-mentally-ill-mother (that old chestnut) but instead of feeling the sting of my mother’s hand or the words that cut me for years I see the times she would take my hand when there was a song playing in the mall and whisper into my ear “Dance with me, Mike.”
She did that, you know. She’d take my hand in hers and we’d dance in the center of the mall to the cheesy song playing and she’d see people looking at her and she’d say, “What the fuck you looking at? Ain’t you ever seen a crazy lady and her son dance in public before?”
– Dedicated to RS.
More About Michael C. Bryan: Michael C. Bryan is a bi-coastal writer who is the author of the memoir, Creepy Kid, which recently won a nationwide contest sponsored by Huffington Post and Simon and Schuster for best memoir of the year. It’s the story of his life growing up with a mentally ill mother and learning, to his joy and shock, that he’s not his mother. You can’t know what a relief that was for Michael. Like, major. He’s currently adapting the memoir for the stage with an established team of Broadway producers in New York City. Michael also writes for television and film. He recently completed a loose adaptation of his memoir as a new dramatic and comedic TV series entitled Woodridge which is being read by HBO, Netflix and Hulu. He’s also written a new pilot for a comedy TV show entitled The Life Coach which is not remotely based on his personal experiences working as a successful business and personal coach via his company MCBHappier (that’s called irony). He has written numerous plays produced off-Broadway, as well as many feature-film screenplays. He has performed stand-up comedy at Broadway Comedy Club, Caroline’s and New York Comedy Improv. He speaks nationwide to teens and younger people on the topics of mental illness and health. He’s also a certified spinning and yoga instructor and is obsessed with Golden Retrievers.